Seat 2B By Joe Brancatelli for 2014
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT SEAT 2B
The Seat 2B column launched in 2007 as the weekly business-travel column of Portfolio, Conde Nast's glossy entry into the business-magazine market. When the magazine folded in 2008, Seat 2B remained with the Portfolio.com site. Seat 2B even survived the subsequent death of Portfolio.com in the spring of 2009. When the site was revived later that year as the national online presence of The Business Journals chain, Seat 2B resumed, too. It eventually moved to the main BizJournals.com site and now also appears on all of the nearly four dozen city-specific BizJournals sites. In other words, like the business travelers who sit in Seat 2B, the column survives and prospers against all odds.
December 31: WHAT I LEARNED ON THE ROAD THIS YEAR
Of course 2014 was a difficult year on the road. But if you can learn something, you're okay. This is what I learned last year: airlines are getting good at telling stories; hotels are counting the wrong beans; our aircraft are dumber than smartphones; and the hotel WiFi wars are over.
December 18: MY BUSINESS-TRAVEL HOLIDAY WISH LIST
So all I want from the airlines for Christmas is a little dignity. But like a kid asking for a pony or a Red Ryder carbine-action air rifle, I know I ain't gonna get dignity. So here's what I wish for instead: government intervention on seating and fare advertising, the end of phony fuel surcharges and a big stick for frequent flyer plans.
December 11: 'THE CHEAPENING' OF JETBLUE
JetBlue has announced The Cheapening: more seats stuffed onto its planes, charges for checked bags and fewer new planes. Add that to its weak network, awful frequent flyer program and lack of upgrade opportunities and the obvious question is now: Why would a business traveler choose JetBlue now?
December 4: NOT JUST ANOTHER GIFT GUIDE
Don't you just hate gift guides for business travelers written by people who know nothing about business travel? Me, too. Which is why I've written one that makes sense for us. No luggage, no silliness. Just thoughtful, enlightened ideas about what one road warrier can give another.
November 26: I'M MAKING A LIST (OF COLUMNS)
It's only Thanksgiving, but I've already finished making my list and checking it twice. I know which 2014 columns were spotty and which were nice enough to remind you that I was right. I got lots of stuff right and a few things wrong this year. And, along the way, I update some important travel stories about which you need to know.
November 20: FOUR NEW TRAVEL CHANGES TO ANNOY US
Flush with record profits and buoyed by predictions of clear skies ahead, the travel industry isn't content to maximize their financial take of our business travel. Now they insist on annoying the hell out of us, too. Each of the changes, individually and collectively, makes our business travel more difficult, more frustrating and substantially more complicated.
November 13: CARRY ON CARRYING ON
Airline "mishandled baggage" rates are soaring and that reminds us that the only intelligent way to deal with our bags is to carry them on. Can we always carry them on? Of course not. But most times we can, especially if we do some planning and strategizing.
November 6: WHY FARES AREN'T FALLING AS OIL PRICES DROP
Oil prices have reached four-year lows on world markets. Gasoline prices have dropped below the $3-a-gallon plateau. Jet-fuel prices are 15-20 percent lower than they were a year ago. So inquiring business travel minds want to know: When are airline fares coming down? The answer is never. Fares will never fall so long as you keep buying tickets at prevailing prices.
October 30: THE TRAVEL PERKS YOU DON'T KNOW YOU HAVE
Here is a fabulous idea for spending less on business travel: Stop buying the stuff you already get free. Allow me to detail five key travel services you probably already have in your dossier. Before you spend another dime, spend a few minutes with me rifling through your insurance policies and credit card benefits.
October 23: THE NEW FACE OF AIRPORT DINING
Reality has forced us to turn airport "dwell time" into meal time and the restaurant business has responded by turning the main concourse into Main Street dining. There are celebrity chefs, great BBQ, wine bars, artisan sandwich and salad shops and much more. We're still eating burgers and pizza most, but how we do it has changed dramatically.
October 16: THE RISE OF INTERNATIONAL PREMIUM-ECONOMY CLASS
Now that Lufthansa is flying a premium-economy cabin, the rise of international fourth class is nearly complete. What's surprising is how surprised the airline industry has been by the rise of premium economy. Who'da thunk travelers would want something a little better than coach without paying the sky-high fares for business class?
October 9: THINGS EVEN SMART BUSINESS TRAVELERS DON'T KNOW
Business travelers are, by definition, smart cookies. But did you know that the TSA tries to bamboozle you into thinking screeners are cops? Or that there are limits to what you can photograph on the road? Or that hotels jam your WiFi? Or that airlines and hotels own your frequent-travel points? Or that airline tickets themselves are meaningless?
