Seat 2B by Joe Brancatelli for 2013
December 26: WHAT I LEARNED ON THE ROAD THIS YEAR
For all the bumps, bruises and indignities of business travel, I believe a life on the road is successful if you learned a lesson or two during the previous year. What did I learn this year? Interesting stuff about airport "dwell time," hotel life after the big chains, how to do it the TSA's way and the humorous and creative side of some airlines.
December 20: A GIFT GUIDE FOR US BY US
After plowing through dozens of "travel" gift guides, I've come to an inescapable conclusion: Nobody understands business travelers except those of us who do it. So here's a last-minute guide to holiday gifts we might give to ourselves without being too cute or getting cute and whimsical.
December 13: IS THE TSA RUINING PRECHECK?
The TSA opened its first public enrollment center for PreCheck last week, but more qualified flyers isn't a problem. What IS a problem is the TSA dumping inexperienced, unprepared flyers into the PreCheck lane and making them virtually useless. Of course, the TSA doesn't see it that way. They live in a separate reality.
December 5: THE IN-FLIGHT CALLING BOGEY MAN
Business travelers have risen en masse to oppose in-flight cellphone calls. But here are the facts: Until the FCC lifts its ban, we won't be able to use phones for data in flight, either. Besides, airlines already ban in-flight VOIP, so won't rush to permit cell calls. And history and current usage proves that people aren't really interested in making cell calls. In other words, time to lift the ban and stop worrying about the red herring of in-flight calls.
November 27: PLENTY TO BE THANKFUL FOR
I'm no Bing Crosby, but as he sang in Holiday Inn, "I've got plenty to be thankful for." Most business travelers do. Airport dining has improved, JetBlue is out there giving more legroom for a fair price, the TSA's PreCheck program serves up security bypass and the Justice Department beat concessions out of the American-US Air merger. Really, as much as we complain, there's plenty to be thankful for this holiday.
November 20: THE LONG GOODBYES
What's life like on an 18-hour nonstop? I flew the world's longest flights between Newark and Singapore earlier this month and have a report. But since these flights end on Saturday, you have to wonder why this and other ultra-long-haul flights are disappearing. I explain the reason for the long goodbyes.
November 13: SEVEN TAKEAWAYS FROM THE MERGER DEAL
It's a done deal. What's left to say about the American and US Airways merger and the settlement with the Justice Department? Here are seven takeaways from the simple (don't worry until next year) to the complex. (What will the new carrier look like?)
November 6: HOTELS ARE WHERE IT'S HAPPENING
Airlines are all atwitter because they now allow you to use electronic devices below 10,000 feet--even though most in-flight WiFi doesn't work below 10,000 feet. That's what passes as innovation in the airline business. For real change, look to hotels. They're furiously remaking lobbies, bathrooms, transaction desks and in-room entertainment systems. They're even fiddling with in-room coffeemakers.
October 30: WHY WE'RE FLYING LESS THAN EVER BEFORE
Government statistics released this week show that the number of passengers flying was flat in the first seven months of the year compared to the similar period in 2012. And flying in 2012 was flat compared to 2011, the year the number of flyers was supposed to surpass one billion. But we're nowhere near that plateau. Here are five reasons why we simply don't fly as much as the experts thought.
October 24: THE NEW WALLET WAR
Airline prices may be rising, hotel service is sometimes iffy and it's getting harder to secure a low-mileage rental car. But the credit card industry is only doing better and better by business travelers. Hardly a day goes by when there isn't news about a new benefit or a hefty "acquisition bonus" to take a new travel-related card. So the question: What is in your wallet?
October 16: T-MOBILE AND THE FUTURE OF AN US AIRWAYS-AMERICAN AIRLINES MERGER
Want an idea of what the airlines could look like if the Justice Department manages to block the merger of American Airlines and US Airways? Take a gander at a different kind of carrier, T-Mobile. It has rolled out a series of customer-friendly destructive innovations since its acquisition by AT&T was blocked by the government. The same kind of creativity could happen in the travel if the airlines' merger is scuppered.
