The Brancatelli File for 1999

joe December 16: Airline Blame Game: Meaningless Promises, Egregious Excuses
For more than a year, United has been languishing at or near the bottom of the Transportation Department rankings for on-time flights and baggage handling. Which is interesting, since United has been installing hateful carry-on templates and claiming they improve operational efficiency.

December 9: We Are the Privileged
In these hale, heady and hearty economic times, when our biggest complaints are that the planes run late and that the hotels aren't swanky enough, we need to remember that we are the lucky ones. We can afford the planes and the hotels in the first place. We eat every day, sometimes at the world's fanciest places. And we have a roof over our heads. Maybe we don't get there as often as we want to, but at least we have homes.

December 2: A Business-Travel Miracle: An Airport That Works
I long ago abandoned hope that I sold my immortal soul for the opportunity to jet off to exotic locations. These days, I expect nothing more in exchange for my spiritual self than an aisle seat in coach and an airport that isn't a dry run for hell. But whenever the Faustian bargain of business travel becomes particularly difficult, I have learned that the fates miraculously restore my equanimity by routing me through Frankfurt's Main Airport.

November 25: Are You Ready to Party Like It's 1999, Uh, 2000?
Despite a torrent of publicity about Y2K computer problems and attempts by the travel industry to jack prices into the stratosphere, experts say one in four Americans will travel for this year's Millennium New Year's celebration. So here's the question: Where are you traveling New Year's Eve?

November 18: The Winter Driving Agenda
Punishing snow and ice storms humble even the most confident drivers. It should also teach travelers that safe winter driving requires careful advance planning and an extraordinarily high degree of preparedness. Here's what you should do to drive comfortably and safely this winter.

November 11: Life After Mac in the Wonderful Wintel World
Why does anyone pay attention to Apple anymore? Why does anyone listen to a word that Jivemaster Jobs utters? And why would anyone buy an Apple computer? Apple is what's wrong with American business today--arrogant, lawless and a lousy marketer of overpriced products. It seems to me that it's time for Apple to go the way of the Edsel or the Kaypro.

November 4: We Fly and, Sometimes, Some of Us Die
All you needed to hear on Sunday was that Egyptair Flight 990 had disappeared from the radar and you knew. One more flight goes missing over the Atlantic and you knew right away there'd be no miracles. TWA 800. Swissair 111. Now Egyptair 990. All dead. All gone. That's just the way it is now. We fly and, sometimes, some of us die.

October 28: The Web Is My Friend
The Internet is more valuable than a good hotel concierge, a quiet corner of an airport club or a good cab driver. I don't know anything else that's as helpful to a business traveler on the fly. It not only makes mundane tasks like shopping and banking effortless, it has literally created a bundle of new products and services that makes life on the road so much easier to bear.

October 21: Back to the Past in London, the Millennium City
If London, the self-described Millennium City, is all about the future, how come the locals continue to obsess about the past? Visiting business travelers will find precious little public support for the Millennium City theme. Pick up a newspaper, pop into a pub or engage a business contact in idle conversation and the topic is always what's gone before, not what's coming next.

October 14: The Fall Preview: Big Cities, Big Doings
Fall belongs to America's big cities. The weather is usually perfect: not too hot, not too cold, with warm days and crisp nights. Cultural attractions are in full swing: arts, theater, and dance happenings abound and the museums are mounting their new shows. Sports venues and restaurants are humming and autumn is when locals tend to love and use their cities best.

September 30: Eaten by the Bear
As business travelers, we may despise how the airlines have slashed service and raised fares, but they have generated handsome profits. That should make them the toast of Wall Street, where turning a pretty penny is the coin of the realm. So how come Wall Street hates the airlines, too? Why are airline stocks as much as 75 percent below their two-year highs?

