Seat 2B by Joe Brancatelli for 2011
December 28: THE 2012 AIRPORT (AND NEAR-THE-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. Here's my latest list of favorites diners, dives, bars and fine-dining places in and around 41 of the nation's major airports. It's completely updated with more choices--and an easy-to-navigate format to get right to the airports that interest you the most.
December 14: THE BACKSCATTER BACKSTORY
Now that full-body scanners have won legal clearance and the public outrage over privacy has subsided, the argument has moved to safety. Despite repeated TSA claims to the contrary, a lot of flyers (and a lot of medical types) think the so-called backscatter scanners aren't safe. The argument: No one is monitoring the machines and they emit a kind of radiation that messes with your DNA. It all sounds like an episode of The Outer Limits that scared me as a kid.
December 7: HOTEL HISTRIONICS
Why should you, the average business traveler, care about a side-of-the-road hotel in a not terribly important city run by a not particularly impressive hotel chain? Because its auction sale for a fraction of its debt last week is reflective of the awful state of the hotel business. As many as one in three of the hotels we use are underwater, in foreclosure or has been sold for pennies on the dollar. And it's going to get worse next year.
November 30: THE THINGS I'VE LEARNED ON THE ROAD THIS YEAR
Want indisputable proof that being called a business-travel "expert" means absolutely nothing? Here it is: Just as I typed "I'm writing my annual 'things I learned this year' column now because nothing important happens on the road after Thanksgiving," news of the bankruptcy filing of American Airlines found its way onto my desk. So this year, at least, I learned to assume nothing. Here's what else I learned on the road.
November 23: TICKET TO AIRPORT CHECK-IN
Business travelers aren't particularly fond of airport hotels. Unlike a lavish resort that can occasionally seduce us or a big-city hostelry that wows our senses, airport hotels simply can't overcome the geography. After all, airport hotels are at the airport, and no business traveler ever wants to spend more time at the airport. But when we need them, some airport properties do step up.
November 16: TRAVEL CONFIDENTIAL
There are good things about life on the road. You have to look for them. There aren't as many as there used to be. And you have to accept that "good" is a relative term. But you can find the good, the better-than-the-alternative choices and the genuinely laudable. Here's my short list of the small perks and tiny privileges that make my life on the road bearable.
November 9: THIS IS THE GOOD STUFF
You've got questions about the TSA's new trusted traveler program, the gigantic devaluation at Hilton HHonors, the big fine on American Eagle for stranding passengers on the tarmac and other topics. I have the answers you're looking for. I least I think I do.
November 2: THE VICIOUS CYCLE OF GETTING LESS FOR MORE
The divide between travel-industry bosses and their employees is widening and business travelers are falling through the cracks. Whether it's appalling things like the Qantas CEO shutting down his airline hours after receiving a 71 percent raise or fights over outsourcing of hotel housekeeping, bosses earn more and travelers and employees get much less.
October 26: STOP DREAMING. FIND AN A380
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner completed its first commercial flight this week. But why should we care? It'll be at least a year before we see the first "game-changing" 787 route in the United States. In fact, four years after its launch, it's almost impossible to find an A380, the last "game-changing" aircraft to take to the sky. But at least I can tell you where to find that one.
October 19: CHANGE YOUR TRAVEL ATTITUDE
Business travel can be tough enough without bringing your personal crises, stresses and other concerns into the picture. Want to have a smoother road-warrior experience? Try these six tips to keep your attitude in check while working away from home, sweet home. And a special tip: Don't freak out if you don't have time to read this. See how it works?
October 12: FALL OF AN AMERICAN EMPIRE
Once upon a time, American Airlines was the industry leader. Travelers and competitors alike really did consider American something special in the air. Today, however, American is a financial disaster, operationally shabby and being compared to (shudder!) US Airways. How did the American empire collapse?
October 5: THE TSA PROGRAM DOOMED AT TAKE-OFF
PreCheck, the TSA's new known traveler plan, launched this week and it has none of the benefits an honest attempt at a "trusted traveler" program would offer the nation's elite frequent flyers. The TSA has made it so conditional, and it offers so little in the way of consistent benefits, that there's virtually no chance the pilot could ever logically be deemed a success.
September 28: SIX SANITY SAVERS FOR ROAD WARRIORS
Most of what's wrong with life on the road isn't our fault. After all, airlines and hotels don't usually work in our best interest. But we can make business travel less stressful, more productive and a bit less chaotic and inconvenient. And we can do it ourselves. Here are six ways to make our own travel better.