October 2: SURVIVAL TIPS FOR WHEN FLYING GETS ROTTEN
After a winter of historic misery and one of the worst flying summers since record-keeping began, the autumn travel season isn't off to a propitious start. That should remind all of us that there are no such things as "once-in-a-lifetime" flight disruptions or black-swan travel scenarios. So here are eight ways to avoid the chaos--or at least make things less awful.
September 25: MILES AND POINTS AND CREDIT CARDS, OH MY!
Flush with profits and confident that business-travel demand will continue indefinitely, airlines and hotels feel they can be persnickety and stingy with frequent-travel programs. That has confused many of us and so infuriated others that they are walking away. Here are five strategies and tactics you should know as you try to manage and maximize your plans in the months and years ahead.
September 18: TIPPING THE SCALES AGAINST THE HELP
Airlines and hotels are generating record profits, so the bosses have decided to make things better by paying starvation wages to the people who clean our rooms, check our bags, write our tickets and fly our planes. Then they'll balance the scales by asking us to tip the people they are underpaying. Regardless of where you stand on the wages-versus-job-creation battle, you can't ignore the fact that our lives on the road are now paved by people who must rely on the kindness of strangers to survive.
September 11: LOSING THE WAR AFTER 13 YEARS
Thirteen years after the 2001 terrorism attacks downed four passenger aircraft and slaughtered nearly 3,000 people, it is hard not to conclude that the terrorists have won. And that's not just because another president went on television last night to give another speech about another crisis that requires America to fight another amorphous terrorist group that poses another existential threat to our way of life.
September 4: OUR ON-THE-ROAD AGONY
I've lost track of the number of times I've started a column with the declaration that life on the road stinks and it gets worse every day. But these do seem to be the worst of times. My email is overflowing with complaints from frequent travelers and the problems are universal: the coach crunch is impossible; dynamic-currency exchange scams are proliferating; change fees are rapacious; small-city flying is brutal; and too many hotels still charge for Internet. Here are some of my suggested solutions and workarounds.
August 28: THE FALL TRAVEL AGENDA
We're all ready for the long weekend, but you'd be well advised to pay attention to these stories that will dominate the fall travel agenda. Let's start with the war on JetBlue's soul, move to the rebirth of Love Field in Dallas, consider the battle of Seattle and close with thoughts about Carl Icahn at Hertz.
August 21: THE HOUSE LOSES IN ATLANTIC CITY
The $2.4 billion, two-year-old Revel casino hotel is closing next week and no one wants to save it. Plus two other casinos will close in the coming weeks. The city is a physical shambles and the gambling take has declined 44 percent since 2006. How the house has lost it all in Atlantic City.
August 14: SAVING YOUR SCHEDULE FROM AIRLINE CONTEMPT
Airline on-time performance is as bad as it's been for the last 20 years. And, of course, the airlines don't care. They even plan on making delays worse by re-ordering their hubs to increase profits. Can you stop the carriers from destroying your schedule and leaving you cooling your heels at the airport? Maybe. Here are the best tips for timely travel now.
August 7: HOW AIRLINES LIE ABOUT THEIR TAXES
Carriers and their heinous trade group, now laughingly called Airlines for America, want you to believe that airline taxes are outrageously high. The truth, of course, is exactly the opposite. Air travel is taxed solely at the federal level--and fairly lightly at that. Moreover, virtually every dime of the taxes we pay goes right back into the air system, not the federal treasury.
July 31: VIRGIN AMERICA'S ICKY IPO
With U.S. carriers raking in record profits during the last 18 months, seven-year-old Virgin America has decided it's time to go public. Except, you know, they almost never make money, they're swimming in high-interest debt, their planes and product are aging and they have to pay an off-the-top licensing vig to Richard Branson.
July 24: CAN MALAYSIA AIRLINES BE SAVED?
Business travelers, who are business people before they are travelers, ask a valid question: Will Malaysia Airlines, which has lost two wide-body jets and more than 500 souls in about four months, survive? History isn't much of a guide, but there is a template for saving an airline that has been battered by rockets and disappearing aircraft.
July 17: WINNING THE ELITE-STATUS GAME
If you've made the elite level of one airline or one hotel chain, chances are you can parlay it into elite status on other carriers and lodging groups. All of the majors offer status matches or challenges as a way to win your business away from the competitors. Here is the information you need to know about status at more than a dozen major airlines and hotel chains.
July 10: THE TSA FORCES US TO THE SIMPLE LIFE
The TSA is doing business travelers a good turn. Of course, they didn't mean to be good to us. Our happy fortune is the felicitous byproduct of still another ill-conceived power grab by America's most clueless and customer-repellant federal agency. But the new electronics rule may finally convince us to carry less tech and that's a good thing.