September 23: Very Little Ado About Nothing
After reading the chest-thumping press releases and the incredibly insulting details of the carriers' passenger-rights initiatives, I realize that this is the nation's airlines at their most cynical. Taken as a single piece, these alleged customer-service plans are a remarkable collection of the unenforceable, the unimaginative, the implausible, the impossibly vague, the illogical, the insensitive and the previously mandated.

September 9: The Way of the Future in the Hotel Business
The merged Hilton-Promus entity, announced on Tuesday, becomes a lodging powerhouse in the worldwide battle of the hotel giants. Eight big companies now control 2.7 million rooms and dozens of hotel brands. The goal of these companies is generally the same: capture your lodging loyalty. No matter where you go or what you spend, these hydra-headed hotel groups want to own you.

September 2: Same Week, Different Tragedies
Exactly one year removed from the worst week in the history of business travel, it turns out that we haven't come very far at all. Once again we are careening toward a Labor Day weekend and once again we are exhausted by the road and desperate to forget about plane crashes, strikes, airline venality and everything that makes our business-travel lives a special little hell.

August 24: Gilding a Dead Lily: Stamps on the Internet
Let me ask you a relevant question: Do you even send snail mail anymore? I hear business travelers answering in unison: Snail mail? Me? Hardly ever! And therein hangs the interesting part of this tale of PC-generated postage. The less we use snail mail, the more often we run out of postage and don't have a stamp when we really need one.

August 12: Shocking and Surprising: Good News About Business Travel
Astounding as it may sound, I have good news to report about life on the road. And not just one little item, but a veritable tidal wave of glad tidings on miles, seats and fares. So, take a deep, cleansing breath and read on. It could be years before the business-travel news is so good again.

August 5: Searching the Search Engines for Business Travel
Two scientists recently spent six months rating search engines and came to what now seems an inevitable and foregone conclusion: The Web is expanding so fast that none of them can keep pace. But some search engines do better than others when they are asked to find relevant sites about business travel.

July 29: Five Great Spots for a Last-Minute Vacation
The summer is half over and you haven't planned your vacation yet, have you? Lucky for you, procrastination won't cost you. Thanks to a confluence of economic and sociological events, there are still great places to go for a great American summer vacation: Hawaii; Las Vegas; Rapid City, South Dakota; Lake Lanier, Georgia; and the Connecticut River Valley in New England.

July 22: Surf City, Here We Come
Jan and Dean didn't have the Internet in mind when they recorded Surf City, but I've been surfing the Web all summer long with Jan and Dean blaring out of my PC's CD player and it's working out pretty well. I have not found two girls for every boy, but I did find a ton of cool sites for business travelers.

July 15: The Inevitable Return of the Almighty Dollar
When the euro debuted on New Year's Day, it promptly surged to about US$1.17 on world currency markets. Europeans were crowing--and predicting the euro would soon be worth $1.25. What a difference a few months make. The euro has plummeted to about US$1.03 and U.S. travelers heading for the continent will find bargains galore.

July 8: By the Numbers: Life on the Interstate
I know the Interstate Highway system doesn't sound like much of a topic of conversation. Sexy the Interstates aren't. But functional is something else. As we all head out for our Great American Summer Road Trip, more than 20 percent of our driving will be on the Interstates. That's astonishing since the 42,000-mile Interstate Highway system accounts for less than one percent of the nation's roads.

July 1: Beware of Airlines Bearing Summer Gifts
If I detail some of the summer promotions that the airlines are offering business travelers, do you promise not to rush off to buy before you give me a chance to talk you out of succumbing to the bribery? Because this is about the airlines trying to convince us to look away from their outrageously high business fares.

June 24: My Favorite Hotel Column of the Year
Fifty weeks a year, you and I meet in this electronic space and chew over the big issues of the business-travel day. More often than not, we are forced to commiserate about the parlous state of life on the road. But not this week. This is the column where I tell you that hotels around the world have slashed their summer rates in an attempt to keep properties full.

