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FROM A (AL-QAEDA) TO Z (ZUNE)
By Joe Brancatelli
June 3, 2010 -- Leave it to the travel industry to allow me to write about things from A to Z and not find a single moment of sanity, a shred of logic or a bit of intelligence.

I mean, even for us too-cynical, road-weary business-travel types, the state of things is truly remarkable right now. I'd cry if I weren't so angry--or if I didn't find this stuff bizarrely hilarious. Heaven help us all.

Consider what's bubbling up this week.

Sure We're Merging. But That Doesn't Mean We'll Merge or Anything.
There have been several Congressional hearings about the United-Continental merger and I advise you to do what I have done: Ignore them. Congress basically has nothing to say about mergers and nothing an airline executive says in front of Congress bears any relationship to what they are thinking or what they will really do.

Then there's this from Jeff Smisek, Continental's usually sharp-as-a-razor chief executive. He's slated to be the boss at the combined airline, too. Asked if he planned to standardize the two airlines' in-flight cabins so the merged carrier would have a merged in-flight product, Smisek responded bluntly: Of course not. "We have spent a lot of money" on the respective products. "Why would we just throw that away?"

Well, Jeff, because you'll be one airline and the average customer would have an expectation that Flight A would bear some passing relationship to Flight B, especially if both flights are yours.

But in fairness to Smisek, this is how you get the supposed zillions of dollars of synergy in a merger. You repaint the planes, ignore the product you're selling, make believe you don't have aircraft with a crazy quilt of conflicting cabins and then claim that you're delivering a superior product. Then you tell customers they are stupid if they dare to suggest that you're selling inconsistent, warmed-over crap as an innovative new style of service.

The By-Any-Other-Name Department
Speaking of merging carriers, Republic Holdings is doing the airline industry's typically slapdash job of combining its recently acquired Midwest Airlines and Frontier Airlines subsidiaries. And when it came to choosing a name for the combined hash of a carrier, Republic boss Bryan Bedford admits he chose Frontier Airlines because Midwest Airlines had a connotation of quality that Republic has no intention of delivering.

"A lot of what we learned is that the Midwest brand had this perception of what [Midwest] was," he told CrankyFlier.com. "Customers would revisit the airline and there would always be disappointment. 'That's not what I remember Midwest to be.' And they were right. It wasn't."

I suppose Bedford does deserve credit for truth in branding. After all, no one in the airline business wants to be stuck with a name that reminds travelers when flying didn't suck.

Rally Round the Flag, Ladies and Gentlemen
Earlier this year new owners took over what has been known as the Ritz-Carlton hotel in suburban Dearborn, Michigan. The first thing they did was ditch the Ritz-Carlton brand. They announced the hotel's new name this week--The Henry, apparently an homage to Henry Ford--and also said it would align with the Autograph Collection, a new group of independent properties that gets reservations and other support from Marriott.

But catch this from the Detroit Free Press: "The Ritz signs will be removed and a few of the hotel's employees, who are called ladies and gentlemen, plan to gather for a small ceremony to lower the hotel's flag, said Tony Mira, the Ritz Dearborn's general manager."

Ritz-Carlton has a flag-lowering ceremony? Do all the "ladies and gentlemen" stand at attention, heads bowed, and then roar maniacally when the blue-and-gold Ritz "lion" standard is lowered down the pole? Will some white-gloved concierge gingerly fold the flag and hand it to Mira as a memento of a fallen outpost of a pompous, overpriced hotel chain?

United's Next Amenity? The Dumont Network on In-Flight Monitors!
United Airlines announced today that it has introduced Zune in-flight audio on all United aircraft. Flyers now have "up to 21 separate playlists programmed by Zune, Microsoft's premium digital entertainment service."

Zune? Really? Zune? Really? And, no, I am not making this up.

He's in 7C Because Hitler Always Books The Damned Window Seat
Guess what airline al-Qaeda honcho Osama Bin Laden flies? British Airways, apparently. LHR News, the airline's in-house publication for employees at its London/Heathrow hub, this week has a big story on BA's new mobile boarding-pass system. The front page carries a photo of an iPhone displaying a boarding pass. The boarding pass shows a BIN LADEN/OSAMA as a passenger booked into Seat 7-C. He even has a frequent flyer number.

But there is some good news, too. We know his gate number (A 10) and his flight isn't until October 26, 2010. That should give our crack Transportation Security Administration more than enough time to match his name to the no-fly lists. Assuming, of course, that Bin Laden's on a no-fly list. And assuming, of course, that British Airways flights from Heathrow won't still be partially grounded by strikes.

Of course, maybe the TSA has other things on its mind. It might still be harassing the Web site that once had a bogus boarding pass generator. The boarding pass the site created bears an uncanny resemblance to the boarding pass on the cover of LHR News.

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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.