Seat 2B by Joe Brancatelli for 2012
December 26: SHOULD AULD AIRLINE ACQUAINTANCES ...
It's wise for business travelers to remember that Robert Burns framed the first line of Auld Lang Syne as a question. And I suggest that old airline acquaintances should not be forgot. So here are seven carriers that have come and gone--but impacted the life we live on the road.
December 19: THE BUSINESS TRAVELER'S HAPPY PLACE
It was 20 years ago today, almost literally, when Continental Airlines launched BusinessFirst and radically changed business class around the world. It turned business class into the industry's sweet spot and our happy place. For all of the other indignities heaped on us in other cabins over the years, business class continues to improve, with more room, more beds and more comfort.
December 12: RICHARD BRANSON NEVER MAKES MONEY FOR HIS PARTNERS
Hyman Roth, the entrepreneurial mobster in The Godfather, stayed alive because "he always makes money for his partners." Richard Branson? Not so much. Singapore Airlines took a financial bath this week when it dumped its 49 percent stake in Branson's Virgin Atlantic on Delta Air Lines. So why does Delta want to be in business with Branson? And will Branson be around the airline world much longer?
December 5: SEVEN AIRLINE LESSONS I LEARNED THIS YEAR
Any year you can learn something on the road is a good one. This year I learned seven lessons: about how the buck never stops at an airline CEO's desk; about the power of saying "sorry;" about how fewer flights are better; about how airline bosses just keep making the same mistakes; about how your track record as an airline guru doesn't affect people's adoration; and about how you can continue to bamboozle the media about mergers.
November 28: THE BEST GLOBAL AIRPORT HOTELS
American airport hotels still have something of an unsavory air, but no so in the rest of the world. The reason? The rest of the world has been building hotels in or near mass-transit options for hundreds of years. Here's this year's list of your best hotel bets for lodging in, near and around the world's most important international airport hubs.
November 21: OUR HEADS ON AMERICAN AIRPORT HOTEL BEDS
The more you travel on business, the more you find yourself needing airport hotels. I've got some reliable rules for choosing airport accommodations. I've also compiled a list of the least-hateful (and some really good) properties at the nation's most important hubs. Spend the weekend home with family, but when you head back to the airport, start here.
November 14: FIVE STRATEGIC BUSINESS-TRAVEL TOPICS FOR 2013
Business travel doesn't run like clockwork, but those of us who live our lives on the road do have a fairly rigid calendar. And as I figure it, this may be the last week of the year to think about strategic matters. So let's talk about who gets to be the next DOT secretary, whether we'll have to change hotel chains next year, if we've got our elite-status levels in order, how to trim our tech tools and what's in our wallets.
November 7: WHERE TO GO IF YOUR GUY LOST
No matter who won on Election Day, I knew my inbox would be filled the next day with unhappy business travelers claiming they had to leave America now that their guy lost. So I made a list of places where you can create your own private Elba. Here are my seven choices, based on food, culture, lifestyle--and proximity to home when you realize that you may have overreacted.
October 31: AIRLINES GAME THE TRAVEL-WAIVER PROCESS
One airline inadvertently ignored an entire state when it issued its first travel waiver in front of Superstorm Sandy. But it shed light on the nasty new game carriers play: Not only don't they want you to change your reservations conveniently, they hope for "breakage" that will lead you to abandon your ticket.
October 24: THIS IS WHY AIRLINE TRAVEL STINKS
Of course, business travel stinks. But why? A new government report actually offers some explanation and some context as to why flying has become so expensive, so uncomfortable, so inconsistent and, in many places, so hard to find. You'll find some of this stuff astounding, but it will truly help explain the condition our condition is in.
October 17: TIME TO STOP BANKING FREQUENT FLYER MILES
I've long been opposed to banking miles in your frequent flyer account. After all, I often say, airlines do a lousy job being airlines. Why do you think they'd be good banks? But now there's a pressing reason to listen to me: By this time next year, at least one and maybe two airlines will scrap miles as their currency and switch to a revenue-based program. That'll be good for us generally, but not so good for flyers with too many old miles in the "bank."
October 10: THE WAR OF THE GULF AIRLINES
Global alliances are rushing to make friends with Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways, Gulf airlines you've probably never flown and might not even know existed. The reason? The Gulf carriers sit at the crossroads of a world now stitched together by a silk road of airline routes. Their hubs are logical places to connect us to China and India. They are also decent places to change planes if your final destination is Africa, a region shunned by U.S. carriers.
