Seat 2B by Joe Brancatelli for 2010
December 29: THE PATIENT TRAVELER'S GUIDE TO WINTER TRAVEL WOES
Just when businesspeople think they've mastered the art of business travel, reality slaps us upside the head and reminds us that we're just pawns in the game of life on the road. You can't fool Mother Nature, no matter how many frequent-flyer miles you've banked or how many elite-status membership cards you can flash at a ticket counter. But you shouldn't just surrender. Here are some commonsense tips to cope with the rest of the winter.
December 22: THE 2010 AIRPORT DINING GUIDE
Whether you prefer to dine at the airport or (like me) somewhere nearby, the situation is improving. There are more and better places than ever before. So here's my latest list of favorites diners, dives, bars and fine-dining places in and around dozens of the nation's major airports. It's completely updated with more choices and more airports than ever before.
December 15: BACK TO ALL-BUSINESS (FLIGHTS)
The start-up airlines that created the concept of all-business-class service are mostly gone, but the concept lives on. And one newbie, BA's OpenSkies, continues to operate. All-business-class as a business proposition remains iffy, but business travelers still love the idea of a plane just for them. And what's not to love?
December 8: THE WORD FOR 2010? CONTRADICTORY
I've always devoted a December column to the lessons learned after another 365 days of business travel. I always conclude that it's been another bizarre year. But this year the word "contradictory" is much more apt. Every lesson learned this year was contradicted by another lesson learned. After more than 30 years of travel, I don't expect life on the road to make a lot of sense. This year, however, even the narrative thread seems lacking.
December 1: WHAT TO GIVE A BUSINESS TRAVELER
I have the perfect gift suggestion for business travelers: Time. Time to be home with family. An extra hour to finish a proposal. Ten more minutes so they won't run late for the next flight. But since I can't find the time store and wouldn't know how to wrap any minutes or hours I could buy, allow me to propose these more practical ideas for your holiday gift list.
November 24: X-RAYS, BODY SCANS AND THE TSA
Since everyone else is yelling and screaming about the TSA's graphic new full-body scanners and intrusive pat-downs, I figured it was wise to lower the volume. So here's my primer on the TSA and its practices and how airport security got this way. You make your own decisions. I trust ya.
November 17: A HOLIDAY TRAVEL HELPER
Face it, from about now until mid-January, we are not masters of our own domains: The amateurs dominate the airports, airlines and hotels. How will we survive this onslaught of the once-a-year, over-the-river-and-through-the-hills-to-grandmother's-house types? I've got some timely suggestions.
November 10: THE BEST T&E COST-MANAGEMENT TACTICS
Preventing your travel and entertainment budget from becoming a real cash drain isn't that difficult. All it takes is some common sense and a few imaginative tactics, not a ban on business trips. Conveniently, I have some useful new T&E tactics to try.
November 3: CHECKING IN ON HOTEL RATES NOW
Four in ten rooms are now empty on an average night in America. That's good news for bargain-hungry travelers. But nightly rates are rising off their 2008 lows. That's bad news for us. So what's a savvy business traveler to do in these uncertain lodging times? Think both tactically and strategically about your hotel needs and consider freshly minted tips for getting the best accommodations for the least money.
October 27: AIRLINE TICKET BUYING STRATEGIES NOW
Meet the new rules of buying airline travel. They're not the old rules of buying airline travel. In an era when the major airlines have unbundled virtually everything, you do have to rethink what you're buying, how you're buying it and how you can come to some strategy to purchase airline seats.
October 20: KEEPING CAR-RENTAL COSTS DOWN
Smaller fleets of older cars and rising demand mean that rentals costs are headed upward. So how do you keep your costs under control? It starts at the beginning of the process with where you make your reservation and literally continues until the moment you return your car. My current best tips and thoughts on the process.
October 13: MEMBERSHIP DOES HAVE ITS PRIVILEGES
Life on the road is always a matter of compromise and often a matter of choosing the lesser evil, but airport club memberships are unqualified, indisputable good things. In fact, they remain the single best investment you can make in your own travel comfort and personal productivity. A network-by-network look at the recent changes in the lounge systems.
October 6: CLOUD WARRIORS
Why load up your laptop with software before you hit the road for a business trip? There are Web sites that can help you create a document, manipulate files, create PDFs, translate a foreign language or make a playlist. This is my personal list of great stuff that exists in the computer cloud.
