The Brancatelli File



November 25, 1998 -- When all is said and done, business travelers live lives of incredible privilege.

Even when our lives on the road stink, in the totality of things, our complaints are astoundingly trivial. The airlines charge too much. The security lines are too long. The flight is late or the in-flight meal has disappeared. The damn hotel is too far away from our appointment or the limo driver was late.

When all is said and done, business travelers also live lives of denial.

We have mastered the art of looking away when we see homeless people camped out at an airport terminal because that's where they can find a few hours of warmth. We can drive through a slum en route to our business appointments and never think twice about the kids who are ill-fed. We can even turn a blind eye to the street person sleeping on a bed of cardboard in the doorway across the street from the lobby of our $200 a night hotel.

Our ability to deny is sometimes so complete that we need to have it thrust back in our faces before we can regain a sense of reality.

Years ago, when I was shuttling frequently to Honolulu, I used to ask friends how there could be homeless people on Waikiki Beach in the midst of so much glamour, plenty, and tourist opulence.

"There aren't really any homeless people in Hawaii," I remember one earnest woman telling me over drinks.

"What are you talking about?" I replied. "I see them every day as I walk along Kalakaua Avenue. They live right on the beach."

"They aren't really from Hawaii," she said. "Other states send them over here. The mainland gets rid of their homeless people by giving them plane tickets and sending them here."

I stared at this woman and I realized she wasn't kidding. She honestly and truly believed what she had just said. But I was so stunned, so angry, that the sarcasm came tumbling out of my mouth before I could edit my thinking.

"Oh, yeah," I heard myself saying. "I see homeless people on my flights all the time. They stuff their garbage bags of possessions in the overhead bins and they sit in coach wearing their rags and it's hilarious to watch the flight attendants come up to them and say, 'Oh, hello, homeless person, will you be having the chicken or the beef today?'"

Before I could even apologize for my crudeness, the woman was talking again.

"You know," she said, "I just never thought of it that way. It is ridiculous, isn't it? These homeless people can't really be from the mainland, can they? I guess I just didn't realize that we "

Her voice trailed off and the other folks at the table quickly changed the conversation. But I watched her for the rest of the evening and I could tell she was getting beyond her denial. I have never forgiven myself for my nasty and absurd remarks, but I am at least comforted by the fact that one smart human being is no longer in denial.

So how are you going to get beyond your denial? As you sit there, in the midst of another holiday season, staring at these words on the screen of a costly computer, I ask this one simple question: What are you doing to help?

It's not my place to preach. You don't come here to be lectured. And, God knows, I have no right. I live my life on the road in the same haze of denial as most business travelers do.

But I do know the reason for this season. It isn't the presents we are giving, it's about the life we are leading.

We business travelers lead lives of privilege. And even if we live the rest of the year in denial, we shouldn't let the holiday season pass without giving something back.

Give back love. Give back cash. For that matter, give back miles.

Every airline frequent-flyer program has a mileage-donation program. The premise is simple enough: You donate miles out of your frequent-travel account, then the sponsor takes those miles, bundles them with donations from other business travelers, and gives the miles to worthy charitable organizations.

It isn't hard, either. Just call your frequent-flyer service center and ask how to do it and which organizations they sponsor. Or, check in directly with your favorite charity. Most are happy to help you transfer miles. If you're looking for some basic tips, check in with Tim Winship's charity chart at, the Award Donation Center at Randy Petersen's or the donation page at Johnny There's even a new fillip this year: American Airlines will give you 500 AAdvantage miles for a $50 donation to UNICEF.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.