Seat 2B by Joe Brancatelli for 2009
December 30: DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN
Since our most concentrated off-the-road time comes now, during the Christmas-New Year holiday, I thought we'd be well served by checking our to-do list. A couple of weeks from now, when we're back up in the air, we'll have either finished our respective lists--or delayed dealing with them for another year. I've got tips for cleaning up our bags, organizing our loyalty programs and planning for 2010.
December 23: HOME SWEET HOME
It's been another bizarre year on the road and this is what we learned these past 12 months: Politics are foul and security is politics; the barbarians are still at the boarding gate; how airlines are learning to live without high rollers; the mainstream media never learns; and more.
December 16: SANTA'S BRAND-NEW TRAVEL BAG
Stuck for a gift for a frequent-flying friend? Fear not. Your last-minute business-travel gift consultant is here to help. Sit on my metaphoric knee, and I’ll tell you what Santa can bring you or a traveling loved one for Christmas. We got masses of media, must-have gadgets, great new bags and much, much more.
December 10: AN AWFUL WEEK IN THE WORST HOTEL YEAR EVER
Think you had a bad week in this lousy year? You could have been in the lodging business. Hotels from coast to coast fell into foreclosure or went under the auction hammer, and a major hotel operator defaulted on another clutch of hotels and may abandon the properties. Oh, and it'll get worse next week and next year.
December 9: UP IN THE AIR, DOWN IN THE DUMPS
Clooney and Farmiga make impossibly attractive frequent flyers, and film buffs are raving about Up in the Air. But the best way to describe frequent-travel programs these days is to suggest that they are The Godfather Part III. There's still plenty to love, but you have to be selective and skeptical, and you have to accept that the glory days are over. Here are some essential truths about frequent-flyer plans from a frequent traveler who looks a lot more like Luca Brasi than George Clooney.
December 2: A DIFFERENT KIND OF AIR RAGE
Can government regulations, aggressively enforced by bureaucrats, make the nation's skies friendly again? It looks like we're about to find out. The Department of Transportation in the last three months has suddenly become the consumer advocate again and it's wielding its regulatory cudgel with gusto. What's it all mean for us and why are the airlines so worried?
November 25: THE THANKFUL TRAVELER
Three or four days of downtime--food, family, and no glances at our watches to make sure we're not late for our flight--makes a traveler thankful. And here's what else I'm thankful for on the road this season. I mean, what's not to love: Windows 7 works, smartphones are getting smarter, airport clubs still make sense and I can always listen to the bossa nova channel on my laptop anywhere in the world.
November 18: WHY DO (AIRLINE) FOOLS FALL IN LOVE?
BA wants to merge with Iberia. But in the last 20 years, it's also tried to buy United, invest in US Airways, merge with KLM and Qantas and is on its third attempt to get anti-trust immunity with American. But why do airlines keep merging--and talking about merging? It's not good for us or for the airlines.
November 11: MISSING THE IN-FLIGHT WIFI HOOKUP
I scream, you scream, we all scream for in-flight Internet. And a few domestic airlines are rushing to provide the sky-high WiFi service we demand. There's just one problem: We don't want to pay for it. Not even a little bit. And that brings us right back to where we were in 2003, when Boeing built in-flight WiFi and nobody came (or paid).
November 4: HIGH-TECH TOOLS OF THE TRAVEL TRADE
I've been on the road so long that I recall being labeled a "high-tech business traveler" because I owned a dual-time-zone watch and a carried a phone card rather than a pocketful of coins to feed a public phone. Now we suffer from high-tech overload. There's a temptation to adopt every new gadget or software gimmick, stuff it in our carry-on bag, and take it one the road—just in case. I've tried to pare down what I take along.
October 28: SKY SURVIVORS
The 16-months-in-the-making shift of Continental to Star from the SkyTeam alliance is the most recent maneuver in the high-stakes global competition between the three airline groupings that now control 60 percent of the world's air-travel capacity. But Star, Oneworld and SkyTeam seem to have one missing component: us passengers, who get very little benefit from the pairings.