September 29: A SOUTHWEST STRATEGY FOR AIRTRAN
I've got a lot of questions about Southwest Airlines' decision to buy AirTran Airways. But when an airline makes money for 37 consecutive years in an industry that rarely makes money for 37 days in a row, well, you give it the benefit of the doubt. And a Southwest-AirTran deal will be the stuff of textbooks a decade from now.
September 22: GOODBYE, HOTEL FRONT DESK
In case you haven't noticed, some hotels are beginning to rethink the traditional front desk. At Courtyard and Hyatt Place, the big old piece of furniture has become small pedestals. At Hyatt's new Andaz chain, there are no desks at all. And in Europe, citizenM does it all by computer. It seems as if the front desk's days are numbered.
September 15: SHUTTLE INSANITY
The swarm of shuttles buzzing around airport terminals and clogging already-congested airport-access roads is no joking matter. One solution being embraced at airports around the country: centralized car-rental stations. Three dozen U.S. airport have built them or are planning them. But do they work for renters? Or even the rental companies?
September 8: OBAMA'S BUSINESS-TRAVEL REPORT CARD
The 2010 election season is upon us and it seems the appropriate time to give the Obama Administration its mid-term report card. I doubt these or any other grades will change a single House or Senate race in November, but it's wise to hold elected officials to account. Here's my assessment of how the Obama Administration has fared on major business-travel matters. He gets some As, but some Ds and Fs, too.
September 1: A DEAL-ICIOUS TRAVEL SEASON
Talking-head travel "experts" are already filling newspapers, Web sites, and cable-news channels with predictions of sharply rising business-travel prices during the busy fall season. They are also doing their best Chicken Little imitation and warning leisure travelers that their holiday options will be severely limited and much more costly than last year. So why are there record bargains to be found?
August 11: HOW THE BANKS BITE BUSINESS TRAVELERS
Thanks to new laws and regulations, credit, debit and ATM card users are now protected from a battery of abusive practices and outrageous fees. Well, everyone but business travelers, that is. Financial institutions continue to charge us insane prices for foreign currency transactions--and they are even charging us exchange fees for some domestic transactions. But there is a way to fight back, if you pay attention to the cards you carry.
August 4: WHY ARE THE SKY GODS SMILING
This is honest-to-goodness, once-in-a-decade good news: The nine largest U.S. airlines collectively racked up about $1.9 billion in second-quarter profits. That missed being the industry's best financial performance in a decade by a rounding error. But history suggests there's nowhere to go but down. The seeds of the next crisis in the airline industry are always planted during the putative good times.
July 28: THE ROAD WARRIOR GETS LITERAL
What happens if you decide your life on the road is literally on the road, driving, instead of flying? I've tried it and, much to my own surprise, I've liked it. For trips as long as 500 miles one-way, it is both cost- and time-effective. But driving instead of flying entails adjusting your schedule and your best practices and learning some new lessons about how to pack, think, prepare and prosper.
July 21: IS WHAT'S FARE FAIR?
Airlines are hot to go a la carte with pricing. But unbundled fares raise a raft of questions: about corporate contracts; basic fairness; the tax implications; the government's role in maintaining a level pricing playing field; and whether airlines can even track the revenues they claim to be generating. And then there's this: How come the one airline that charges the fewest fees is the only one that continually turns a profit.
July 14: THE TRAVEL-TECH ESSENTIALS
Tech tools have simultaneously made travel easier and more complicated--and made travel more essential and less necessary. And business travelers created the market for a slew of high-tech devices. But the tricky part of the equation is that the rules change all the time. There is no immutable "truth," only an endlessly nuanced and evolving set of procedures that get you to the next must-have "killer app."
July 7: INTO AFRICAN SKIES
Africa has been the lost continent for business travelers for far too long. Since there isn't a core of stable Africa-based carriers, the U.S. airlines' decision to shun the region forced business travelers to change planes in Europe. That often makes an Africa trip a tortuous, two-night journey. But at least one U.S. airline is changing the game and, barring further delay and disruption by the TSA, we might actually be able to get there from here in the future.