July 3: ON THE EXPRESSWAY TO OBLIVION
People Express, a ghost from 30 years ago, started flying again this week. But why? The company that launched the service isn't even officially an airline, a business plan guaranteed to fail. Besides, naming a new carrier after a failed old one is also a proven loser. Read this column before People Express II disappears.
June 26: WHEN IT ALL WENT BAD ON THE ROAD
Maybe you don't remember your high-school history, but this weekend is the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. It led to World War One, an idiotic partition of the Middle East and the unleashing of the terrorism that plagues our lives on the road now. The worst part of it is that we don't know how to stop it. The war won and it's still winning 100 years later.
June 19: FOUR NEW BUSINESS-TRAVEL TACTICS
The airlines chiseling us on carry-on dimensions? Here's how to fight back. Why low floors are the new high in newly built hotels. Your smartphone is a witness for the defense on the road. And remember to ask for that upgrade.
June 12: HOW THE TSA IS DESTROYING PRECHECK
Welcome to PreCheck, the TSA's bloated and bureaucratic approach to providing frequent fliers with fast passage through airport security. The plan--fatally flawed at birth, but initially free if you were qualified--now groans under the weight of the TSA's arrogance and its flailing efforts to peddle membership for $85.
June 5: THE GREAT, CHEAP AMERICAN HOTEL GOES GLOBAL
The writer and academic Gerald Early once claimed that there were only three things people would remember about American culture two millennia from now: the Constitution, jazz, and baseball. As a business traveler, I disagree. There is a fourth: good, cheap hotels. No culture does good, cheap hotels like America. And the great news is that the lodging companies that create these good, cheap hotels are taking them to the world.
May 29: THE FOG OF AIRLINE FEES
Ever since airlines began "unbundling" airfares, the DOT has fought a rear-guard regulatory action to prohibit carriers from turning a la carte pricing into a shell game. The agency hasn't barred airlines from hitting us with fees, but it has strived mightily to stop carriers from lying about the true cost of flying. Now the DOT has another set of regulations to level the field.
May 22: FIRST CLASS' GOOD-LOOKING CORPSE
Some airlines are rushing to install elaborate private cabins, suites and even "residences" in international first class. But fewer and fewer carriers even bother with first class these days. The reason: Fewer passengers want first. On the other hand, those that do will pay plenty. The strange dichotomy explained.
May 15: DETOURS AHEAD
They've Been Working on the Airport doesn't have the lyrical bite or melodic charm of that old railroad folk song, but it has the benefit of being true. Tens of billions of dollars are being thrown at airports around the globe to improve amenities for travelers and facilities for the aircraft that transport us. But that means a summer of delays, frustrations and annoyances. What you need to know--and what you need to avoid.
May 8: THE SPIN IS WRONG AND FARES ARE SKY HIGH
The airline industry's idiotically named trade group wants you to believe fares are falling. A bad reading of government data might lead you to a similar conclusion. But when you do an apples-to-apples comparison of the cost of flying then and now, the prices we pay are skyrocketing. Here's how to understand how airlines have buried price hikes in their unbundling.
May 1: EUROPE'S AT A PREMIUM THIS SUMMER
Two different fares wars last month drove summer business-class prices to Europe below $2,000 roundtrip, even from the West Coast. But the posted prices this summer are much higher because airlines have fewer business-class seats to sell, fewer routes across the pond and demand has picked up, too. But here's what out there, on an airline by airline basis, complete with direct links to the deals.
April 24: UNDERSTANDING THE RIGGED FREQUENCY PROGRAMS
Downgrades and secret price increases show that airlines and hotels think we are prisoners of our frequent-travel plans. Phony "consumer advocates" claim you should abandon the plans. That's ridiculous, of course. But unless you know how and why the airlines and hotels rig the games, you'll never succeed. Here's what you need to know.
April 17: FIGHTING THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY FEE MACHINE
Even by the Orwellian standards of airlines, the industry's latest legislative parry is dystopian: It's booming the Transparent Airfares Act, which would make prices more opaque by allowing carriers to advertise phony "base" fares that don't include surcharges. But that shouldn't surprise you. The true cost of business travel always has been a metaphoric iceberg. Most of the charges are below the surface, out of plain sight and dangerously destructive to your budget. Here's how to avoid the worst of the surprises.
April 10: A PORTRAIT OF US
Here's a deep, dark secret: The Business Journals do not let me sit in Seat 2B just for the endlessly equivocal joy of being a business traveler. There's a business decision behind all the business travel. They try to sell ads around my column and, to do that, they've compiled a compelling picture of us business travelers. Boy, are we interesting.
April 3: BUSINESS TRAVEL HERE AND NOW
Business travel is always about now. It moves far too fast to worry about what has come before. Here's what matters now: phony on-time ratings; dreadful slimline seats; the impact of the Dreamliner; the time-saving kiosks at customs; the high cost of making it at New York airports; ridiculous claims about Israeli security; and, of course, April in Paris.