October 21: A HOTEL'S LOSS IS A ROAD WARRIOR'S GAIN
Bad news: The hotel market is now officially in worse shape than some segments of the housing market. Good news: Travelers can ride the lodging industry's train wreck to substantial savings. Yet buying hotels when things are rotten is challenging. Consider this a guide to getting the best hotel room at the lowest price right now. No one knows for sure what next year or next month--or even next week--will bring.
October 14: DAVID FLIES OVER GOLIATH
The legacy carriers once controlled the entire airline market. Now they're down to around 70 percent market share. And four alternate carriers--Southwest, JetBlue, Alaska and AirTran--have doubled in size since 9/11 and are at almost 20 percent. The inevitable conclusion? The Big Five are, finally, too small to be too big to fail.
October 7: JOE'S BUSINESS-TRAVEL SURVIVAL KIT
Like most business travelers, I have some nearly nonnegotiable preferences about my life on the road. I'd call them "tips"--if I thought everyone shared my predilections and biases. Just think of them as suggestions for better travel. Which is my way of explaining why I obsess over my in-room coffee and seek out empty tins of Altoids.
September 30: THE TRUTH ABOUT AIRLINE BAG FEES
Here's an indisputable fact: During the second quarter, the nation's largest airlines collected $669.5 million worth of baggage fees from hapless passengers. But here's an indisputable truth: The more baggage fees that the big airlines pile on, the faster their overall revenue is collapsing. In fact, the only carriers that escaped a double-digit revenue decline were the two that still allow all passengers to check at least one bag for free.
September 23: FAILURE TO PERFORM
"Unprecedented" doesn't quite cover the speed and the scope of the decompression of the travel industry since Lehman Brothers' last gasp. Where are the horny bankers when you need them? You do remember The Horny Banker Theory of Business Travel we discussed right after Lehman tanked?
August 18: LET'S MAKE SOME TRAVEL DEALS
Since Wall Street melted down last year, figures show that airline revenue has plummeted about 20 percent. Hotel revenue is down closer to 25 percent. After initially trying to tough out the slump, airlines and hotels have begun to rethink their pricing strategies and are employing discount tactics to fill seats and get heads on beds. That means the world is full of bargains now. Here are some of my current favorites.
August 11: A SECRET SOCIETY AT THE AIRPORT
My Seat 2B column at the revived Portfolio.com returns and I return to where the column started more than two years ago: How come almost no one knows about Priority Pass, which gets you access to more than 600 airport clubs around the world for an insanely reasonable price? Because the airlines don't want you to know about it.
April 21: DEAL, OR NO DEAL
This is the best time in a decade to get a deal. Long haul or short, budget digs or palatial stays, leisure and business travel prices have reached comparative, historic lows. In other words, time to watch your back. If you think buying travel is tricky when prices are high, you have no idea how complicated life on the road can be when prices are falling.
April 14: TWO YEARS OF SEAT 2B
I've slipped into Seat 2B for the past two years and we've seen momentous, if chaotic, change. So let's get caught up with the state of Southwest (the best) and United (the worst) airlines; the state of premium-economy class; London laid low; the revived U.S. dollar and the continuing fees on our ATM and other banking cards.
April 7: THE SECURITY SWAMP
Secure Flight, the latest bit of data mining by the TSA, kicked in last week in typical style: suddenly, with virtually no public discussion and even fewer details about its implementation. Soon, if you don't give the agency your date of birth and gender and the name on your ticket doesn't exactly match the name on your ID, you don't fly.
March 31: STATE OF INDEPENDENCE
The sale of the 230-year-old Greenbrier Resort to Marriott last month raises a big question: Can any luxury hotel or resort thrive--or even survive--as an independent property? Experts on both sides weigh in on the implications for us.