June 30: THE CENTER OF THE AVIATION UNIVERSE
Like it or not, New Yorkers matter more than anyone else--at least as far as business travel is concerned. Everyone who puts metal tubes in the sky for profit knows it. They aren't ashamed to admit that New York is the center of the aviation universe. And they are spending billions of dollars to cater to the foibles of flyers in the New York metropolitan area.
June 23: THE SUITE SPOT
With nearly 45 percent of U.S. hotel inventory sitting empty on any given night, it's no surprise some properties are getting creative about generating revenue by adding celebrity appeal and using other tricks to bring in money, if not guests. And what happened to all those new hotel chains people claimed to be launching?
June 16: AN UTTER LACK OF SPIRIT
Spirit Airlines and its striking pilots cut a deal Wednesday night and the airline claims it will resume flying today. Most business travelers don't fly Spirit, of course, but the airline's management has set new lows in ethnical actions during the strike. And being on the leading edge of low ethics today is something that tends to become an airline standard tomorrow.
June 9: NOTHING FAIR ABOUT AIRFARES
The Department of Transportation has seen the future of fares and it doesn't like it. It will impose new requirements on carriers by the end of the year. But it also gets metaphysical and tries to determine what components of the travel experience should be part of what your fare dollar buys. What could go wrong?
June 2: FRIENDS WITH FEW BENEFITS
It probably shouldn't surprise you, but the travel industry's foray into social-media marketing has already turned antisocial. Tweeting and posting YouTube videos that aren't much different than your advertising isn't a smart policy. And there seems to be a generational fight over what airlines and hotels should be doing in the social-media arena.
May 26: FREQUENT FLYER, INFREQUENT REWARDS
A new research report shows that Southwest Airlines gives you the best shot at claiming a frequent flyer award, US Airways is the worst and Continental Airlines is the best of the legacy carriers. So what? When it comes to choosing and using frequent-flyer programs, you're on your own. The only thing that matters is what you get when you try to claim an award.
May 19: BACK TO THE CAR RENTAL FUTURE
With Hertz's deal to buy Dollar Thrifty, more than 95 percent of the car rental business will be back in the hands of three major players. That brings the industry full circle to when I first started renting cars 30 years ago. Not much else has changed, either. It's still a low-margin, commodity-driven industry that we only think about when the price gets "too high" or there's a Jerry Seinfeld moment at the rez desk.
May 12: HONEY, THEY CANCELLED EUROPE
Pummeled by strikes and choked by volcanic ash, certain travelers will skip Spain, pass on Paris, or check their impulse to head to the Czech Republic this summer. But, you know, you don't have to go to Europe. Some thoughts and strategies about alternatives: Hawaii, the Caribbean, China and India, Australia, Canada and even seeing the USA in your Chevrolet (or Toyota).
May 3: MERGING TO OBLIVION
The United-Continental merger isn't likely to be any more successful than the dozens that preceded it. All that's really happened is that famous old airline names have disappeared and the merged survivors have shrunk, destroyed capital, and lost market share. And while the legacy carriers merge toward oblivion, newer, smarter, and more disciplined competitors drive the pricing, decide the industry's capacity, and earn what little profit there is to be made in the airline business.
April 28: THE PROTECTION PROTOCOLS
It's a good-news, bad-news, befuddling-news as airlines confront the era of passenger's rights. Here at home, the 11-years-in-the-making tarmac-delay rules are now in force. But Europe's "duty of care" rules are under attack after the volcanic ash forced carriers to care for hordes of stranded flyers. And new moves by icky airlines to charge for carry-on bags and reduce seat pitch to unprecedented levels make a mockery of the fair fare rules.
April 21: JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO
Add volcanoes to the list of things business travelers now have to plan to avoid. But even totally unexpected events shouldn't necessarily throw us off stride. Intelligent pre-planning, good strategies and smart tactics will stand us in good stead to face virtually anything life on the road throws at us.
April 14: THE HOTEL BRAND GANGERS
The major hotel chains have expanded their market share by increasing the number of brands they offer. Now, they're going a step further and opening competing brands in the same complex or even the same building. I call it brand ganging.
April 7: THE CURSE OF THE GHOST AIRPORTS
The nation's first new international airport in a decade is set to open next month near Panama City, Florida. But will flyers actually make it a destination, or will it join a growing list of airports that airlines and passengers forgot? If we build them, we usually don't come.