October 3: BUSINESS TRAVELERS WILL TALK
I wouldn't say business travel is a cult, but those of us who live our lives on the road sure do have some odd and interesting obsessions. We're just not like everyone else. So here are my answers to questions you've been asking lately: Is there a difference between Obama and Romney on business-travel issues? What happened to those lawsuits against the TSA? Why can't I have WiFi on every flight? Is calling the hotel direct the best route to discounts? What is that Lounge Club card I got?
September 26: ALBERT EINSTEIN TO THE WHITE COURTESY PHONE
You know Einstein's definition, right? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. So why is United planning to change computers again next week without telling customers? Why did American Airlines abrogate its pilots union without expecting the pilots to respond with disruptions? And why don't airlines ever learn from doing it over and over?
September 19: THE HIDDEN COSTS OF TRAVEL
Now that oil prices, the largest component of travel costs, has "plunged" to $93 a barrel, everything is gonna be great, right? Uh, no. The travel industry continues to lard the system with a range of hidden traps that increases our prices and makes us crazy. Here are some more tripwires to watch.
September 12: FIVE WAYS TO MAKE LIFE ON THE ROAD BETTER
Why can't we have the small things that make our lives on the road better? Why can't our credit card work as our hotel-room key? Why don't airlines sell seats like concert tickets? How long before we get our "convergence" device that merges a computer, tablet and smartphone? Why can't I drop my car rental at the terminal? And when does the TSA get better and smarter?
September 5: SMOKE, MIRRORS AND CAR-RENTAL STRAW MEN
Any business traveler who merits having the word "business" before the word "traveler" will tell you the incredibly obvious: Having eight companies competing for your travel business is much better than having only three. Now we're going to learn whether three car-rental firms masquerading as eight can compete as effectively in a market that is prone to commoditization and purchase decisions based almost exclusively on price.
August 29: BANKING ON HIGHER FEES
The big banks just love slapping "foreign transaction fees" of 3 percent or more on our credit-card and ATM cash withdrawals overseas. The made-up fees are a financial bonanza for them. But a frequent-traveler revolt has forced the major credit card issuers to flood the market with fee-free cards. Getting ATM cards and accounts that don't charge the fees is more difficult, however.
August 22: THE AMAZING SHRINKING AIRLINE SYSTEM
It's not just airline coach seats that are getting tighter. The whole system is getting smaller. There are fewer flights this month on domestic routes than at any time in the last decade. So what's it all mean and why is it happening? It's all about money--and annoyance--of course.
August 15: IS THE TSA STRANGLING PRECHECK?
The TSA isn't our favorite organization, but several recent data points confirm that we don't hate the agency as much as some critics would have us believe. But the TSA's attitude is problematic and that is crimping PreCheck, the agency's new security bypass program that should be a booming success.
August 8: BUYING UP TO ELITE
The travel industry insists that the elite levels of their frequency programs are all about loyalty and the business you give to them. Unless, of course, you just bribe your way to elite with a payment or by taking the right credit card. But don't be angry. I think we should buy as much elite status as we can and take advantage of the system for our benefit.
August 1: GETTING OUT OF THE ECONOBOX
Five years after we first discussed car rental firms thinking outside the econobox and offering business travelers more exciting vehicles, the industry finally seems to be listening. Even BMW is testing rentals direct from its dealers. But why now? With the economy stuck in neutral and business travelers pinching pennies, why the mini-boom in rentals that start around $150 a day, cost $1,500 or more for a Rolls Royce or an Aston Martin and can run as much as $3,000 for a Lamborghini?
July 25: BYE, BYE BLACKBERRY
At least from the business traveler's perspective, the BlackBerry is history. It is swiftly going the way of paper airplane tickets, fax machines and world-band radios. Still, the demise of the BlackBerry as a mainstream business-travel tool raises some questions: What's next? What if I still want an external keypad? And what about BlackBerry and security concerns? I've got some answers and suggestions as I mull my own after-BlackBerry life on the road.
July 18: FIVE TRAVEL PRICE TRAPS
Fees and the ghost of surcharges yet to come are the easiest part of our financial equation. It's the gimmicks you don't know about that can hurt you and run up the final price of a business trip. Airlines, hotels, and third-party online-travel agencies are masters of the secret price bump, the unseen and unexpected add-on and, lately, shameless and sophisticated computerized biases that target you for extra costs. Here are the latest price traps.
July 11: WHAT'S NEW ON THE ROAD
The more time you spend on the road, the more it seems like the same old, same old. But that's not fair assessment of the situation. There's lots of new stuff: More celebrity chefs and local dining options at the airport, more ways to bypass or shorten security protocols, another WiFi option, new ways to choose a rental car and even some fascinating new hotels.