June 17: When Bad In-Flight Food Happens to Good Chefs
Every time an airline hires a famous chef--and they've hired dozens--in-flight food gets worse. Why, I wonder, is all this bad in-flight food happening to all these good chefs? For an answer, I checked in with Fred Ferretti, the reporter and foodie who's been consulting on menus for Singapore Airlines.

June 10: The Net Changes Everything About Life on the Road
Every day for most of the last half of this century, road warriors have gone to battle with the same five basic tools: airlines, hotels, rental cars, credit cards and telephones. But now there is the Internet and nothing about business travel will ever be the same again. The Internet changes everything. It fundamentally and stylistically alters our lives on the road.

June 3: Every Crash Diminishes Us
After all the words and all the pictures, it is very simple: Every crash diminishes us. On a day when a plane goes down and fellow travelers die, all of us who live our lives on the road feel empty. We know that our lives, such as they are, have changed forever. We know that nothing will ever be the same. Maybe we'd forgotten that. After all, before American Flight 1420 went down yesterday, we'd gone almost two years since a plane crashed on U.S. soil.

May 27: Cleveland's Double Life
Cleveland has a new airport concourse, a hot baseball team, a new football stadium, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the endorsement of Drew Carey, who set his edgy sitcom in his old hometown. But you can't ignore the downtown and the empty hulls of once-famous department stores. And you certainly can't ignore the attitude of the locals. They won't stop raving about Cleveland's revival, but they skitter off to the suburbs at night because they wouldn't be caught dead in town after hours.

May 20: Landing Between a Rock and a Hard Place
The news that the Justice Department filed antitrust charges against American Airlines should have been delivered with the following announcement: Attention, frequent flyers! Fasten your seat belts and bring your seats to the full, upright position. We're about to land between a rock and a hard place. But we live in the real world where bureaucrats think they can sue airlines into playing fair and robber-baron carriers think they can swaddle abhorrent business practices in the blanket of free enterprise.

May 13: Running on Empty
Just when you think life on the road couldn't get any crueler, there is more outrage and more proof that the airlines are run by rapacious clowns who don't even care about our safety. Reports surfaced this week that there's at least one international airline that makes it a practice to carry too little fuel, routinely jeopardizing the safety of its passengers and untold thousands on the ground.

April 30: The Average Joe Gets Unsafe E-mail From AOL
Did you know that E-mail isn't safe? I know it ain't safe because America Online told me so and won't use it to deliver crucial messages. And therein hangs a tale about average Joes who are forced to jump through digital hoops just to accommodate the technology that was created to serve us.

April 22: Making Sense of Hotel Frequent-Guest Programs
There are 57 million members of North American frequent-flyer programs, but just 18 million hotel frequent-stay players. The average business traveler is a member of 3.2 airline programs, but just 1.1 hotel plans. Why aren't we paying more attention to hotel programs and why are 70 percent of us converting hotel earnings into frequent-flyer miles?

April 15: Why You Need a Travel Agent
Thirteen different airlines fly between nine New York and Los Angeles airports. There are no less than 364 separate fares from which to choose. Every fare has a unique--and often indecipherable--set of travel restrictions. And you'd be trying to book a one-way ticket that cost as little as $99 or as much as $2,198. Now you know why you need a travel agent.

April 8: This April, in This Paris
If you haven't been to Paris on business in a while, you can't help but notice that the culture war is over. The surrender may not have been gracious and it certainly isn't unconditional, but Paris these days seems resigned to the fact that the world no longer eats, drinks, thinks, dreams and dresses in French. Parisians even seem to realize that most of the planet cares more about Compaq than Camus and that HTML, not Hugo, is what people are reading.

April 1: It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
It's April Fools Day, but these aren't gags: Continental president Gordon Bethune says he'll have to raise ticket prices by $38 if a passenger's bill of rights is passed. Northwest executives try to explain away January's disaster in Detroit. And goes public and is immediately worth more than three major carriers combined. In other words, the travel world has gone mad.

