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WHEN NEWS BREAKS, I THINK PIZZA
By Joe Brancatelli
August 12, 2010 -- This is life on the road right now: Moments ago, my frequent-flying brother-in-law called me for help with a ticket. He spent $860 out of his own pocket for the last first-class seat home this afternoon on a nonstop flight between John Wayne/Orange County and Newark.
Why would he do that? Very simple. His corporate travel department had booked him on a redeye in coach, complete with a long layover in Atlanta. That would have burned his workday on Friday and left him too exhausted to enjoy his daughter's 11th birthday party on Saturday.
I salute his financial courage, his business dedication and the savvy he showed by paying a $150 first-class premium above the $710 walk-up coach price. Besides, I have a vested interest. Now I know he'll be well rested and alert when he mans his outdoor pizza oven on Saturday. And if I have to drive all the way to the Jersey Shore on a hot summer weekend for my niece's party, at least I know I'll get some good pizza, too.
Meanwhile, here is the week's breaking business-travel news. But be warned: The rest of this column won't exhibit nearly as much intelligence as my brother-in-law just showed.
TAKE THIS MEME AND SHOVE IT
Can someone explain to me why this bozo Steven Slater is an instant cultural hero? Why does a flight attendant who fights with his customers, curses them, swipes a few brews and then costs his company thousands of dollars by deploying an emergency exit rate worldwide support?
I don't know what happened on that JetBlue Airways flight. Neither do you. The suddenly media-shy publicity hounds at JetBlue apparently don't, either. But it's safe to say that the initial reports of Slater understandably blowing his top because of an abusive passenger are probably wrong. They almost always are. And, believe me, if the passenger had really broken any rules--say, gotten up before the pilot released the seat-belt sign--the flyer would have been arrested. Passengers are always deemed guilty until proven innocent whenever there is a confrontation with a member of a flight crew.
So why are people lionizing this loon Slater? I have tremendous respect for flight attendants. You can't pay me to do their job. And I have real sympathy for their plight: the insane pressure from their airline overlords who are constantly cutting salaries and benefits and a daily diet of abuse from inconsiderate passengers who see flight attendants and gate agents as the face of the airline doing them dirty. And if Slater had his fill, well, that's understandable, too. But if Slater went postal over a nasty passenger, imagine what his reaction would be if his aircraft was in distress.
How, in the metaphoric blink of an eye, have we gone from making heroes of cool, calm lifesavers like Captain Chesley Sullenberger and his crew to making Slater an American icon?
Oh, in case you were wondering: Assuming Slater didn't damage the emergency slide he deployed to make his exit, it'll cost JetBlue around $3,000 to get it refolded, recertified and back on the aircraft. If it was damaged beyond repair, JetBlue could be out upwards of 30 grand. The beer Slater took with him? JetBlue charges $6 each for them.
NOW THIS IS A STRESSFUL SITUATION
Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, began on Wednesday evening and if you want to talk about stressful situations, this would be it. The extended period of fasting, sexual abstinence and prayer is not only a holy time, but also a very testy one. Adherents must fast from sun up to sundown and that includes abstaining from beverages and cigarettes, too. As sundown approaches, Muslims rush to celebrate the breaking of the fast. Tempers are short as entire societies cope with a month of no food, no beverages, no sex and mad-dash rushes to the evening meal.
As the Muslim population grows in the United States, the impact of Ramadan grows here, too. In places like Detroit, this summer's record heat exacerbates Ramadan's rhythms. The topic even made the Detroit News.
Needless to say, if you're in a country or community where the Muslim population is high, respect the solemnity of Ramadan. Don't drink or eat in public during fasting hours. Expect early business closings. Dress modestly and avoid public displays of affection. And understand the evening social rituals, too. Restaurants open shortly before sundown. Diners, famished from fasting all day, arrive and wait at their tables until the call from the mosques, which means eating can begin.
IT'S AN ANDROID WORLD AND iPHONE JUST LIVES IN IT
Think the world revolves around the iPhone? Guess again. The phones to watch are the ones based on Google's Android operating system. According to a new report from the Gartner Group, BlackBerry devices lead the worldwide market for smartphones with an 18.2 percent share in the second quarter. That's down from BlackBerry/Rim's 19 percent share in last year's second quarter. But phones based on Android now represent 17.2 percent of the market. That's a jump from--brace yourself--just 1.2 percent in last year's second quarter. Android phones raced right past the iPhone, whose market share grew to 14 percent from 13 percent last year.
ANOTHER REASON TO AVOID FRANKFURT
Once upon a time, Frankfurt/Main was the airport a lot of us liked best as an international transit hub. I was a big fan and even wrote a column about the joys of changing planes at FRA back in 1997. But the intervening years haven't been kind to Frankfurt. It's gotten bigger and bloated, less convenient and hampered by constant construction and delays. Even Lufthansa's fabulous First Class Terminal hasn't stopped many frequent flyers from placing Frankfurt in the same "avoid" category as Heathrow Airport in London. And here's what may be the final indignity: The world's first airport Hooters has opened in Frankfurt's Terminal 1.
OR, BY GOD, HE WON'T CANCEL A LOT OF FLIGHTS AFTER ALL
When the Department of Transportation finally cracked down on long tarmac delays earlier this year, the airline industry's opposition was led by Jeff Smisek, Continental's chief executive and the soon-to-be SkyGod of the merged United-Continental. He was infuriated by the DOT's new regulations, which included the possibility of fines of as much as $27,500 for each passenger held longer than three hours on a tarmac.
Back in March, Smisek bellowed: "The government, by God, says, 'We're going to fine you $27,500.' Here's what we're going to do. We're going to cancel the flight…. In the face of a fine like that, we're going to cancel a lot of flights."
Guess what? Smisek hasn't been canceling flights. In May, the first full month after the new DOT rules went into effect, Continental operated 98.5 percent of its flights, just nine-tenths of a percent less than in May, 2009. In June, Continental operated 99.9 percent of its schedule, which was actually a tenth of a point higher than its "completion rate" in June, 2009. In July, Continental operated 99.8 percent of its flights, which was two-tenths of a percent more than in July, 2009.
Industrywide, the new DOT regulations also worked. In July, just three flights (all operated by United Airlines at Chicago/O'Hare on June 18 during big thunderstorms) were held on the tarmac for three hours or more. By comparison, 268 flights were stuck on the tarmac for more than three hours in July, 2009. And the industry's overall cancellation rate in July--1.5 percent--was exactly the same as it was in July, 2009.
I think we're done here. And once again, by God, we've learned that airline executives are blowhard bullies.
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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.