October 10: TIME, TIDES AND BUSINESS-TRAVEL TECHNOLOGY
We've survived fax machines and Netbooks, Empower ports and pagers, answering machine black boxes and telex. We'll survive the passing of the BlackBerry--even though it did teach us how to pray to our technology. The history of business travel is all about change because, let's be honest, time, tides and technology wait for no flyer.
October 2: HOW THE SHUTDOWN AFFECTS BUSINESS TRAVELERS
Although we rarely think about it, our lives on the road are heavily dependent on government bureaucracies and functionaries who grease the literal and metaphorical wheels of travel. Now that the government shutdown looks like a longer-term thing, business travel will get very rocky. Here's what's open, what's closed and what's likely to change as the shutdown drags on.
September 25: THE DISCONNECT BETWEEN AIRLINE ADS AND AIRLINE ATTITUDES
The disconnect between U.S. airlines and the flyers they purport to serve was never so evident as it was last Friday, when delusional corporate hubris came face to face with the reality of the nation's unfriendly skies. While United's new ads were breaking nationally, in Colorado they had to apologize for awful service.
September 18: THE HILTON IPO AND WHY WE HATE HILTON NOW
Peruse the IPO filing or listen to Wall Street talk and you'd think Blackstone's six-year run as owner of the 4,000-property strong Hilton Family is a tale of hard work, big financial change and a much-deserved payoff. But business travelers know differently: Hilton has gotten measurably worse in the last six year and its frequent-guest plan and key brands have deteriorated markedly.
September 11: THE 'NEWEST NORMAL' IN A POST-9/11 WORLD
On the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, I believe that one thing is clear: The business-travel world is divided into pre-9/11 thinking and post-9/11 realities. Before the attacks, we naively thought we knew how to handle terrorism. The past 12 years show that we knew nothing at all and maybe still don't know anything. But this is how we cope.
September 4: COULD AMERICAN BAIL ON THE MERGER?
By setting the antitrust trial against the American-US Airways merger for November 25, the judge is running smack up against the December 13 deadline when American can walk away from the deal. Why might it do so: AA's bosses never wanted the deal, they'll all lose their jobs if the merger clears--and AA is doing just fine without the combination.
August 28: HOW TO BE A BETTER BUSINESS TRAVELER
Infrequent business travelers often make simple mistakes. But hardened road warriors like us aren't as smart and savvy as we should be, either. As we break for the much-needed Labor Day weekend, here are seven easy-to-deploy tips that will make us better business travelers in the weeks and months to come.
August 21: DESTROYING FIVE BUSINESS-TRAVEL URBAN LEGENDS
Business travel is confusing enough without erroneous urban legends complicating our lives on the road. So let's destroy five recent ones: the fantasy that legacy airlines are now profitable, stable businesses; the canard that Richard Branson is a genius; the idea that in-flight WiFi is inevitable and profitable; the thought that hotel rates aren't as volatile as airfares; and the concept that physical keyboards for mobile devices are dead.
August 14: OLD LIES AND CURRENT TRUTHS MAY SINK THE MERGER
The Justice Department unleashed a furious attack on the US Airways and American Airlines merger this week and announced it would sue to stop the deal. The delicious irony? The government's position rests both on past lies told by the airline industry and contemporaneous truths that the two carriers have voiced about their own merger.
August 7: BEDDING DOWN IN THE TRANSCON TRIANGLE
The rarified Transcon Triangle routes are getting a lot of attention now. JetBlue is adding two kinds of lie-flat beds. American is adding new planes and a new first class. Delta is moving international aircraft on the routes. United is overhauling its aged p.s. service. But how come those of us in flyover country don't get the same treatment? In a word: money.
July 31: THE AIRLINES' SECRET HOLIDAY BARGAINS
Major airlines have unleashed a battery of attractive fare sales for premium-class travel in the fall and for the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year holidays. Prices start as low as $1,300 roundtrip. But why aren't they talking about the great prices? Their answers are not exactly convincing.