June 27: THE ROAD WARRIOR'S E-SURVIVAL KIT
The TSA's annoying decision a few years ago to make us pack our toiletries into one tiny bag did have a side benefit: We were forced to edit our dopp kits, rationalize and reduce what we carry, and better organize our on-the-road ablutions. Not so our electronics kit bag. But here's how to build a modern one, complete with everything you need and nothing you don't.
June 20: THE LAST FIVE YEARS
I'm not referring to the wonderful (if obscure) Jason Robert Brown play. But moving the Seat 2B column over to BizJournals last week after five years and about 300 weekly dispatches at Portfolio gave me reason to pause. We really have covered everything you need to know about airlines, hotels, airports and car rentals. So follow the thread as I summarize five years in about 25 columns and 1,400 words.
June 13: THE NEW CRUNCH IN COACH
Believe it or not, coach can get worse. United, American and Southwest Airlines are squeezing in an extra seat in many rows and stuffing more rows of coach seats onto each plane. The result? Seats that measure just 17 inches wide and have 31 inches or legroom or less. Add in the high load factors that eliminate the empty middle seat and you have a new level of back-of-the-bus misery.
June 6: SOME TIPS ON TIPPING
Nothing makes otherwise savvy business travelers more insecure than tipping. Who? How much? When? I leave the basics to others (hey, that's what links are for), but concentrate on a core concept--tip big so you can get what you want on the road--and some guidelines for spiffing service folks you might otherwise ignore.
May 23: WHAT'S 'ESSENTIAL' ON THE ROAD NOW
Back in the day, we had to carry alarm clocks and acoustic couplers and all sorts of gear that we now leave behind. But for everything we can dump out of our carry-on bags, there's something new that is must-carry. Here are five new bits of must-carry business-travel gear. You want this stuff. You need this stuff.
May 16: YOU HAVE TO ADMIT IT'S GETTING BETTER
Many fewer flights and mild winter weather meant that the first quarter of 2012 was the best for on-time airline operations for nearly 20 years. The airlines also lost fewer bags and bumped fewer passengers. But old patterns--when to fly, the state of commuter carriers--didn't change. A full look at the newest DOT State of the Airlines report.
May 9: YOU TALKIN' TO ME?
I don't mean to go all Travis Bickel on you, but the furious amount of comments about last week's column (see below) confuses me. Are the posters talking to each other or to me? Am I supposed to interrupt their dialogue? What happens when they persist on making factual errors? Me and you and the world of social media. Not exactly explained, but considered.
May 2: WORST. AIRLINE. EVER. AGAIN.
Four years ago, I cribbed a line from The Simpsons and dubbed United Worst. Airline. Ever. Now there's been a merger, a management change and a botched computer transition that infuriated travelers and destroyed the trust of the carrier's most frequent flyers. Employees are unhappy, C-suite executives are bolting and United is losing almost as much money as the other legacy carriers combined. Guess what? It's time to dub United Worst. Airline. Ever. Again.
April 25: AIRPORT 2012: WHAT'S HOT ON THE RUNWAY
A gigantic new airport opens in Berlin in June. Atlanta opens a new terminal in May, followed by a new facility in Las Vegas. New York/LaGuardia and Paris/Orly are undergoing massive reconstruction, too. That means challenges and change for business flyers, never a happy thought. But here's the lowdown of what's coming at airports around the world.
April 18: A PASSENGER Rx FOR AIRLINES
Every frequent air traveler dreads heading to the airport. But what can airlines do to make for happier road warriors? Here are six ideas to ease the pain. They are simple, logical solutions, ones that might help airlines make a few bucks, too. Don't expect airlines to listen, of course, but it's important to remember that sensible solutions are out there.
April 11: HOW TO BE A FRUGAL FLYER
Every time oil prices rise, we look warily at travel budgets. But fear not, trimming your T&E is as simple as making a few small adjustments to create a big impact on your bottom line. Here are our very best and most current tips on how to get your airline, hotel and car-rental costs back in line.
April 4: THE (STATUS) MATCH GAME
Fed up with United or some other airline, but staying loyal because of your elite status? Can no longer stomach Hilton or some other chain, but shackled to the hotel by your elite status? You needn't be a sheep or a prisoner. Other airlines, hotels and even car-rental firms will often match your status or offer you a fast-path "challenge" into their top ranks. Here's how to do it and what rules you need to know.