September 21: THE FALL TRAVEL TUNE-UP
Now that the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer have ended and we've survived the hurricanes, earthquakes and security scares, it might be wise to take a few moments to rethink, reload and revamp for the fall travel season. It's time for deep thoughts--What hotel chain's bonus entices you in the fourth quarter? Do you need a mileage run or status match?--and basic tasks like cleaning out your carry-on bag.
September 14: HOW TO AVOID DATA ROAMING CHARGES
Business travelers live on their mobile phones and depend on their mobile devices for all sorts of day-to-day productivity. But as our data needs increase, mobile phone companies are jacking up the cost of data roaming. And if you travel internationally, basically, you're screwed. But I have some tips to keep your costs under control.
September 7: 10 THOUGHTS ABOUT TRAVEL SINCE 9/11
The very first column I wrote after 9/11 was widely praised and reprinted. No one will remember this column or want to reprint it. It will not inspire confidence or defiance. Because when you have 10 thoughts about travel since 9/11, none of them are happy and none are particularly hopeful. The world in general, and the world of travel in particular, hasn't fared well since 9/11.
August 31: HOW AIRLINES NICKEL AND DIME US
In a world gone mad with earthquakes, hurricanes, economic turmoil and fleeing Gaddafis, it's good to know that the airlines are still No. 1 with a bullet on the hit parade of absurdity. Now that the DOT requires airlines to show ALL of their fees and charges on a single page, we're getting a sense of how ludicrous (and potentially profitable) these ancillary charges can be. And woe to you who want to check a vaulting pole or dry ice.
August 24: BOOK AT YOUR OWN RISK
Airlines traditionally pare back on their routes during the winter when business travel is lighter. But factor in the uncertain economy and this year carriers are even more aggressive about service cuts. Your travel plans this fall and winter will take a hit and you might be wise to double-check your advance itineraries now.
August 17: EVERYTHING YOU KNOW ABOUT VACATIONS IS WRONG
Let's not mince words: Everything you know about "taking a vacation" is wrong. I'm not kidding. What you know about holidays is wrong about time, wrong about place, wrong about method, and, most importantly, wrong about attitude. Rather than create a laundry list of what's wrong with commonly accepted ideas of a vacation--and, more specifically, the summer vacation--let me lay out some alternative approaches to resting, relaxing, and reinvigorating your mind and body.
August 10: WINNERS AND LOSERS IN THE FAA BUDGET WAR
While the Congressional spat over labor issues and airport subsidies is temporarily over and the FAA is open again, there were definite winners, losers and villains in the melodrama. Does it surprise you that the airlines were winners, getting to keep nearly $400 million in funds that should have been submitted as tax payments or refunded to passengers? Or that everyone else lost?
August 3: RUNWAY READY-TO-WEAR
I'm having trouble understanding how people dress on planes. Sure, I'm old and my mother made me dress in a shirt and tie when I first visited an airport. But when did low-riding pants, super-short-shorts and cross-dressing hooker styles become standard travel attire? Suddenly, I feel like a fashion plate for wearing the "uniform." All this ruminating got me to writing some tips for plane dressing.
July 27: UNESSENTIAL AIR SERVICE
The federal government's Essential Air Service is fast becoming the metaphoric poster boy for wasteful government spending, entrenched interests, political gridlock and a greedy airline industry. Created in the wake of 1978's airline deregulation, the program costs taxpayers $200 million a year and subsidizes airlines as much as $3,000 a passenger for service no one uses.
July 20: PLANE PLASTIC AND PLAIN PERKS
Two major banks and their airline partners this week tossed new credit cards into an already crowded, confusing, and fractious market. The result: more proof that "new" airline credit-card "benefits" are often little more than services that carriers and card issuers once offered for free. I've also gone carrier-by-carrier to pick the "best" card offered by each airline and its bank partner.
July 13: WRONG THINKING AND LOST RIGHTS
When Texas executed Humberto Leal Garcia last week, it was another occasion when the United States violated the Vienna Convention, which guarantees travelers the rights to consular consultation when accused of a crime. Garcia was undoubtedly guilty and deserved his punishment, but travelers are all a little less safe when the Vienna Convention is violated.
July 6: BIG DISCOUNTS ON BIG SEATS THIS SUMMER
If you haven't made your summer getaway plans yet, don't fret. Some last-minute deals can still make a vacation possible. As for winter, now is the time to book a perfect holiday. And, of course, a lot of this depends on the price of oil, which is rising again.