March 25: Spring Stats
I admit it: I am obsessed with the minutiae of business travel. I collect odd little statistics and facts, stuff them in a file folder, trade them with other flyers while we're sitting in airline clubs. I'm thinking you might like to share these stats, if for no other reason than you'll learn a little bit more about your life on the road.

March 11: The Truth About the Injustice of the American Way
What would you think if I told you that a big, industrial nation arrests foreign nationals, denies them their right to contact their embassies, then executes them if they are convicted? My guess is that you'd be afraid to travel to this repugnant place. There's just one problem: I'm talking about how the United States treats its visitors.

March 4: Dubai Finds the Formula
Dubai doesn't have crime. It doesn't have conspicuous consumption or incalculable oil wealth. It isn't rigidly religious or dissolutely secular. There's no terrorism or kidnapping. It doesn't have an erratic strongmen, a fundamentalist Islamic government or a xenophobic ruling family. In fact, most business travelers consider the tiny Emirate in the Persian Gulf to be the Switzerland of the Middle East.

February 25: Short Dispatches From the Front
I've been on one of those road trips from hell and just returned with several notebooks crammed with observations. Herewith some current thoughts on the continued tyranny of the carry-on templates; United's new policy of offering service based solely on your elite frequent-flyer ranking; and the incredibly high cost of hotel Internet access, the lodging rip-off du jour.

February 18: Isn't It...
Isn't it ironic, expensive, outrageous, inevitable, inconvenient and pathetic? What's happening on the road, I mean. American wants compensation from pilots for cancelled flights even though we don't get any from American. The government wants to raise user fees even though there's a surplus in the Aviation Trust Fund. Korea is building a new airport for Seoul even as many global carriers have dropped service there. And more, of course.

February 4: Do As the Romans Do: Worry About Traffic
As Romans gleefully and mischievously tell any visiting business traveler, Rome has the world's worst traffic, so leave the driving to us. But, lately, even the Romans are annoyed. An endless round of civic renovation and restoration, all of it aimed at sprucing up Rome for the Jubilee Year of 2000, has rerouted familiar traffic patterns and choked access to virtually all main streets.

January 28: New Year, New Hope: A Raft of Start-Up Airlines
Even though the major airlines are currently functioning at their code-sharing, price-gouging, monopolistic best, there is no end of entrepreneurs looking to start new carriers. As many as six new domestic jet carriers may be flying in 1999 and they all hope to exploit niches left unguarded by the major airlines.

January 21: Compartmentalizing Your Rage Over Delta's New Surcharge
Delta's new $2 fee on tickets not purchased via its Web site needs to be examined with perspective. If Delta starts unbundling prices--Delta's rationale for the surcharge is the rising cost of booking fees--then it should work both ways. Where's my rebate for dropping jet-fuel prices? I don't eat on planes, so I deserve a rebate of the food costs. Where's my "I-didn't-use-the-lav" rebate for that Delta Shuttle flight to Boston when I didn't use the toilet?

January 14: Budapest Wheezes Into the Future
Maybe all you need to know about the state of the Hungarian economy can be found at any curb in the central district. For every snazzy new Honda Accord or Jeep Grand Cherokee there is a tinny, tiny Trabant, the hideously ugly, unreliable econobox once manufactured in East Germany. Hungary's 10-year sprint from "goulash communism" to democratic capitalism has created conspicuously consuming haves and nervous have-not-too-muchs.

January 7: Welcome to Euroland: No Snow, No Currency
Allow me to introduce you to Euroland, the nickname for the 11 European Community nations that adopted the euro as their official currency on January 1. Funniest thing about Euroland: There aren't any coins or notes to prove there is a currency called the euro. The euro theoretically exists in trading rooms and in computers, but I haven't seen a store, a hotel, an airline or a taxi that quotes prices in euros.

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