July 24: HOW WE SPEND IT
With 35 years of T&E reporting hindsight, I can say one thing: Pay attention to what you spend on the road. Two new reports on our spending habits will open your eyes to what and where we spend the company dime. It won't shock you to know that New York is America's most expensive destination, but the costly cities overseas will surprise you. And the divide between those of us who work for big businesses and those of us who work for small ones is huge.
July 17: CHANGING OUR ROOM-SERVICE ORDER
One hotel in Manhattan abandons room service and the media go into overdrive for weeks. The truth is that very few of us use traditional room service, hotels are frantically trying to adapt it to our current needs and it all may be obviated by web-based delivery services. Here's how our room service orders are changing.
July 10: THE FINE LINE BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH ON THE ROAD
The line between life and death on the road is exceptionally fine, something we learned again over the weekend as we watched the aftermath of the crash landing of Asiana Flight 214 at SFO. Should we take comfort in the fact that 305 people survived? Be haunted by the loss of the two teenagers who didn't? Both? Neither? Does it matter that more and more crashes are deemed "survivable?" And is any of this really in our control.
July 3: HOW THE OTHER HALF TRAVELS
You and I meet in this corner of the Internet 51 weeks a year and our conversation invariably revolves around cost: How much dough it takes to travel and how we can control our T&E expenses. But ever wonder how the other half travels? Here are some amazing hotel suites, cool rental rides and luxury airport clubs that probably won't make our expense accounts.
June 26: THE MERGER SILLY SEASON
Delta got its 49 percent of Virgin Atlantic this week, but the American-US Airways merger ran into a patch of political opposition. A GAO report raised questions about lost competition and closed hubs. And powerful senators hammered the man who would be king, Doug Parker, about the merged carrier's potential stranglehold on Washington/National airport. Parker wasn't smart enough to realize that you don't fool with politicians when they think their home airport is threatened.
June 19: THE HOTEL NAME GAME
The brand name on the revolving lobby door of many hotels seems to be spinning as frequently as the door itself. Hotel brand "flags" are being hoisted and lowered so fast that it's getting harder to know what chain represents what property. And to hear hotel folks explain it, the pace of change has everything to do with money and nothing at all to do with good housekeeping or taking care of us.
June 12: FUN WITH FARES
Where's the worst place in America to be a business traveler? If you go strictly by the cost of flying, the answer is Huntsville, Alabama. It has the highest average domestic fare ($544) in the nation. But a new data dump from the federal government reveals some other interesting fare facts: Prices do decline when a city is de-hubbed; small towns and hub cities alike share the high-fare burden; competition does drive fares down; and much more. I plow through the numbers to make sense of it all.
June 5: FLYING FOURTH CLASS NOW
The friendlier-than-coach skies of premium-economy, the airline industry's so-called "fourth class," is growing again now that Air Canada and LOT Polish have added their own sections. That doesn't mean the more-comfort-than-coach/less-cost-than-business-class service is now ubiquitous worldwide, but its future is secure in the airline firmament. Passengers will pay for something better than the sardine-can seating in coach and airlines have figured out a way to profit from that demand without cannibalizing money-making business-class cabins.
May 29: FIVE SUMMER SAVINGS TIPS
Estimates vary, of course, but the upward creep of airfares, hotel rates and car-rental charges may be as high as 5 percent so far this year. Your experience may vary, too, but very few travelers I speak to report that their costs are going down. So here are five tips to rein in rising costs and keep your expenses under control this summer.
May 22: THE TRUTH ABOUT FREQUENT-TRAVEL PLANS NOW
Airline and hotel frequent-travel plans are changing and you need to change your strategies to maximize your benefits. Among the things you need to know now: the best airline award seats may not be available on the Web; you may not need to bother with lower-level airline elite status anymore; hotel plans may be richer than airline programs; and you shouldn't waste time trying to arbitrage the merger of US Airways Dividend Miles and American AAdvantage.