June 29: DELTA'S UNHOLY ALLIANCE
A potential alliance with Saudi Arabian Airlines is causing a lot of headaches for Delta, which finds itself at the center of a tawdry public relations battle over visas, religion and partnerships. Delta's endless repetition of the only-following-orders mantra isn't playing with travelers or the media--and it shouldn't.
June 22: THE MUDDLE IN THE HOTEL MIDDLE
The hotel industry has taught us the lesson of segmentation well: We only need to buy as much or as little lodging as we need and at a chain that specializes in certain things. But that success of segmentation has meant storied and iconic hotel brands--Hilton, Sheraton, Holiday Inn and others--have stopped being relevant. Now the major chains are throwing billions at the old brands in hopes of reviving their fortunes.
June 15: DELTA AND US AIRWAYS PLAY THE SLOTS
Delta and US Airways want to swap slots at LaGuardia and National airports. The deal would mean one competitor essentially disappears at each airport. The DOT wanted big concessions to approve an earlier version of the swap. What will the agency do now? What should DOT do? And should airlines swapping scarce public assets have a responsibility to offer a passenger benefit?
June 8: NO SPIRIT FOR AIRLINE INVESTING
The IPO for Spirit Airlines has gone over like the proverbial lead balloon and it raises a simple issue: Why would anyone ever invest in an airline? Over all the years, the only winners have been the shorts and even legendary investors like Warren Buffett have lost their proverbial shirts. "If a farsighted capitalist had been at Kitty Hawk, he would have done his successors a huge favor by shooting Orville down," Buffett once said.
June 1: THE KEYS TO REWARD TRAVEL
Maybe you know this stuff, maybe you don't. But here's a refresher on the best way to approach your frequent flyer programs and how to wisely cash in your miles. Also, a reminder: With the imminent arrival of a combined United-Continental program, we might have to stand while we wait for what's coming and how other airlines react.
May 25: GUESTS BEHAVING BADLY
From the seemingly minor "white cotton crime" of stealing towels to brazen thefts of furniture to assaults on hotel staffers, far too many travelers view lodgings as a no-fault zone for all manner of shocking acts. Let's just say guests behaving badly at hotels doesn't show us business travelers in a very good light.
May 18: YOUR QUESTIONS, MY ANSWERS
You've got questions about business travel. I've got answers. Some of them even match up. My answers about your questions about airline boarding procedures; hotel minibars and keycards; the "best" beds in business class; and why hotels sell us days that are far less than 24 hours long.
May 11: GO SOMEWHERE THIS SUMMER
The bad news: A summer vacation this year will cost more than last year. But don't freak out. It'll still be cheaper than 2007 or 2008 and there are some good deals out there. Our look at where the bargains are this summer--and where they won't be.
May 4: FEAR, LOATHING (& FATIGUE) ON TRAVEL TERRORISM
What makes us so blasť about terrorism in 2011 that the topic seems stale? Are our attention spans so short and our sense of personal safety so dulled that we simply don't care anymore? Is September 11, 2001, too long ago, the transit attacks in Madrid (2004) and London (2005) too far away, the terrorism in Mumbai (2008), Moscow (in January) and Marrakech (last month) too exotic? Some thoughts on why each new alert makes us less interested.
April 27: COFFEE, TEA AND NEW REGULATIONS
The Transportation Department has released another tranche of regulations aimed at making carriers adhere to minimum standards of customer civility. There are more protections against long tarmac holds, denied boarding and advertising, buying (and holding) a fare. But the big issue--figuring out what an airfare really is--remains elusive.
April 20: WHERE HAVE ALL THE TRAVELERS GONE?
Guess what? The travel industry guessed wrong on the economic recovery and travelers' willingness to pay up for rising energy prices. That means you'd better sharpen your travel-buying skills if you don't want to get caught in the resulting backlash and confusion. I've got some tips to consider.
April 13: JUST SAY NO TO A GSM MONOPOLY
From the moment last month when AT&T announced its plan to buy T-Mobile, AT&T executives have pounded home a simple message: There's plenty of competition in the American mobile market. That's a lie. If you want GSM, the mobile standard used by 80 percent of the world's population, letting AT&T buy T-Mobile would create a U.S. monopoly. Why would we let one company control our mobile interface with the world?
April 6: THE WAR FOR YOUR WALLET
American Express rolled out a great package of business-travel benefits for its Platinum cardholders this week. And it's just the latest salvo from the major cardholders fighting over "share of wallet." To get our charge business, they're willing to give us all sorts of useful perks, privileges and fee waivers. Here's a look at the current state of who's offering what--and why.
