The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
Nobody Asked Me, But ...
December 25, 2014 -- Nobody asked me, but...

In the spirit of the season, Hyatt this week did its best Oprah. Starting in February, all of its hotels will offer free WiFi to all guests. So, you know, you get free WiFi! And you get free WiFi! You don't even have to be a Gold Passport member and you get free WiFi! And elite Gold Passport members get high-speed free WiFi!

InterContinental switched to free WiFi for its frequency-plan members last year and Marriott, Starwood, Loews and Taj switched this year. That leaves only Hilton and Accor among the big chains as Scrooges who want to charge some or all of us for WiFi. That won't last long. It may take visits from the Ghosts of Connectivity Past, Present and Yet To Log On, but they'll switch soon enough.

Attention now turns to the skies, where the airlines and Gogo, the leading in-flight provider, think they'll still be able to charge for access. Since Gogo's uptake rate is about 7 percent--in other words, 93 percent of flyers would rather stay offline than pay--I think we know how this is going to gogo eventually. Although it is otherwise planning to cheapen its product in the next few years, JetBlue Airways at least understands that free, in-flight WiFi is the future.

Nobody asked me, but ...

Maybe it's because so many of us are, um, of a certain age, but there is an absolute cult of adoration surrounding Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol. The 1962 made-for-television flick has rudimentary animation, but fantastic voice work by Jim Backus (as Mister Magoo), Morey Amsterdam, Jack Cassidy and Paul Frees. It also has a nifty score by Julie Styne, who wrote The Christmas Waltz and a clutch of great tunes that are part of The American Songbook. And there's that wonderful Easter egg (so to speak) of another baby boomer icon, Gerald McBoing-Boing, cast as Tiny Tim.

Why am I bringing all this up? The show, complete with its long-deleted scenes of the "Broadway framing device," is streaming free on the Internet.

Speaking of Christmas classics, Mike Reiss wrote a hilarious children's book in 2000 called How Murray Saved Christmas. This year it was turned into a one-hour cartoon. Reiss' script is wry and clever, the story is told in rhyme and the voice actors (Jerry Stiller, Sean Hayes, Jason Alexander and Dennis Haysbert) are spot on. Besides, we're talking about a show that has Murray urging on Santa's reindeer by shouting, "On Dumbo, on Jumbo, on Mason and Dixon! On Cosmo, on Kramer, on Richard M. Nixon!" It's still streaming on the NBC site.

Nobody asked me, but ...

The CBS affiliate in New York this week ran a vague and incomplete story about a passenger jailed for three days because she tried to change seats on a United Airlines flight. She's suing, of course.

The problems with the story notwithstanding, what happened is clear: The passenger tried to move from a coach seat to Economy Plus, the flight attendant tried to charge her, the flyer got snarky and the flight attendant got silly and got her arrested.

But leave it to the gigantic a-holes at United Airlines headquarters to make it worse, insult our collective intelligence and prove that there's no public relations issue that can't be made worse by an abject lie. The PR person claimed to the CBS reporter that the issue was about "weight and balance" and that passengers aren't allowed to switch seats during a flight.

Nobody asked me, but ...

InterContinental Hotels has purchased Kimpton, the boutique chain, for $430 million. So much for Kimpton and its quirky, guest-centric operation. Know how you know that? Listen to IHG chief executive Richard Solomons: "We're going to hopefully make it better. We can help it operate more efficiently."

This is not exactly a good moment to be Four Seasons hotels. The aforementioned InterContinental is getting its Dublin property. An Asian chain is taking over its Bangkok hotel. And its two hotels on the Hawaiian island of Lanai are closing sometime next year for who knows how long.

Hilton's Hampton Inn brand is now past 2,000 hotels worldwide. Lately it has opened branches in Potsdam, New York; Parkersburg, West Virginia; Bellevue, Washington; Plano, Texas; and Panama City, Panama. And although they haven't announced it yet, a small Hampton Inn will be opening in my attic sometime later this year.

Nobody asked me, but ...

Bravo to President Obama for ending our generations-long attempt to isolate Cuba. And to the nutty Cuba dead-enders, consider this: If we'd have been trading with Cuba for all these decades, the Castro Brothers would have already been dead from eating too many Big Macs and buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

History will decide if Obama was a good president. But consider some statements made during the marathon that was the 2012 Republican primary. Tim Pawlenty claimed he could boost GDP growth to 5 percent if we cut taxes on the rich. Obama raised taxes on the rich and our third-quarter GDP grew by 5 percent. Newt Gingrich claimed re-electing Obama would lead to $10-a-gallon gasoline and promised to get the price of gas down to $2.50. The AAA says the average price of gasoline today was $2.33 a gallon. And eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney promised to get unemployment down to 6 percent in 2016. The unemployment rate dropped to 5.9 percent in September and is 5.8 percent now.

If I were the Democrats and got spanked in the midterm elections, I think I'd dump my House and Senate leaders. So why, exactly, do Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid still have their jobs?

Nobody asked me, but ...

Let's go back to the free hotel WiFi for a minute. Turns out travel managers and travel agents are furious at Marriott and Starwood because their versions of free Internet require us to book via an official Marriott or Starwood channel. That cuts the travel managers out of the loop and encourages us to break corporate policy.

And as if Marriott isn't making enough enemies, it is asking the FCC for the right to block our use of personal hotspots on Marriott networks. As you recall, Marriott got socked with a big fine this year when it blocked hotspots at one of its convention hotels. Hilton, which is still charging for Internet at its full-service hotels, is supporting Marriott. Talk about strange bedfellows...

I wondered why Hyatt decided it would offer free WiFi to all guests without even requiring them to sign up for the Gold Passport program. The answer I got from several levels of Hyatt management: It was time to stop making believe Internet access wasn't an essential part of a hotel stay. Pretty cool thinking considering no guest would have balked at a frequency-plan enrollment as the cost of the free WiFi.

Nobody asked me, but ...

United is whining that the fees it pays to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey at its Newark hub are too high. If I'm the Port Authority, I'd tell United chief executive Jeff Smisek to go back to his assigned seat. Or, you know, face three nights in the clink like that seat-switching flyer.

In its complaint, United claims the Port Authority "exploits its monopoly power to impose unreasonably high fees at EWR." This from an airline sitting on 60 unused take-off and landing slots at Newark so it can block competition and charge some of the highest fares in the nation.

It's Christmas, so I won't add a third nasty comment about United. Happy holidays, Jeffy boy.

Nobody asked me, but ...

Do you find it odd that Miracle on 34th Street and the superlative 1951 version of A Christmas Carol are both streaming free on YouTube, but they are charging $5.99 for The Interview?

David Danto tweeted this on Christmas Eve: " 'He sees you when you are sleeping, He knows when you're awake, He knows if you've been bad or good...' Who knew Santa was Google?"

I hope you're having a wonderful holiday season and enjoying a restful, no-business-travel week. And I'm happy to appropriate this amazing line from an episode of Community, which will stream its sixth season next month on Yahoo: The meaning of Christmas is the idea that Christmas has meaning. And it can mean whatever we want.

This column is Copyright 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. 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.