Seat 2B by Joe Brancatelli for 2007
December 18: WHAT I LEARNED ON THE ROAD THIS YEAR
At the end of each of the 30-plus years that I've been on the road, I come to the same conclusion: It's been another bizarre 12 months for business travel. Here's some of the useful stuff I've learned on the road this year. Some of it requires a Zen-like forbearance--and some of it requires that we unlearn old lessons.
December 11: 'TWAS THE FLIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
The airlines ran about 75 percent on-time over Thanksgiving, so the major carriers declared victory and claimed they had done a great service for the American traveling public. But would you accept that from FedEx--or your dry cleaner. No, holiday travel is lousier than ever and you need to plan to survive.
December 4: AMTRAK AGONISTES
Here's a cosmic question: How much is 30 minutes of a business traveler's time worth? Here's a concrete (well, concrete and steel) answer: about $13.5 billion. That's what European interests have spent to speed up the new Eurostar and how much faster it is than Amtrak Acela. Why are we 30 minutes behind the Europeans? Because Amtrak is underfunded, overpoliticized and lacking a cohesive vision. It just keeps clickity-clacking from one taxpayer-funded crisis to another.
November 27: FASHIONABLE FLYING
The tale of busty, leggy Kyla Ebbert and her wardrobe malfunction on Southwest didn't shed much light on the topic of dressing for the road. Sadly, the delivery of useful information about travel attire is left to bald, fat messengers like me. So take it from this eternally rumpled flier on the aisle: Edit your wardrobe both to breeze through security and to survive a week or more on the road with a modicum of style. It's not about dressing down; it's about whittling down.
November 20: CHRISTMAS CLEARANCE IN BUSINESS CLASS
When you sit down to your Thanksgiving turkey, think about what youíre doing for the end-of-the-year holidays. If youíre yearning for one of those hearth-and-home scenes or if only a beach getaway will do, well, I canít help you. But if youíve dreamed of Christmas Eve in the Eternal City, Christmas Day in Cologne, St. Stephenís Day in Dublin, or New Yearís Eve in Edinburgh, the airlines will happily extend their best prices of the year for the comfy confines of their business-class cabins. Paris? London? Milan? Madrid? Barcelona? Those, too, and dozens more.
November 13: FREQUENT FLIER FALLACIES
There are three things we can say about frequent flier programs: They are the most intriguing thing business travelers deal with on the road. They are the most frustrating thing we deal with on the road. And everything you think you know about them is wrong. Even the name "frequent flier program" is misleading.
November 6: THE CHAOS AT KENNEDY
Only about 60 percent of Kennedy's flights this year have had even a nodding acquaintance with their scheduled arrival and departure times. And with a third of the country's air traffic running through New York's airspace, JFK's crisis is a national one. The government wants to cut the number of flights at the airport. The airline industry wants to continue to simultaneously increase flights and cut capacity by using smaller aircraft at JFK. We, of course, are in the middle of the chaos.
October 30: A WATERY GRAVE FOR HOTEL TUBS
With only 2 percent of its visitors using the bathtubs in their guestrooms, hotels are beginning to rip out tubs and replace them with more spacious, more appealing shower stalls. That's good news for shower guys like me, but may be disconcerting for the hardy minority who still prefer a good soak on the road.
October 23: BUYING ABROAD
Thought about picking up a European car at the factory and then shipping it home the next time you're over there? The bottom line: It's fun, it's different, it's easy; you save money on the U.S. sticker price; and you get to brag about having done something most road warriors haven't heard of, let alone experienced.
October 16: BAD TIMES AT THE AIRPORT
The government has released another report about airline on-time performance and itís both horrifying and monotonous. And there's no silver lining: Things are bad and getting worse. But I've combed the statistics and can offer some guidance about the best and worst times to fly at the nation's most important airports. The time you save by paying attention is your own.
October 9: PASSPORT TO BUREAUCRACY
I had two weeks to get a visa and a passport renewal through the State Department's overloaded system. I knew I couldn't do it by myself, so I engaged a professional expediter to get the job done. Could they pull it off? And why did I let the State Department put me in this situation in the first place? Hereís the scoop on the middlemen who broker fast passports and visas for a hefty fee.
