The Brancatelli File for 1998

joe December 31: The Basic Facts of Checked Luggage
There's a war raging between passengers intent on carrying on as many bags as possible and airlines determined to lighten their in-flight loads. Airlines almost always prevail--after all, they write the carry-on rules and are free to change them on a whim--but there are some ways that average passengers can win an occasional battle.

December 24: It's a Wonderful Life When Hotels Cut Their Rates
To use the vernacular of It's a Wonderful Life, I'm just a warped, frustrated middle-aged frequent flyer. Still, this is the holiday season and I really do have some good cheer to offer. Now is about when hotels all over the world announce rate cuts for the sluggish first quarter, when business travelers are less wont to leave their own private Bedford Fallses.

December 17: Who Could Make This Stuff Up?
Gordon Bethune explains how he disciplines airlines that invade Continental's markets. A flying doctor kills an unruly passenger with an injection. How to turn an old Boeing 727 into a home. Swiss World Airways comes and goes in less than 90 days. And more...

December 10: Once More Unto the Carry-On Breach
After more than a year of lying to us about our luggage and lying about our carry-on baggage predilections, the airlines have turned on each other. After branding us as spoiled brats because we have this insane idea that our bags should travel with us, the airlines are now squabbling among themselves and suing each other over the issue of templates.

December 3: Understanding the Wacky World of Travel Pricing
The tale of Theresa Bova and the supposedly "sold out" discount fare to Florida is not a bizarre sideshow in the increasingly convoluted game of airline prices. Similar economic passion plays are performed thousands of times a day, every day, around the country. Hotels, flights and cruises that are purportedly "sold out" one day are suddenly available just days, and sometimes only hours, later.

November 25: Beyond Denial: The Reason for the Season
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. We shouldn't let the holiday season pass without giving something back.

November 19: Park It Here
By 2007, the Federal Aviation Administration says, the passenger count may jump to 900 million annually. So I have only one question: Where the hell are all these people gonna park when they get to the airport? Rick West thinks we'll all be parking off the airport. He's so sure of it that he's buying up off-airport lots around the country and whipping them into a national chain.

November 12: Begging for Sofas in Sold-Out New York
In New York, in November, it has come to this: Business travelers are begging hotel general managers for a sofa to sleep on. But "if I give a customer my sofa, where would I sleep?" says one New York general manager, who recently moved out of his suite and onto his couch. "I can't get a room, either." Here's why New York has a hotel shortage and some tips on coping with the situation.

November 5: Forget Election Day, Here Are the Important Statistics
Complaints about passenger service are doubling. United continues to tank in the on-time ratings while Delta and TWA improve. How fares skyrocketed after AirTran left the Mobile, Alabama, market. And more...

October 29: Casting My Vote for Business Travel '98
Here are my votes for the most honest and deceitful business-travel comments of the year, the best and worst advertising, the least credible and most credible statistics and the most encouraging and discouraging service concept. And more...

October 22: If the Newarker Was Camelot, Where Do We Eat at the Airport Now?
If business travelers ever had a Camelot, wizened road knights insist it was an enchanted place called the Newarker, an airport restaurant so good that normal people would drive to Newark Airport to eat there. After Newarker impresario Joe Baum's recent death, it's fair to wonder what's to eat at the nation's airports these days.

October 16: Truth, Justice and the American Way Get Lost En Route to the Airport
Bill Gates and Microsoft are eating up market share in the browser wars? Sue the übergeek and his evil empire in the name of competitive balance! Visa and MasterCard have a lock on the bank credit-card business? Haul their plastic asses into court and break up that duopoly! Delta controls 72 percent of the traffic at Salt Lake? Northwest commands 73 percent of the market in Detroit? US Airways owns 84 percent of Charlotte? Whaddya gonna do? You can't fight the airlines.

October 9: All Quiet on the Carry-On Front
After almost a year of bitching and moaning about overstuffed carry-on bins, after almost a year of lecturing us about our evil ways and oversized hand baggage, after almost a year of tightening unenforceable rules that no one understands, the airlines and the flight attendants have finally shut their yaps. Now that they've hectored and cajoled and bullied us into checking more luggage and carrying on less, the inevitable has happened: The airline checked-baggage system is breaking down.

