By Joe Brancatelli
February 25, 2010 -- Nobody asked me, but…

Top executives at United Airlines and US Airways separately told a financial conference this week that the carriers were open to merging with other airlines. Yeah, because that has worked so well for them in the past.

Southwest Airlines gained a full point of market share last year, a meteoric increase in an otherwise glacial airline industry. As of January, it is now at 9.8 percent of the market. So, one more time: Anyone want to tell me again how well the legacy carriers are doing with their checked-baggage fees? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Nobody asked me, but…

A Starwood chain, Aloft, is testing a new system of front-desk bypass. Certain guests get a special keycard in advance. Interesting. But since this is 2010, why can't I just get my room number sent to my mobile phone and then use my credit card as my room key? It would cut check-in time to zero and be totally secure since I'm the only one in possession of my credit card.

Some U.S. hotels are outsourcing their housekeeping duties to third-party cleaning firms. And a few hotels in Europe have been purpose-built without the back-of-house space needed to handle on-staff housekeepers. Now let's be honest: Business travelers couldn't care less who cleans our rooms. But we will care when a hotel can't give us a late checkout or an early check-in because it is no longer in control of the housekeepers and third-party cleaners only come at specified times.

Nobody asked me, but…

Ten days in Rome this month and the total number of newspapers I purchased: zero. Two years ago, on a similar trip, I would walk to the edicola every day and buy the International Herald Tribune, the Financial Times, whatever London daily was available and at least two Italian-language papers. But what's the sense of newspapers now? All of the news in them is already online, on demand--and you're getting updates and fresh information in something approaching real time.

Speaking of which, I picked up yesterday's International Herald Tribune in the lounge at Fiumicino Airport before my flight home. Let's just say the only thing that I hadn't already read in the insanely priced (US$3.50) rag was the reprint of the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip.

Nobody asked me, but…

Here's some unalloyed good news about life on the road: The 2009 airline accident rate was 1 in 1.4 million flights, the second lowest in history. Well, almost unalloyed. In 2009, 2.3 billion people traveled safely on 27 million jet and 8 million turboprop flights. But 685 people died in accidents in 2009, up from 502 in 2008.

This shouldn't surprise you. According to IATA, which provided the figures above, Africa is the most dangerous place to fly. Its accident rate is 14 times higher than the global average (9.94 accidents per million flights). And even though they carried only 2 percent of the world's travelers, African carriers operated a quarter of the Western-built planes that were destroyed in crashes last year.

Nobody asked me, but…

The brilliant biochemist Chaim Weizmann engineered Albert Einstein's first visit to America in 1921. The trip was actually to foster the cause of Zionism, but the two great minds naturally talked shop on the long Atlantic crossing. Weizmann was later asked if he now understood the theory of relativity. He replied: "Einstein explained it to me every day, and by the time we arrived I was fully convinced that he really understands it." Gee, and I thought it was just me.

Speaking of relativity, this from the "corrections" section of a newspaper: "An article Thursday about the stage shows inspired by the actress Tallulah Bankhead misidentified a drag act named for her. It is the Dueling Bankheads--not the Dueling Tallulahs." I can't talk for Weizmann or Einstein, of course, but I'm gonna need that one explained to me, too.

Nobody asked me, but…

A reader E-mailed me this week and theorized that it would be a great summer to travel in Europe because the euro is plunging and airlines are selling business-class seats for not much more than last year's coach fares. I'm not so sure. Airlines peddling low-priced premium seats now for summer travel may not need to give anything away later since there has been such a large contraction in transatlantic capacity. (In other words, buy now because most of the sales are due to expire early next month.) And the current woes of the euro, which is pushing the currency down to a more reasonable valuation against the U.S. dollar, isn't likely to last indefinitely. It's almost guaranteed that currency traders will find some reason to start hating the greenback again before the summer.

Occupancy rates have slid back to 1987 levels for Hawaii's hotels. Of course, that is not surprising given that I can count on my hands the number of new hotels of note built in Hawaii since 1987. And the state's "revpar" (revenue per available room), a key measure of profitability, dropped 17.5 percent. It was $117.35 last year, down from $142.30 in 2008.

Nobody asked me, but…

InterContinental, which owns the Holiday Inn brand, has been purging the system of older hotels by demanding costly brand-standard upgrades during this down time in the lodging industry. Many former Holiday Inns are switching to brands controlled by Choice, which has welcomed the dated properties with open corporate arms. In other words, time to book away from Choice.

Meanwhile, Starwood has purged dozens of Sheraton properties from its system as it continues with its brand-standards upgrade. You still couldn't get me to stay at a U.S. Sheraton on a bet. A lot of the international ones, especially in Asia, are terrific, however.

Nobody asked me, but…

I got home in time to see some of NBC's Olympics coverage and I noticed that Liberty Mutual is re-using its brilliant commercial with the Hem song "Half Acre." I said it four years ago when I first saw the spot and heard the entire song and I'll say it again: "Half Acre" is the best music about the loneliness of life on the road since Carole King's "So Far Away." The lyrics will make you cry.

Then there is Bears, a newish thing by Sam Isaac. Maybe it was the context in which I first heard it, but the song scares me. What happens when you are older and make the same awful mistakes?

Nobody asked me, but…

Greece is currently the problem child of the European Community. It has massive debt, may need a bailout and has already raised taxes and cut the salaries of many workers. That's led to several general strikes, including one yesterday that paralyzed air travel. And then there is this: Aegean Airlines, the privately held Greek carrier, this week agreed to merge with Olympic Airlines, which is the bazillionth iteration of the hopeless Greek flag carrier. The new carrier will be named…wait for it…Olympic Air.

If you doubt that the entire world's aviation sector has contracted, consider this: The European arm of the global airport trade group says that traffic declined at 86 percent of Europe's airports in 2009.

Nobody asked me, but…

The loons in charge in Iran aren't just working on nuclear weapons and suppressing internal dissent. They say they will ban any airline that uses the term "Arabian" rather than "Persian" to define the waterway between Iran and the Arab States to its west.

I don't mean to make light of the long-standing antagonism between Iran and the Arab states over the Gulf. It's too important, culturally, religiously, historically and financially. But now when I think of Iran's current leadership, I hear Whoopi Goldberg calling the little sleazeball I'm a Dinner Jacket. That is funny, regardless of whether you speak Farsi, Arabic or, like Whoopi and me, grew up on the streets of New York, where a good rank was worth its weight in spaldeens.

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.