October 2: MY HOTEL WISH LIST
In their rush to up-scale, up-market, up-size, and generally spiff up, hotels continue to ignore the basic amenities and services that business travelers like you and I desperately need and desire. I've come across pillow menus and chocolate concierges and there are chains spraying "signature" fragrances in their lobbies. But a cup of in-room coffee and a place to hang my garment bag? Those things I apparently can't have.
September 25: LUGGAGE IN LIMBO
Business travelers have baggage and--right now at least--our real suitcases are causing more issues than the emotional stuff we carry around. Near the top of the list of woes that the airlines have caused lately: They are losing our checked bags with alarming frequency.
September 18: EATING WELL ON THE FLY
Life on the road is no picnic, but there is good news: Food at the airport is getting better. And itís getting better the right way: with respected local dining outlets being given a chance to serve up their specialties to ravenous and gastronomically adventurous travelers like us.
September 11: THE ENEMY WITHIN?
Six years after 9/11, business travelers wrestle with an ugly reality: Our most intractable foe may be the federal bureaucracy we created to keep our airports and airplanes safe. The TSA treats us like terrorists until we're proven innocent. And while it vigilantly protects us from breast-feeding moms, frequent flyers with biometric IDs, and Ozzie and Harrietís son, there's no sign that we're actually any safer from terrorism.
September 4: LOST IN TRANSLATION
Business travelers know firsthand how the once-almighty dollar has been humbled in world markets. So what have the big banks been doing as our buying power has shriveled? Raising their foreign-currency exchange fees, of course. Whenever you use a credit card in a foreign country or tap an ATM to get local currency, chances are you'll pay as much as 5 percent in fees.
August 28: WORST-CASE SCENARIOS
I was on the road elsewhere in America when Katrina hit two years ago. But Katrina ripped away my veneer of invulnerability from afar, so I've spent the past two years laboriously compiling the components of a practical emergency kit for business travelers. My kit is far from perfect, and you will certainly have your own twists. But this is a place to start.
August 21: THE GREEN BUSINESS TRAVELER
I think my green credentials are pretty good. But Iíve never thought much about frequent travel and the environment. As much as I condemn their business practices and financial models, Iíve never thought of airlines as big, bad polluters. Nor have I paid much attention to my own actions on the road and how they might affect the environment. But if we want to continue to fly globally, we'd better start acting locally to reduce business travelís impact on the planet.
August 14: MY FAVORITE AIRLINE THINGS
I have never seen crisp apple strudel on an airline meal tray and I would never go near an in-flight menu that offered schnitzel with noodles. Brown paper packages tied up with string? Uh-uh. The TSA requires that all packages go unwrapped through checkpoints. Still, if I look hard enough, I can find a few favorite airline things. Here they are.
August 9: THE AXIS OF AIRLINE EXCESS
Youíd think that all of the service problems and financial weakness would make Big Six CEOs a humble and fiscally circumspect lot. Hardly. Theyíre raking in colossal payouts and earn as much as 2,000 times the average flight attendant. Shareholders, employees, and passengers are all expected to offer up tribute money to these self-styled sky gods.
July 31: PILLOW TALK
There is good stuff on the road this awful summer. But it's all at the hotels. Stuff like in-room coffeemakers, physics-defying curved shower curtain rods, cool radios and the like.
July 24: THE NEXT SMALL THING IN THE SKIES
All-business-class flights that seat just 44 to 100 passengers may not sound as sexy as an 850-seat behemoth. But if you've been to an airport this summer and have endured the crowds, the lines and the delays, you know that small can be truly beautiful. Which probably explains why the all-business-class carriers have quickly carved out a niche in the international skies.
July 17: GOOD MEDICINE
I'm not a doctor and I don't prescribe from Seat 2B. But I'll tell you this: Business travelers are much too cavalier about their health on the road. But bad things do happen to good travelers, and that's when our unwillingness to deal with our medical well-being could come back to haunt us.