May 15: FOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE FUTURE OF BUSINESS TRAVEL
Depending on your generational bias, you probably expected the future of business travel to look like The Jetsons or Futurama. Or maybe you hoped that we'd be passing through ethereal spaces designed by visionaries like Eero Saarinen. Yeah, well, get over it. Business travel was never going to be like that. But I'm a cock-eyed optimist and I think business travel will get better in these four specific areas.
May 8: SUMMER FARE GAMES UP FRONT
The bad news about summer travel: Spectacular business-class deals to Europe, which spawned a decade of too-cheap-not-to-go holidays, have mostly disappeared. The good news about summer travel: Airlines are dabbling in first- and premium-economy class sales and there are even the occasional too-cheap-not-to-go bargains to Asia.
May 1: THE BATTLE FOR LAX
Like New York, the Los Angeles market is too big for one airline to dominate. Unlike New York, Los Angeles and Southern California are basically a one-airport town. If you're not winning at LAX, you're losing. American and Delta are gearing up for a good, old-fashioned airline fight there and it all takes place against the backdrop of an airport that doesn't get much love from flyers.
April 24: A LOUSY WEEK FOR BUSINESS TRAVEL
It's been a lousy week for business travel. Besides the debate over sequester delays, the TSA suddenly changed its bureaucratic mind and said we couldn't carry Swiss Army Knives after all. And airlines hiked fees and are trying to raise fares. Unless your mama was a business traveler, too, she never told you there'd be days like this.
April 17: THE NEXUS OF TERROR AND BUSINESS TRAVEL
Acts of terror can, do and will happen and if business travelers want to keep traveling on business, we must adjust swiftly to an attack anywhere in the world. A bombing on Boylston Street in Boston will reverberate and immediately change how business travelers work on Beckham Drive in Birmingham, Alabama, or Broad Street in Birmingham, England.
April 10: THE RISE OF 'PUBLIC' PRIVATE AIRPORT LOUNGES
Airport clubs unlevel the playing field in our favor. The huddled airport masses make do with chaotic public facilities but we happy few can cross to what passes for airport nirvana: private spaces with decent amenities. But guess what? The huddled masses have figured out that we band of business travel brothers have a good thing going. They want in, too. And what can only be called "public" private lounges are opening at airports around the nation to fill the demand.
April 3: WHERE HAVE ALL THE BUSINESS TRAVELERS GONE?
The business-travel world is shrinking. Literally. And not only because airlines are squeezing us into smaller seats. Fewer of us are traveling than anyone once imagined, there are fewer flights than ever before and government-compiled statistics for the state of the commercial airline system in 2012 indicate that substantial growth isn't coming anytime soon.
March 27: TOWERING IRRELEVANCE
The budget sequester is forcing the closure of air traffic control towers at 149 airports across the country. But despite what you may have been told elsewhere, this means virtually nothing to business travelers. Only around a dozen airports even have commercial service and some of them have as few as two departures a day.
March 20: HOW TO GET ELITE CHEAP(ER)
Logic is what keeps us tied to frequency plans even as they are less rewarding than ever. What, after all, is the alternative? Accepting that we deserve nothing in exchange for our custom with travel suppliers? But the real payoff now is in the elite levels. So here's how to cut the line to elite status with major airlines and hotels.
March 13: WHAT DOES A 'FREE' HOTEL NIGHT COST?
With five major hotel chains devaluating their programs, there's an obvious question: Which frequent-guest plan offers the least-expensive path to a free night? The answer: None of them. There is no yellow brick road to lodging Oz. In fact, as far as I know, there aren't even any good hotels in Oz. But we can draw some general conclusions. And I throw in a four-city comparison of the cost of a "free" room night.
March 6: A LITTLE SWAG GOES A LONG WAY
American Airlines now gives international first-class passengers an amenity kit in the shape of an iPad case. Delta's new business-class bag is a partnership with Tumi, the luggage maker. Lufthansa and Thai bags, in the shape of Rimowa luggage, command as much as $100 each on Ebay. It's fascinating how the once-humble amenity kit suddenly reflects the airlines' emphasis on high-yield international flyers.