March 31: THE BUSINESS-TRAVEL DATA DUMP
Put aside any anecdotal information you have about air travel in 2009 and consider the facts: Fewer planes flew. Fewer people flew. Charging for bags didn't solve any financial woes. And the two carriers that still offer free checked bags, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways, are the only ones growing. We know all this thanks to the annual data dump on commercial aviation from the government.
March 24: WILLIE WALSH AND THE AIRLINE FACTORY
As he attempts to make British Airways over in his own image, Willie Walsh wages war with the union representing BA's flight attendants. Whether he's succeeding is a matter of interpretation--and intention. And what's it all mean for us, the (mostly) innocent-bystander passengers?
March 17: A PAX (RIGHTS) ON ALL THEIR AIRCRAFT
With six weeks to go before passenger's rights regulations go into effect and require airlines to stop holding us hostage on the tarmac, the empire is striking back. The gist of the airline counterattack: If you try to discipline us for holding passengers on planes for more than three hours, we'll simply cancel squadrons of flights and no one will be able to travel anywhere. Why carriers would be cutting off their nose to spite their fuselage if they tried.
March 11: ONEWORLD'S SLOT SURRENDER
American Airlines and British Airways have been pursuing an alliance and antitrust immunity for a decade. Meanwhile, most of its competitors have ganged up into the Star and SkyTeam alliances to fight Oneworld. Is the third time the charm for AA and BA's request? And what about the wild card, Virgin Atlantic?
March 10: EVERYONE'S A HOTEL CRITIC
The growth of user-generated reviews at sites like Trip Advisor has been a boon for business travelers, who can share what they know and learn about places and properties they don't know. Yet some "professional" critics despise the rapid growth of sites that specialize in guest commentary. Not me. I love 'em and offer some tips for putting the reviews in the appropriate context.
March 3: THE NyLon ROUTE IN A KNOT
One single route--New York to London--produces as much as 35 percent of the revenue generated in the transatlantic market. So you can understand why airlines and business travelers pay so much attention. What's the condition of NyLon's condition? Not good after a 24 percent traffic decline in just 24 months. But, not surprisingly, we're beginning to see more flights again.
February 10: THE FACTS ABOUT PASSENGER'S RIGHTS
Almost 11 years after Northwest Airlines stranded thousands of passengers on the tarmac in a Detroit snowstorm, the Department of Transportation is finally acting. Beginning in April, airlines can be fined as much as $27,500 a passenger if they hold flyers hostage on planes. It's been a long and winding road to passenger's rights.
February 3: EMPTY PLANE SYNDROME
What would you do if as many as a quarter of your best and most profitable customers disappeared and those that continued to buy your premium-priced product were suddenly demanding you charge them a fraction of your old rates? And what would you do if your bargain-hunting customers, who were never particularly profitable in the best of times, were now only buying when you sold to them below wholesale? Welcome to the airline business circa 2010.
January 27: HOTEL INSECURITY
Never has the conventional wisdom about hotel security made less sense or seemed more unwise. Every good notion about how to travel in a dangerous (or even just an unfamiliar) place is refuted by a new attack or a contradictory bit of advice. It's my job to bring order to this chaos, but believe me when I tell you that the chaos has consumed any notion of order. Why the old wisdom doesn't work and how we need to think going forward.
January 20: THE SORRY STATE OF JAPAN AIRLINES
Japan Airlines was literally the wings of Japan Inc.'s miraculous post-war recovery and late-century prosperity. But it went bankrupt this week and its descent is an odd mirror into the soul of the U.S. legacy carriers. Not that they'll understand the image, of course.
January 13: NEW YEAR, NEW DEALS
If you know you'll be traveling this summer, January is the perfect time to lock in ultra-low fares as the struggling airline and hotel industries slash prices and offer incentives to book early. It happens every year, of course, but this year the deals are much better.
January 6: THE TRUTH ABOUT TRAVEL IN A TIME OF TERROR
There is a foolproof way to end terrorism against travelers: Ground the planes. Facetious as it sounds, the suggestion underlines an undeniable truth about traveling in a time of terror. The only air-travel system that is guaranteed to be secure is the one in which planes never fly. Anytime an airline puts a plane full of passengers in the sky, a complex web of political, financial, social, and governmental compromises have been made.
These columns originally appeared at Portfolio.com.
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