March 27: SPRING CLEANING FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS
In the unfortunately brief interregnum between the awful winter and what we can assume will be a season of flight-canceling rainstorms and tornadoes, we should get in some spring cleaning. It's time to check on our carry-ons, trim the technology, get with the TSA programs and leave some stuff behind because hotels have our backs. Herewith, the 2014 spring cleaning checklist.
March 20: THE CLUB LIFE GETS DICEY AND PRICEY
We've survived a winter of record delays and cancellations, so guess what the airlines are doing? Making it harder and more expensive to ensure we have access to airport lounges, our literal and figurative ports in a storm. As the airlines and credit card companies shuffle the deck, here's my current best strategy to make sure we've got a place far from the madding airport crowds.
March 12: THE MEDIA BEHAVING BADLY ON MH370
The media are never so transparently lame, self-servingly crass and downright wrong as when a commercial aircraft crashes. Unless, of course, a plane disappears without a trace and the televised "experts" and the "informed sources" in print are free to speculate, regurgitate and fantasize at will.
March 6: NO RIGHTS FOR THE TRAVEL WEARY
What are our rights when airlines begin delaying and cancelling flights due to snow or tropical storms or just a rain shower? You'd be surprised how few options we have under existing law and Transportation Department regulation. My advice: Know what little you can do before you take another flight.
February 27: DELTA THINKS WE'RE ALL RUBES
Delta Air Lines has unveiled a revenue-based SkyMiles program to replace the mileage-based system legacy carriers have used since frequent flyer plans were invented in 1980. But it only told us about the earning side of the equation and nothing about the new award charts. Apparently, Delta thinks we're gullible rubes who wouldn't notice that they didn't tell us what our loyalty would buy. Insulted? You should be.
February 20: HOW AIRLINES CREATED THEIR OWN PILOT SHORTAGE
The nation's big airlines want you to know that there's a dreadful pilot shortage and they apologize profusely if their commuter-carrier partners cancel flights to your hometown. What they don't want you to know is that they created their own shortage by paying pilots less than truck drivers and sometimes as little as the minimum wage.
February 13: BAD WEATHER + CLOSED HUBS = BAD WINTER FLYING
Major airlines have shuttered at least 18 hubs in the last 20 years, the latest being United's "de-hubbing" of its Cleveland operations. The problem with closing hubs? In bad weather, we lose our ability to reroute and avoid problems. Which goes a long way in explaining why every winter storm now seems like a nightmare for business travelers.
February 6: NINE TRUTHS ABOUT FARES YOU PROBABLY WON'T BELIEVE
Regardless of whether the Bureau of Transportation Statistics says fares have gone up or down or sideways, you only believe what you paid for your last flight. Business travelers are selfish that way. The "average" fares that the government can track are meaningless because you only care about whether you paid more or less than before for any recent flight. Still, here are the facts.
January 30: THE HIGH COST OF FREE WIFI
Loews and other hotel chains are starting to offer free WiFi to all comers. But many Hilton Family hotels that have been offering free WiFi will now begin charging for "premium" access. Why the disconnect? Because we're consuming more and more megabytes on the road and hotels are having a hard time providing enough bandwidth and figuring out how to pay for it.
January 23: SECRET FLIGHTS FOR SAVVY FLYERS
Why does Air New Zealand fly between Los Angeles and London? Or Cathay Pacific between New York and Vancouver? And what is Singapore Air doing flying nonstop between Houston and Moscow? These secret oddballs of commercial aviation--and many more--are often a terrific source of low fares or an opportunity to get better service than what is offered by the expected incumbents.
January 16: SPENDING MONEY AND TIME AT THE AIRPORT
We've been spending a lot of time at airports lately thanks to the awful weather and the massive delays. But you'd be surprised by the amount of money we spend at airports--and where we spend it. I know it surprised me.
January 9: 10 TIPS FOR BETTER WINTER TRAVEL
After the first 10 days of the year, with brutal weather and even more chaotic airlines, how do we fix this craziness? Here are ten tips to make your winter flying less painful and annoying. Will it change the weather? Of course not. Will it make airlines act rationally? You know better than that. But these tips will save you time and aggravation and make the ice, snow, delays and cancellations less burdensome.
January 2: PAST IS PROLOGUE IN BUSINESS TRAVEL
Let me suggest that Robert Burns' admonition to forget old acquaintance is a singable New Year's sentiment, but a lousy way to understand life on the road. Rather than forget how airlines and hotels have marketed themselves over the years, we should remember--because there's rarely anything new or original or unique.
These columns originally appeared at BizJournals.com.
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