February 27: WHY DON'T HOTELS LOVE US ANYMORE?
With five major chains slashing the benefits and perks of their frequent guest plans, you can logically ask why hotels don't love us anymore. Or you can realize that the major chains have decided that they have the hammer now that nightly rates and occupancy rates are rising again. Our challenge: How to maximize the value of our loyalty. Some thoughts on how to do it and which hotel frequency plan might be right for you.
February 20: THE PYRITE AGE OF FREQUENT FLYING
When the old United tried to merge into the old US Airways in 2000, the entire business-travel community waged a year-long campaign to keep them apart. Yet last week's 15-months-in-the-making announcement that American and US Airways would merge hardly raised our hackles. One reason why: Airlines are running with remarkable efficiency right now, racking up near-record on-time performance, dumping few flights, bumping fewer flyers and losing fewer bags. One executive claims we're in a new Golden Age. I'm more comfortable suggesting that this is the Pyrite Age of Frequent Flying.
February 13: OF COURSE THIS MERGER WILL STINK
Here's how to think about this merger: the timeline going forward, the pitfalls and the relative value of your miles. But it's silly to think that this will be anything but bad for us because it's inevitable that they screw up the data conversion and so much more.
February 6: WHEN TRAVEL TECH FAILS US
When the lights went out on Sunday's Super Bowl, Americans shrugged, grabbed another beer and cruised the buffet table again. But when technology fails business travelers, our lives on the road come crashing down. And technology has been failing us a lot lately, especially when you have a grounded plane, an airport that can't open and an airline whose computers routinely fail.
January 30: SEVEN SITES THAT MAKE BUSINESS TRAVEL BETTER
Back in 1983, we had exactly one computerized tool, the Official Airline Guide Electronic Edition. It was a big deal in the era of floppy drives and 300-baud modems. But the business-travel world is much better now, with literally thousands of Web sites and apps clamoring to make our life on the road easier. I choose seven Web sites that work for me--along with some alternatives if your mileage varies.
January 23: AN AIRLINE BRAND BY ANY OTHER NAME
American Airlines last week unveiled its first new logo, livery and branding in more than 40 years and all around America business travelers yawned. But airline branding does matter. Sometimes. For some reasons. And in a few specialized situations.
January 17: CAN THE DREAM(LINER) LIVE AFTER THE GROUNDING?
Most of us weren't flying and some of us weren't even born the last time the FAA grounded an entire model of commercial aircraft, something the agency did Wednesday evening when it abruptly ordered the Boeing 787 Dreamliner out of the skies. The DC-10 never really covered from its 1979 grounding. It'll be interesting to see if the Dreamliner will, or can, recover.
January 16: I'M NOT AFRAID OF THE DREAMLINER
A series of high-profile incidents have plagued Boeing's 15-month-old Dreamliner 787. But the extreme negativity is a reaction to media feeding frenzy and glitches that plague every new aircraft. I'm scheduled to fly a Dreamliner in a few weeks and I'm not giving the flight a moment's extra thought.
January 9: DOES ANYONE WATCH THE HOTEL TV ANYMORE?
LodgeNet, by far the biggest provider of TV service to U.S. hotels, is planning a pre-packaged bankruptcy and sale for just $60 million. It's not that we hate LodgeNet, it's just that we have no need for in-room TV anymore. We bring our own devices--laptop, phones, tablets--with their own content. And soon, we'll probably bring our own Internet, too.
January 2: WHAT THE SURVEYS SAY ABOUT US
Do you keep in touch with the person you sat next to on your last flight? Are you thrilled by business travel? Are you living a life of sex, drugs and rock and roll on the road? I'd say no, but the surveys seem to say differently. According to pollsters, business travelers are happy spendthrift adulterers. With eyes wide open and eyebrows fully raised, here's what the surveys and reports say about our lives on the road now.
These columns originally appeared at BizJournals.com.
JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 1993-2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.