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WE HAVE ALL BEEN HERE BEFORE
By Joe Brancatelli
January 28, 2010 -- I woke up this mornin' to see what condition our condition was in and, to change songs, I realized that we have all been here before.
We all know that business travel tends to be a repetitive kind of exercise. The same airports. The same flights. The same annoyances. The same room service menu, the same security lines, the same planes and the same damned hotel wallpaper that follows us from Dubuque to Duluth and from Tokyo to Toronto.
But there's something more this week. As I scanned the news before sitting down to write this week's column, I realized we're suffering a ferocious case of déjà vu. We've lived these stories before. I've written Brancatelli Files about them before. This week, there's literally nothing new to say about life on the road.
I'm not making a joke just to quote some old sixties songs. Everything old really is new again. (Oh, wait, that's an old song, too. Actually, two old songs…) Take a look at what's happening this week and let me point you back to a column I wrote on exactly the same topic a year or a decade ago.
DÉJÀ VU: THEY ARE THEIR RECORDS
The airlines mostly finished reporting their 2009 earnings (or lack of same) this week and we have all been here before: The legacy carriers got spanked again and the keep-it-simple-stupid carriers made money again. American ($1.5 billion), Delta ($1.2 billion), United ($1.1 billion), US Airways ($499 million) Continental ($282 million) combined for $4.5 billion in losses. Southwest Airlines ($99 million), JetBlue Airways ($58 million) and AirTran ($134 million) all made money. You want a screed about the bloody obvious? I already wrote it back in 2002. Nothing has changed. The legacy carriers always have a reason why they can't make money while the easy-to-understand airlines just make money.
DÉJÀ VU: WHY THE BIG SIX CAN'T KISS
Delta Air Lines said this week that it'll invest $1 billion over the next four years to fiddle some more with its already incalculably complex in-flight product. But there'll still be four or five products and configurations claiming to be BusinessElite, who knows how many things claiming to be First Class and on and on. (Not to mention that Delta never made good on its previously announced $1 billion promise to fix its 1960s era terminals at its New York/Kennedy hub.) Regardless of how much money Delta eventually does spend, we have all been here before. Complexity is the hallmark and the downfall of the legacy carriers. But I've already written that screed before, too. That was back in 2003.
DÉJÀ VU: APPLE MAKES AIRLINES LOOK GOOD
The king of Jivemasters, Steve Jobs, introduced the iPad this week and, as usual, he's predicting that Apple has again changed the world. Jobs has been spectacularly right a few times (the original Mac, the iPod and the iPhone), but he's been spectacularly wrong a lot more frequently (Lisa, Newton, MacTV, Power Mac Cube). The iPad will probably be a lot closer to the stinkers than the game changers. Apple always fails when it imitates airlines, telling customers what they can have rather than giving users a choice. Just for starters, the iPad doesn't have USB or Ethernet ports; it can't multitask or use Adobe Flash Player; there's no camera; and, at least at the moment, the iPad must be used with the horrific AT&T data network. But we've all been here before. Apple acts like airlines all the time. Sometimes, in fact, it is worse than the airlines. But I wrote that back in 1997 and nothing much has changed since.
DÉJÀ VU: PARK IT HERE
The Parking Company of America Airports declared bankruptcy this week. Why do you care? Well, PCAA operates 31 off-airport parking lots near 20 U.S. airports. That includes the assets of Avistar, a parking company that once claimed it was going to change how business travelers got to the airport. According to its Chapter 11 filing, PCAA has about three times more debt than assets. But what's the surprise? What's new about a company that claims it'll change our behavior patterns just because it has a business plan that says it will? We have all been here before, most recently in 1998.
DÉJÀ VU: CAN JETBLUE AVOID US AIRWAYS' COMPUTER MELTDOWN?
If you're traveling on JetBlue Airways in the next few days, you should already have received a chilling E-mail from the airline: It's switching to a new computer system this weekend. The system won't be available on Friday or Saturday: no online reservations, no online flight status and no online check-in. That'll mean longer lines at the airport, too. We have all been here before, in 2007, when US Airways tried to pull off a similar reservations switch. It was a nightmare for days.
But… maybe this isn't a matter of déjà vu. After all, JetBlue has already notified its customers of the switch, something the arrogant fools at US Airways never did. JetBlue has published an extensive FAQ on the ramifications of the switch, something the boobs at US Airways never did. And there is something else. JetBlue is making the computer switch for a good reason: more functionality. Things JetBlue can't offer customers now because its rudimentary reservation system dates back to its launch in 2000 will be possible when the airline switches to Sabre, an industry standard product. US Airways switched computer systems to save a few bucks, not to improve its operations.
I'm rooting for JetBlue. I'm especially rooting for JetBlue's passengers. Fingers crossed. Of course, I am lucky. I'm not flying JetBlue this weekend. I've been there before and I just don't want to be there again.
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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.