March 28: TIME TO PLAN YOUR SUMMER TRAVEL
The simultaneous arrival of spring and $4-a-gallon gas naturally leads road warriors to think about summer leisure travel. It's built in to our DNA. The first breath of spring leads to mooning over our summer holidays. Where can we go next? Some thoughts about oil, highways to the danger zone, sleeping with PIIGS and bang for our travel buck.
March 21: THE ROAD WARRIOR'S BEST FRIEND
The big banks that issue the airline and hotel credit cards are in what seems like a suicidal war for our business, offering huge new bonuses and perks. We'd be crazy not to pay attention and edit our wallet to take best advantage of what's on offer. Here's my current pick of the best that's out there.
March 14: WHO'S SORRY NOW? NOT AIRLINES
If you thought United's computer chaos in recent weeks somehow meant passengers had rights or recourse against the airline, forget it. The airlines write their contracts of carriage to make sure they are never responsible and we're always at fault. The contracts, which we agree to whenever we buy a ticket, don't even require that the airlines fly us or our luggage where the ticket says we paid to go.
March 7: THE SEARCH FOR THE 24-HOUR ROOM
Starwood Preferred Guest made a splash with its new perk for super-elite SPG members: Your24, which lets you check in when you want and check out 24 hours later. What could be wrong with that? Nothing, of course. But no other chain has followed Starwood and could it be because elite travelers essentially get whatever check in and check out time they want already?
February 29: PREPARING FOR UNITED'S BIG SWITCH
What happens when the world's largest airline shifts a gigantic hunk of its worldwide operations onto a new computer system? I don't know. You don't know. And for all its blasť proclamations of business as usual, neither does United Airlines, which hopes to pull off a computer switch in the wee hours of Saturday morning. Here are some practical tips to survive the transition.
February 22: WE HAVE ALL BEEN HERE BEFORE
Oil prices are skyrocketing. Airlines that aren't going out of business are trying to raise fares. You're thinking about curtailing your travel as fares rise. And that will inevitably lead airlines to drop routes and mount ludicrous sales to fill their remaining flights. Got a bad case of deja vu? I thought so. We have all been here before. It was called 2008. And we didn't like it.
February 15: ARE BUSINESS TRAVELERS THE 2 PERCENT?
One hotel chain says frequent business travelers are just 2 percent of their customers, but account for 30 percent of the profit. I've heard and read similar accounts of our powerful financial contributions in the past. So why aren't we treated better? The answer: We're simply not as important as some in the travel industry would have us believe.
February 8: AIRLINE MADNESS IN EUROPE
Pity the business travelers with European stops on their agendas. Not only do they have to deal with an especially bad bit of winter weather, but they also have to confront airlines beset with labor problems and bankruptcy. Not to mention the carriers that are folding.
February 1: A FOURTH MUSKETEER IN THE SKIES?
It's been a bad few weeks for the three major airline alliances with several carriers folding and government agencies launching investigations. But the damage has already been done. Star, SkyTeam and Oneworld already control perhaps 60 percent of the world's traffic. The only solution: A fourth consortium of carriers to inject some sort of competition back to the skies. Here's how it could be done.
January 25: THE MUST-HAVE TRAVEL APPS
Like most business travelers (not to mention Lady Day and Ella), I believe in traveling light. Shave every ounce from carry-ons, shed the pounds on checked bags. So why do otherwise smart, slimmed-down business travelers download every dumb phone app that comes down the Internet pike? Fight the app bloat. Here are my essential apps and how to choose them.
January 18: TRAVEL'S SILLY SEASON
Air travel typically slows in the dead of winter, and that lack of activity can lead to downright ridiculousness. This year, especially, the media is loonier than ever with talk of a Delta-American merger, trumped-up airline stocks and other silly memes.
January 11: THE WORLD'S BEST AIRPORT HOTELS
We may be ambivalent about airport hotels here at home, but business travelers know that a great hotel at an international airport is a necessity. The long hauls and the vagaries of overseas travel make good on-airport hotels crucial to our comfort and productivity. My choice of some international hotels that work and a few that don't.
January 4: THE ROAD WARRIOR'S GUIDE TO 2012
You think last year was crazy? Wait until you get a gander at what the travel world has in store for us this year. Of course, we already have some idea what the big stories will be: American's bankruptcy and fight for survival. The big-bang merger of United and Continental's computers. The continuing rise of the iPad. Southwest and Delta battling it out in Atlanta. And so much more.
These columns originally appeared at Portfolio.com and BizJournals.com.
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