October 2: Loading Up My Laptop: Mark McGwire Made Me Do It
Despite the fact that our lives on the road are more Kafkaesque than comfortable, I am fully aware that you don't point your browser in my direction looking for deep philosophical insight. But just between us existential business travelers, let me ask you this: If a hurricane dumps two feet of rain on the Gulf Coast, Alan Greenspan cuts interest rates 25 basis points and Mark McGwire hits 70 home runs, but your laptop isn't equipped to tell you about such events, have they really happened?

September 25: September's Spending Spree
It's time to get back on the road. Like millions of other business travelers, we'll all be trouping back to the airport just about now. It's our version of back to school. Summer ends and we have to go back on the road, like it or not. Me, I use the first official weekend of autumn to go on a September spending spree to make sure I've got what I need to get through this next spate of business trips. Here's what I'll be buying this weekend.

September 18: Striking Tales
As Northwest Airlines struggles to get back into the skies after its acrimonious pilots strike, an interesting tale of sex, lies and videotape has been left behind for public inspection. Well, okay, I'm lying about the sex and videotape--I got the Northwest file confused with my Clinton file--but there are plenty of salacious airline details to go around.

September 11: Twice the Pain: Bad Service, Plunging Airline Stocks
I know a lot of frequent flyers are heavy in the market and they invest in what they think they know: airlines, hotels, car-rental firms and other segments of the travel business. But that means you not only get rotten in-flight service, you're getting the tar beaten out of you as airline stocks plummet.

September 4: The Worst Week in the History of Business Travel
In the week since we last met in this space, two airlines have gone on strike, two airplanes have crashed, two carriers have broken the law and federal regulators have made impossibly silly proposals. Hundreds of our fellow travelers are dead. Tens of thousands of people are out of work. Hundreds of thousands of flyers have been inconvenienced. We've all been lied to and betrayed in the worst week in the history of business travel.

August 28: The Bitter Lessons We've Already Learned About the Airlines
Regardless of whether the pilots of Northwest Airlines go on strike in the wee small hours of the morning on Saturday, we have already learned some bitter lessons about the people who run the nation's airlines. We have learned that they are immoral, incompetent price gougers. We've also learned one other thing: Airline deregulation is a failure, a 20-year pipe dream that has left us at the mercy of a cadre of cads whose only response to a national transportation emergency is a contemptuous display of their collective middle finger.

August 21: Brother, Can You Spare an Airport Design?
You've probably never thought about it, but, as we reach the new millennium, airlines and airports have become our nation's mass transit system. Trains are dead. Buses are dead. And, in case you haven't noticed, even with gas at a buck a gallon, no one drives the Interstate when they can fly. So how come we're not building new airports to reflect this societal reality? Surprisingly, it's not for lack of funds.

August 14: Fly Early, Stay Sane
Poor Joey says: Fly Early, Stay Sane. The naked truth of that aphorism is in the numbers published by the Department of Transportation. Book a flight early in the day--sometimes very early--and you stand a decent chance of getting an on-time departure. Fly in the afternoon and the odds of delay increase dramatically. Fly in the evening, after work, and you're almost guaranteed to be on a late flight.

August 6: How the Mediocre Have Fallen
Where do you go from mediocre, which is where the major U.S. airlines have mostly resided since the dawn of deregulation? You go into the tank. In fact, you crash through the floor of the tank and hurtle toward rock bottom, which is where the major carriers find themselves after the release of the Air Travel Consumer Report for the month of June. The numbers are a pitiless indictment of how the major carriers perform.

July 30: The Dog Days of Frequent-Flyer Programs
I think I finally have a handle on this frequent-flyer thing. And does it really surprise you to learn that the airlines are screwing us again? We're so busy trying to figure out rules the newly aligned airlines haven't announced yet that we don't look at the totality of things. The devil may be in the details, but so is diversion, and that, too, works in favor of the airlines.

July 23: Home
Fat Boy knew a lot of business travelers wouldn't get it. What's the big deal about another Marriott? Every place has a Marriott. Moscow has a Marriott. Why should it be news, why should it matter, that Brooklyn had a Marriott? If you grew up in Brooklyn, New York, you would understand. When you grew up in the fourth-largest city in America, you always made excuses for what wasn't there. Things like hotels and newspapers and airports. Somehow, Brooklyn never had any of the stuff that went with being the fourth-largest city in America.

