The Brancatelli File



October 22, 1995 -- You'd better listen to Israel Switzer when he talks about traveling on business. The airlines certainly do.

A high-mileage business traveler for more than 40 years, the 66-year-old Switzer has written several thousand complaint letters to airlines around the world. His missives--about food quality, fares, connections, baggage snafus, airport hassles and aircraft--almost always get a reply. And, miracle of miracles, they often convince an offending airline to clean up its act.

"I'm specific enough and detailed enough about a problem in my letter that the airline knows better than to ignore me or what I'm complaining about," he explains.

Switzer's broadsides are sometimes whimsical (he once convinced American Airlines to drop a bizarre policy that limited first-class passengers to one bag of peanuts), usually insightful (a letter to Cathay Pacific led to a change in its in-flight service), and always thought provoking (he wonders why regulators allow two-engine jets to fly transatlantic routes while specifying that Air Force One have four engines).

"If the President won't travel on a plane with less than four engines, why should I?" asks Switzer, a certified pilot. "Besides, all things being equal, I want more engines than less on my jet."

A consultant who designs cable television networks, Switzer has been based in Toronto since 1967, but also maintains a home in Palm Springs. He's rarely at either location, however, since his clients span the globe from Hong Kong to South America. Before cable, Switzer was involved in oil-field exploration in remote Northern Canada. That allows him to smile and say, "I've been on the road even when I traveled to places where there were no roads."

Switzer's best business-travel tips?

+ "Pay now, argue later," he says, explaining that it's better to cough up the proverbial two dollars to get whatever you need on the spot. Complain about the hassles and indignity later, he advises.

+ Don't worry about perks like room service or fancy public rooms when you choose a hotel. "I won't stay in dumps, but I will stay in a middle-range hotel that is closer to my client rather than a deluxe property that's far away."

+ Beware of low-rise hotels. "They're pseudo-motels, designed for cars, not people, and they don't always have elevators," he says. Elevators are a minimum-standard requirement, especially if you've got bags."

+ Join as many airline club lounges as you can. "They provide a haven from the turmoil of crowded airport terminals and they cost almost nothing compared to how much you already spend to travel."

Oh, one other thing. Switzer suggests you pack your own light bulbs when you travel. Yes, light bulbs.

"I don't rate hotels by stars, but by watts," he explains. "Hotels nickel-and-dime their customers because the managers complain guests always leave the lights on. So they use 50- or 75-watt bulbs instead of bright reading lights. You can go blind from the weak, orange-y lighting in an average hotel room."

This column originally appeared in Selling magazine.

Copyright 1993-2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.