July 10: REDLINING THE SUMMER
I've just informed my own clients that I'm not flying anymore this summer. But if you must fly, I suggest that you do your best to avoid these guaranteed time-wasting, angst-inducing black holes. Steer clear of these airlines and airports from hell.
July 3: LOSING LONDON
I love London, but London these days is impossible. The exchange rate is murderóat $2+ to the pound, everything in London costs twice as much as it does in New York. London's rebirth as a banking and investment center means that prices are skyrocketing. Traffic is brutal. And, like many other business travelers, I've given up on Heathrow as a connecting airport.
June 26: CORPORATE JETS FOR THE MASSES?
Logic says you can't fly private for the price of coach when the experts say that corporate jets cost about $3,000 an hour to operate. But the guy who runs Jumpjet thinks otherwise and he's offering two roundtrips a month for just $2,000.
June 19: THE RIGHT CLICKS
After more than 30 years on the road, nothing about business travel frightens meóexcept when some radio or television interviewer calls me a travel expert. I cringe, because I know what you know: There is no such thing. Over the years, though, Iíve come up with a set of Web-based strategies to help me manage my life on the road. Here are the best of them, and how I use them to my personal advantage.
June 11: FIRST AMONG EQUALS
I have seen the future of first-class flying, and it's on the ground. If you're traveling first class on Lufthansa in Frankfurt, you have access to something unique in air travel: an entire terminal reserved for the airline's most elite customers. Needless to say, it makes Lufthansa first among equals in the battle for the international first-class flyer.
June 5: THE BAG MAN
In an era of disposable $99 bags, famous luggage brand names slapped on mediocre imported products, and insane prices for designer luggage, Glaser Designsí luggage and briefcases stand apart. They're made by hand for special travelers who have very specific needs.
May 29: THE SUMMER OF OUR DISCONTENT
It's going to be a long, hot, nasty, delay-filled summer. But you can take some rational, reasonable and practical steps to protect yourself. I don't have a magic bullet to offer, but I do have some tips to help you avoid the worst of what will surely be the summer of our discontent.
May 22: ONE WORLD, ONE PHONE, MANY COMPLICATIONS
From the moment the cell phone was invented, business travelers have searched for the telephonic unicorn: one mobile device with one number that works everywhere on the planet. But now that the mythical beast has finally appeared--with E-mail and Web browsing--it turns out the one-phone solution may not solve all our problems after all. There are all sorts of cultural, social and financial issues involved.
May 15: THINKING OUTSIDE THE ECONOBOX
I'd say the Hertz Prestige Collection is the best luxury rental-car service from a major national rental firm, except for one thing: The Hertz Prestige Collection is the only luxury rental-car service offered by a big agency. So if you want to rent a model-specific Audi, Volvo, Infiniti or Mercedes or are looking to test a big, honking SUV, Hertz is where you go.
May 8: THE HOTEL COLLECTOR
There are plenty of famous rich folks and big lodging companies trying to build global chains of luxury hotels. But personally, Iím rooting for Raymond Bickson. The sunny-souled boss of Taj Hotels has just picked up three trophy properties in New York, Boston and San Francisco and he's paying premium prices for iconic hotels.
May 1: SURVIVING SIBERIA
Coach can happen to the best of us. An upgrade doesn't come through. The next flight is sold-out up front. A chintzy client won't spring for international business class. Your own bean counters decide to make a point about controlling expenses by forcing you to the back of the plane. But you can survive in Siberia. It takes a little planning, a bit of strategy, and a lot of attitude adjustment. But you can do it.
April 24: THE LAST TABOO
The airlines are suddenly discounting in international business class. Why? To get more revenue, of course. And now business-class pricing is as confusing as coach. But, still, there are terrific bargains to be found, especially if you can plan ahead or want to travel in style on holiday.
April 11: THE MAGIC CARD
Okay, here's my debut column for Portfolio.com. It'll run every week and focus on upscale business travel. This week: The Magic Card, aka Priority Pass, which gets you into more than 500 airport clubs around the world. Bottom line: It's essential.
These columns originally appeared at Portfolio.com.
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