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 The Brancatelli File

joe NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...

BY JOE BRANCATELLI

October 19, 2006 -- Nobody asked me, but...

I think we now have an official definition of business-travel purgatory: One briefcase, one carry-on bag, a boarding pass and ID, a laptop out of its case, shoes and jacket off and in plastic bins and now a little zip-top plastic bag stuffed with toiletries. Two hands simply cannot maneuver all of that through a security checkpoint.

And no, fellow travelers, the aforementioned is not business-travel hell. This is business-travel hell: The security line at West Palm Beach International with one of those new puffer machines placed in front of the magnetometer and X-ray machine. There I was yesterday, boarding pass and ID between my teeth; shoes, jacket and bag of toiletries in one or more plastic bins; and carry-on bag and briefcase on the belt. Then a TSA agent appears from nowhere and announces to the assembled masses, "Please put your shoes on to go through the puffer machine!" So I retrieve my shoes, get a blast of cold air shot up my butt and move on--only to find another TSA agent in front of me barking, "Shoes off to go through security, please!" Damn good thing that my mouth was stuffed with a boarding pass at that particular moment...

Nobody asked me, but...

I guess the hospitality sage who said that no two hotel room lamps anywhere in the world turn on in the same way with the same switch was right. I got upgraded to a huge, but dimly lit, suite at a hotel this week. Thankfully, the sofa was flanked by two identical side tables and two identical table lamps. But you guessed it: One had a switch under the lamp shade and the other had a switch on the power cord hidden behind the table.

I notice that three things are disappearing from guestrooms in so-called focused-service hotels: tubs, pre-stocked minibars and two-line phones. The experts tell me that tubs are going because they take up too much floor space in the bathroom and no one uses them anyway. Two-line phones are headed to the scrap heap because cellphones and in-room high-speed Internet access have made multiple-line room telephones superfluous. I can only assume that the overpriced stuff in the minibars is disappearing because travelers have finally decided that a one-ounce bag of white cheddar-flavored popcorn isn't worth $41.

Nobody asked me, but...

Delta Air Lines generated a mess of favorable press last week when it announced "true lie-flat seats" for its international business class. Too bad most of the general press missed the other side of the mattress: Delta has only committed to the new seats for its Boeing 777s. And the first two 777s with the beds won't arrive until 2008. And Delta's existing 777s won't be retrofitted until 2010. And by the way, Delta won't be putting these seats on its Boeing 767s, which comprise the vast majority of its international fleet.

United Airlines' much-discussed and heavily promoted luxury domestic product, p.s., turns two next week. For all the hype, however, it still exists only on its two initial routes (New York/JFK-Los Angeles and JFK-San Francisco). United hasn't even added any additional frequencies on those routes in the last two years. In other words, p.s. is another winner from the folks who brought you the United Shuttle, Ted, Mileage Plus Choices and 1,500-mile routes operated with regional jets.

Nobody asked me, but...

I was shocked to see a box of Mallomars selling for $4.19 in my local supermarket. Until I saw that the market up the road was selling Mallomars for $4.87 a box. Did I miss a spike in graham cracker and marshmallow futures? Or is Nabisco trying to fill the overpriced junk-food niche created by all those empty hotel minibars?

Russian and American scientists said this week that they had briefly created Element 118, the heaviest ever. Thank god I'm now out of the record books.

Nobody asked me, but...

I see San Francisco-based Virgin America last week named its first aircraft the Jefferson Airplane. Cute gimmick. The carrier, now expected to launch next year, even has a "name our planes" game on its Web site. I guess it won't be long before we have Virgin America aircraft named Aerosmith and The New Christie Minstrels.

Not to be outdone, Northwest Airlines says it, too, will name its planes after musical acts. Northwest has the oldest fleet in the American skies, of course, so it has to be careful with the names. It wouldn't do to have planes that are older than the musical acts whose names they carry. So far Northwest has named a DC-9 Francis Scott Key and a Boeing 747 John Philip Sousa.

Nobody asked me, but...

Here's a creepy scam that has victimized some savvy hotel guests: Shortly after check-in, the guestroom phone rings. The voice on the other end of the line introduces himself as the general manager. He apologizes to the guest because there has been a paperwork snafu. He then asks the guest to confirm his or her credit-card number. Obviously, the voice belongs to a con man who's attempting to snatch card numbers.

I feel compelled to point out that another month has slipped away without a second airport being authorized to operate a Registered Traveler program. Which means there are still more private companies (three) pledging to create Registered Traveler programs than airports actually operating with Registered Traveler checkpoints.

Nobody asked me, but...

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has called the situation at serially crisis-ridden Alitalia "completely out of control." Apparently no one's told Prodi that the Italian government is the 49 percent owner of Alitalia.

Speaking of Italy, this from La Bella Figura, journalist Beppe Severgnini's new book about how Italians think: "Do you remember The Terminal? If the film had been set in [Milan's] Malpensa Airport, Tom Hanks wouldn't just have fallen in love with Catherine Zeta-Jones. He'd have founded a political party, promoted a referendum, opened a restaurant and organized a farmers' market."

Nobody asked me, but...

A lot of frequent flyers tell me that they Fed Ex their toiletries and cosmetics to the hotel rather than deal with the nonsense at the security checkpoint. I have a better suggestion: The Priority Mail flat-rate box from the U.S. Postal Service. It's a reliable two- or three-day service and a comparative steal at $8.10.

Here's a new tip if you choose to check bags and your airline "mishandles" them. Always get the direct, local phone number of the baggage-service office at the airport where you've reported the loss. Don't settle for the airline's 800 number. Most Big Six carriers have outsourced their toll-free lost-luggage numbers to call centers in India or Central America. And to say that those folks can't handle the simple geography of reuniting you and your bag is an understatement.

Nobody asked me, but...

I see we've heard from the priest in the Mark Foley scandal. His defense: "I did not have sex with that Congressman." I guess it all depends on your definition of what priest is...

By the way, Florida state law requires me to notify you that whenever I write the words "Mark Foley," I'm actually making fun of Joe Negron.

Nobody asked me, but...

The major car-rental companies are still charging around $6 a gallon to refill your vehicle. Or you can pay in Mallomars.

My father and his wife were on a $79 JetBlue Airways flight on Monday and the in-flight television system was down. Each received an unsolicited apology and $10 travel certificate in their E-mail this morning. I flew from Newark to Honolulu in first on Continental Airlines yesterday afternoon for $945 one-way. The power port at my assigned seat was dead. I swapped chairs with a leisure traveler because she wanted to watch movies and her video monitor was down. I can't wait to see what will be in our E-mails from Continental in a couple of days.

Nobody asked me, but...

I hear Air Canada may name one of its jets in honor of legendary Canadian entertainer Gordon Lightfoot. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is expected to fly between St. John's and London when flights resume this spring.

No matter what you've heard, Uzbekistan Airways will not be naming one of its Soviet-era Tupelovs after Borat.

Copyright 1993-2006 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.