March 24: DETROIT'S HOTEL DOLDRUMS
Think Detroit's car industry is on the rocks? You should see what's going on in the city's hotel industry. After opening a slew of casino hotels and spending hundreds of millions more to revive the old Book Cadillac, Fort Shelby and Ren Center hotels, Detroit has no guests. The hotel business is bad all over, but in Detroit it's a disaster.
March 17: WHAT COMES AFTER THE FALL
Each recession radically alters the flying experience for business travelers. After the recovery, expect to find fewer frequencies on popular routes; fewer nonstop flights; fewer premium-class seats; fewer multi-class carriers; higher fares for holiday travel; and a fundamental restructuring of premium classes.
March 10: TEN GREAT GETAWAYS
Thanks to an amazing confluence of factors, almost all of them related to our current parlous business climate, now is the time to take a vacation. Prices are approaching almost inconceivable lows, especially for premium-class air travel and deluxe hotels. Here are my picks for the top ten places for a great-deal getaway right now. Go ahead. Take a holiday. The crisis will be here when you get back.
March 3: THE NET(BOOK) EFFECT
Laptops are getting smaller, smartphones are getting smarter, and a whole new mobile computing category--netbooks--has developed in between. So business travelers have a wider choice of portable computing platforms than ever before. None of them are perfect, of course, and that makes our lives on the road more complicated than ever.
March 3: THE POWER AND THE PLATFORM
So with all these categories of portable computing in play, what should you be carrying. I look at nine specific computers and smartphone and note the strength and weaknesses of each.
February 24: THE COMMUTER CONUNDRUM
From a statistical point of view, flying in the United States is astonishingly safe. But the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407, the third consecutive fatal commuter incident, revives a lot of the fears that business travelers have about prop aircraft and regional jets.
February 17: DINING AWAY FROM THE AIRPORT
I really hate eating at an airport. No matter how cosseting the dining "concept," I don't find airports conducive to gustatory pleasure. For years I've kept a little list of great places to eat--joints and dives as well as casual places and culinary temples--close to many of the nation's most important airports. I'm happy to share it with you and urge you to leave a comment detailing your favorite near-the-airport places.
February 10: TARNISHED TRAVEL
The first weeks of every year bring a blizzard of travel industry data: fourth-quarter and full-year financial reports, granular traffic stats, analyst pronouncements, and all sorts of statistical minutia. It's rather dull stuff, frankly, but this year I plowed through it all with a single-minded determination to find the proverbial silver lining to the current collapse of travel. No such luck. The silver linings weren't just elusive. They were non-existent.
February 3: LOTS OF ROOM AT THE INN
Luxury travel has tumbled off the proverbial cliff as business travelers have abandoned deluxe hotels and premium-class airline flights. That means airlines and hotels will make fundamental changes in how they price and how they operate.
January 27: PANIC IN PARADISE
Weather wizards say this has already been the nastiest winter in decades—and that would normally be great news for hotels and resorts in sunny climes such as Florida, the Caribbean, Las Vegas, and Hawaii. But there's panic in paradise in 2009. The colder the weather--and the economy--the fewer the number of travelers who are making their way to beaches and resorts in the sun.
January 20: A MEMO TO OBAMA
I'd prefer to have advised Obama on the basketball court, but I settle for a memo to the new president, offering tips on what to do with Amtrak; the AA-BA anti-trust immunity request; airport security; the Transportation Department; airline subsidies; and Air Force One.
January 13: THE TRAVEL BARGAIN BIN
Hoteliers and airline executives have hit the panic button and that means price breaks and bargains we haven't seen in years. Reflecting its status as a leading indicator of economic hard times, business travel's slump means bargains anywhere you look.
January 6: THE BUMPY ROAD AHEAD
The bad state of the global economy will take its toll on business travelers and the entire travel industry in 2009. Here's what to expect from the airlines, hotels and car rental companies in the next 12 months.
These columns originally appeared at Portfolio.com.
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