March 30: THE MURKY MIDDLE OF PREMIUM ECONOMY
Delta Air Lines has announced plans to add the "fourth class," a premium economy cabin, on its international flights. Business travelers who have experienced the new middle class--more comfort than coach and less cost than business class--love it. So what's stopping more airlines from adopting a premium economy class? The answers are steeped in airline (and computer) history.
March 23: WHAT MIGHT GADDAFI DO?
Regardless of how they feel about U.S. military action in Libya, smart business travelers know one thing: If Muammar Gaddafi survives and holds on to power, life on the road everywhere will get uglier--and deadlier. Alone among crazy dictators, Gaddafi has planned and applauded terrorism against travelers. Here are some commonsense thoughts about what might come if Gaddafi doesn't leave.
March 16: AFTERSHOCK IN JAPAN
International travel to Japan is just about back to full operation following the earthquake and tsunami, but the fact that you can travel there doesn't mean you should. A look at troubling emotional, ethical, and logistical business-travel questions that arose from the disaster. And the latest updates on flight services.
March 9: TWO CLASSY MOVES IN THE SKY
Delta Air Lines is adding a million first-class seats a year to its domestic system. Continental is adopting sister carrier United's Economy Plus service. Why the rush to offer business more and better seating? Revenue, of course. Delta and Continental are betting they can sell more of the better seats than they have to give away as upgrades.
March 2: THE GADDAFI CONNECTION TO BUSINESS TRAVEL
Airlines and business travelers find themselves trapped between a lunatic and a precious commodity, and how it all shakes out will tell us a lot about the state of the nation's economic recovery this year. Oil above $100 is calamitous, fraught with unintended consequences, collapsed economic models, surging fares, canceled trips and bankrupt airlines. Some ideas on how it'll all play out.
February 23: THE TSA PACKS A PISTOLE
Observers were expecting a kinder, gentle TSA under the Obama Administration. But we got John Pistole, who adopted the mantra of his Bush Administration predecessor: The TSA is above the law, accountable to no one, disinterested in any security mechanism that does not serve the TSA's bureaucracy, and is oblivious to political realities.
February 16: A FARE FIGHT
The snow has stopped falling, the ice is melting, and business travelers are flying again. But what we've found now that we're back on the road isn't pretty: higher fares, new surcharges, and the possibility of new fees in the months ahead. We may soon long for the days we were grounded by the snow.
February 9: TRANSIT TACTICS AND THE SUBSIDY WARS
It's a classic Washington fight: The Obama Administration wants to spend billions more dollars on national transportation projects while congressional Republicans would love to do away with Amtrak and other mass-transit subsidies. Both sides should expect to get derailed and, of course, no one will be discussing our mass-transit needs rationally.
February 1: THE BUSINESS TRAVELER'S EMERGENCY PACK
The good news this week is that not as many travelers got stuck on the road as during previous storms. But a winter like this requires us to look at how we plan and pack our carry-on. Everything from ice storms to tsunamis forces us to think about carrying our own power, light and food. And we even have to think about going back to paper so we don't lose the crucial stuff stored on our electronic devices.
January 26: ALL THE NEWS THAT'S FIT FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS
This could easily be a screed about the unwillingness of American news outlets, especially the first responders at the cable networks, to cover global events that affect business travelers. But let's not go there. Let's go here instead: What you don't know about global affairs can hurt you on your next international business trip. I try to fill the gap with the right sources.
January 19: BEWARE THOSE ROSY OUTLOOKS
U.S. airlines and hotel chains began reporting fourth-quarter and full-year earnings, and the surprises will be few and far between: Anemic airline profits will be hailed as a fundamental change in commercial aviation economics (they're not), and rebounding hotel-chain profits will be used to claim the lodging industry is back on the road to health (it's not). In fact, the major business-travel issues of 2011 will barely be hinted at in the orgy of earnings reports. But I've got what's hot. Promise.
January 12: A TWEET WAY TO FLY
One takeaway for business travelers out of this winter's bad string of storms: Use Twitter. It's become an invaluable source of time-sensitive business-travel intelligence. If you want to fly as conveniently and efficiently as possible, add it to the arsenal of tools you use to make your life on the road bearable.
January 5: THE WAR BETWEEN AIRLINES AND ONLINE AGENTS
Some of the nation's largest airlines and online travel agents have gone to war, and we already know the first casualties: business travelers, who'll end up paying more, getting less and being offered much less choice when they look to book. Why are they doing this to us? Money and power, of course.
These columns originally appeared at Portfolio.com.
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