July 16: TWA 800: Two Years, No Answers
Tomorrow is the second anniversary of TWA Flight 800 and we are no closer to answers than we were on the night that the Boeing 747 went down in flames. Every flight we take reminds us of what a sham the investigation of TWA 800 has been.

July 9: Despair--By the Numbers
Airline executives routinely dismiss individual cases of passenger maltreatment and true-life stories about poor service as merely anecdotal and not representative of their worldwide product. So if the carriers reject our specific tales of woe and refuse to show us their numbers, what can we agree to use as a measure of an airline's competence? How about the Air Travel Consumer Report, which is nothing if not a compelling tale of despair by the numbers.

July 2: Miles and Points Aren't Everything
Miles and points is what it's all about for Randy Petersen, the nation's most frequently quoted expert on frequent-travel plans. And to his credit, he 45-year-old Petersen has never claimed to be anything other than a mileage man. Lately, however, Petersen has begun to realize that frequent-travel plans don't exist in a vacuum. "I wonder if the airlines know what they're doing to us out there," he says. "Every day it gets worse and worse and I don't think the travel industry cares."

June 25: What a Difference a Year Makes in Asia
The whole world was changing a year ago and, like street suckers watching a three-card monte game, we were looking in the wrong place. On July 1, 1997, we were watching Prince Charles lead the British retreat from Hong Kong in a teeming rainstorm. Meanwhile, in total obscurity, a panicky Thai government devalued its currency and unleashed a financial firestorm in Asia. It's been good for travelers carrying suddenly Almighty dollars.

June 18: Life on the Road
You live this column every day of your lives, but let me lay it out for the business-travel wannabes, the travel-industry marketing wizards and the media types who don't fully grasp this simple concept: Life on the road stinks. And it gets worse, day by day, week by week, year by year. If you ain't living it, you can have it explained to you, but you can't feel it.

June 4: I Happen to Like New York, But Getting a Hotel Room is Murder
In case you hadn't noticed, it's almost impossible to get a room in Manhattan. There are days--and sometimes even weeks and entire months--when they might as well hoist a big, red, neon No Vacancy sign on top of the Empire State Building. Here are some highly subjective views on where to stay--if they have rooms!

May 29: The State of the Road
While we're at home--and home, I admit, is a relative concept for those of us who live on the road--we have a chance to think. Which is why I want you to think about these items: the rise of the Internet-fare weekend warrior, the new affinity card from British Airways and the new cons masquerading as code-sharing service.

May 22: Come Fly With Me
All his traveling life, Fat Boy the Frequent Flyer thought, Come Fly With Me was there. What was it that guy at the bar in Hartsfield had called it 20 years ago? Oh, yeah, the soundtrack of the road. The seminal Sinatra album was the perfect product for the newly emerging jet set and Sinatra's recent death has business travelers thinking about it all over again.

May 15: Value Pricing: Good Idea Then, Better Idea Now
As Bob Crandall prepares to retire as chief at American, consider his comment from 1992: "Higher and higher full fares and an ever-growing array of discount fares surrounded by an ever-changing plethora of restrictions simply do not work. Business travelers, who have watched unrestricted fares skyrocket, have had enough." Crandall proposed a brilliant fix--Value Pricing--which he then destroyed in a fit of pique. It's be great if he brought it back before he hit the road.

May 8: Planes, Trains and Frequent-Flyer Seats
The latest Transportation Department statistical report confirms what we've all feared: Airline service in general is in the tank and Northwest Airlines in particular has gotten worse. Meanwhile, what are the odds of getting a frequent-flyer seat this summer?

May 1: Stop Them Before They Code-Share Again
When asked last week about code-sharing deals between the mega-carriers, American chief Robert Crandall couldn't help but tell the truth. The alliances would mean "the companies would be better off," but consumers would only get "some incremental benefits." What more do you need to hear? Crandall, the American citizen, is telling you that Crandall, the American Airlines executive, is doing deals that are creating monopolies and extinguishing competition. Can't you hear his cry for help? Stop us, Crandall begs, before we code-share again.

April 24: In Search of Carry-On Clarity
The airlines are never so obviously deceitful and transparently arrogant as when they blame us for a problem they created and continue to exacerbate. I refer, of course, to this carrying on about carry-on bags. Anyone who takes a few moments to look at the facts--or, often, the conspicuous lack of them--will surely conclude that the airlines are being their usual disorganized, inscrutable selves. And rather than admit they created the problem and don't know how to fix it, the airlines opine about how they must crack down on carry-on bags for our own good.

April 17: Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.
Disregarding worldwide objections, the State of Virginia executed a Paraguayan national this week even though he was never granted his Vienna Convention rights to consult his embassy. So why should any other country--especially those nations whose commitment to equal rights under the law is tenuous--abide by the letter and the spirit of the Vienna Convention when the State of Virginia feels free to disregard it? And that should make American travelers overseas very afraid.

April 10: Slack-Jawed Regulators and Purse-Snatching Airlines
The only people on the planet dumber than the slack-jawed yokels at the Department of Transportation who regulate the nation's major airlines are the purse-snatching pea brains who run the major carriers. I refer, of course, to Monday's Dumb and Dumber routine between the mega-airlines and the DOT concerning the bare-knuckles tactics that the majors are using to pound the financial daylights out of the small carriers. Both sides came out looking pompous and officious and business travelers were left with no hope that anything will be done to alleviate their unfair fare burden.

April 3: You Should Go to Asia This Summer, But I Know You're Going to Europe
This is not open for debate: If you're not going to Asia on your summer vacation, you're nuts. The collapse of Asia's currencies makes it a great value this summer. But I know you're going to Europe anyway, so here are some tips so that you won't be fleeced.

March 3: The Frequent Flying Generation Gap
The generation gap that separates all frequent flyers is the chasm that explains the emotions--or lack of them--that business travelers experienced last weekend on hearing the news that the second incarnation of Pan Am stopped flying. If you are a BD (Before Deregulation) flyer, you mourned. If you are an AD (After Deregulation) flyer, it means nothing to you.

February 24: Thou Shalt Not Sit in Coach if Your Boss Will Pay for First
I turn my eyes to the heavens this week because, like all of us who wander in the business-travel wilderness, I have only religious explanations for the stupidity of four of our tribe and the Biblical retribution that has rightfully befallen them. Let me tell you the parable of the basketball referees and the first-class downgrades, the final verse of which was sung last weekend.

February 17: In Hell at Hartsfield
They have a saying in the South: If you're going to hell, you have to change planes in Atlanta. But times have changed. You no longer change planes in Atlanta to go to hell. These days, Hartsfield International is hell. As any traveler who uses Atlanta knows, Hartsfield has the worst on-time record of any major airport in America.

February 9: As the News Rushes By
While the rest of you were following last week's incredibly odd convergence of sex, guns and rhythm and blues, I was keeping watch on the business-travel beat. Everything you are about to read is true. Only the name of the airport in Washington has been changed, Also: Western Pacific folds; slot follies at Tokyo/Narita; BA closes its city ticket offices; DOT issues the dreary service statistics for 1997; and much more.

February 2: The Unholy Airline Empire
So how shall we discuss this increasingly incestuous spate of airline combinations? Shall we compare arrangements similar to last week's deal between Northwest and Continental airlines to the grand alliances of World War I? Or shall we discuss these deals in terms of Mafia families? Let's try both. Just for fun--and just to see if we can learn some lessons from an historical perspective.

January 23: It's a Hard Rain That's Gonna Fall
We are at one of those moments when the airline cycle of giddy highs leading to disastrous lows is about to kick in. After a couple of years of rip-roaring, rootin'-tooting profits, the airline industry is about to crash and burn again--and, as always, the carriers are about to take the rest of the travel industry with them. Dig out your Dylan CDs because it is a hard rain that's gonna fall.

January 13: Unsportsman-Like Conduct at CNN International
Good old, reliable CNN. That all-American-news, all-the-American-time beacon of broadcast Americana that beams its Ameri-centric version of truth, justice and sports scores to 850,000 hotel rooms in 100 countries and territories. Yeah, well, not anymore. The CNN we know and love no longer follows us wherever we go. What you see on that tube in your overseas hotel is CNN International, a whole different, and sometimes un-American, animal.

January 6: The 1998 Outlook for Overseas Leisure Travel
War in all its forms--social, economic, and military--will go a long way in shaping where Americans will travel in 1998. In places where Americans are winning the economic wars--the dollar is gaining dramatically in value against most European and Asian currencies--it is clear that we will visit in record numbers. But Americans react viscerally whenever there is a hint of increased social or military upheaval. We won't be visiting troubled places.

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