Seat 2B By Joe Brancatelli for 2015
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 30: SIX TRAVEL TRENDS TO TRACK IN 2016
What's gonna matter for us on the road in 2016? How about a new round of fees? More flights between the United States and Mexico? A potential battle between U.S. and Chinese carriers over market access? More hotels and hotel mergers? Labor strife between airline management and unions? The ghost of Donald Trump's travel past? A lot of my conclusions may surprise you.
December 23: WHAT I LEARNED ON THE ROAD IN 2015
People ask all the time what I think is the most important thing you need to know about business travel. My answer is always the same. It's not what you know so much as what you learn as you travel. Here's what I learned this year about frequent flyer programs, travel terrorism, hotels big and small and the eternal truth about what airlines think of us.
December 17: TICK-TOCK ...
Your friends, family and work colleagues may have visions of sugar plums dancing in their holiday-addled heads, but most business travelers I know have more serious concerns as the days whittle down to a precious few. With only two weeks left in the year, we've still got work to do if we want to travel with the least amount of pain next year. So here's my business-travel to-do list that should be completed before the ball drops.
December 10: DONALD TRUMP, THE HOTEL DEMAGOGUE
Your political feelings about Donald Trump are your business and none of my concern. But as business travelers, the evidence is clear. Trump is a demagogue. He calls for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, but his hotel chain operates an Arabic-language Web site to solicit their business for his hotels in New York, Chicago, Las Vegas and Miami. And he has a deal to build two Trump hotels in Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority nation in the world.
December 3: THE NEW FACE OF TERRORISM
Welcome to the even more frightening new face of terrorism in the 21st century. There are only so many places you can "harden" and protect and terrorists have learned that their future "successes" are rooted in attacks against "soft targets," places such as lightly guarded hotels, malls, restaurants and just about any place people mingle and linger. Business travelers will have to adjust accordingly.
November 19: WHAT THE MARRIOTT-STARWOOD MERGER MEANS TO US
Marriott International gobbled up Starwood Hotels this week and created a global behemoth with more than 1.1 million guestrooms and 5,500 hotels spread out over 30 brands in 100 countries. What do those mind-boggling numbers mean to business travelers? The bottom line: If you're an existing Marriott player, you'll have a greater choice of hotels. If you're a Starwood Preferred player, your elite status benefits will degrade, but rewards will cost less.
November 12: WHY THE EGYPT CRASH MATTERS
Most of us, surprisingly, have ignored the crash of a Russian passenger jet in the Sinai desert. But what happened in Egypt is profound. We either have a plane coming apart in mid-flight or a terrorist attack. Either way, our lives on the road will change dramatically and attention must be paid.
November 5: SPARE ME THE AIRPORT ICONS
Social commentators fawn over Eero Saarinen's TWA Flight Center and cluck that we really deserve nice things at the airport. Spare me the airport icons, though. They are too soon dated and too quickly annoying. Great architecture almost never accurately predicts our future needs on the road.
October 29: THE CHIMERA OF CHEAP
American Airlines plans to ape Delta Air Lines and create a version of Basic Economy fares, the stripped-down price so restrictive that 65 percent of buyers opt for a higher-cost option. Why create fares so restrictive that no one buys them? Blame Spirit Airlines, the bait-and-switch specialist.
October 22: THE ART OF THE AIRLINE DEAL
Last week's unique two-day sale is the kind of unexpected bonanza for which you cannot plan. But there is an art to the airline deal. Here are seven areas--everything from the best search tools to understanding when prices are historically high or low--to consider. It'll make you a better bargain hunter.
October 15: WHAT'S IN YOUR WALLET NOW?
The days when one credit card does it all on the road are long over. There are hundreds out there that might suffice. But here's what I think you should have in your wallet now. My thoughts about the best cards for travel perks, travel earnings, privilege "clawbacks" and hotel elite status.
October 8: KRISTIE ACKERT'S ENDLESS ROAD TRIP
Think your life on the road is tough? Think watching sports 24/7 would be a dream job? Then meet Kristie Ackert, who covers the playoff-bound New York Mets for the nation's fourth-largest newspaper. She says her life on the road is an endless grind of airport-ballpark-hotel-airport from mid-February until the end of the year. So be careful what you wish for.
October 1: SEVEN WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR LIFE ON THE ROAD
Want to make your life on the road better right now? Here are seven tips and tools I've recently picked up that'll help you manage better, be more productive and a bit more comfortable. And, if all else fails, there's even a way to have better adult beverages when you fly.
September 24: THE FALL TRAVEL AGENDA
All things considered, it wasn't an awful business-travel summer. But fall is now upon us and there are several trapdoors to worry about. So here's an update on American's upcoming computer merger with US Airways; the car-rental industry's hit-and-run on our credit cards; the TSA's continued mishandling of PreCheck; the scourge of unilateral airline flight and seat assignment changes and the collapse of regional airlines.
September 17: AIRLINE IN TROUBLE? HIRE AN INTERN TO RUN THINGS
United Airlines hired a new intern last week and on Tuesday he wrote to members of the MileagePlus program. He promised to learn all about running airlines, promoting teamwork and satisfying customers. The problem? The new intern is Oscar Munoz and he's the boss of the joint, hired in a panic to run the listing carrier. Makes you wonder why United won't hire someone who knows something about airlines.
September 10: FOURTEEN YEARS AFTER 9/11, TIME TO OVERHAUL THE TSA
One of the lasting legacies of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is the Transportation Security Administration, the dysfunctional federal agency that can't do its job and makes it miserable for us as we try to do ours. The TSA's incompetence and arrogance are unquestioned. We must fix the agency--and it can be fixed. Here are six ways to make it better, not that the TSA is listening.
September 3: FOUR WAYS THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY SOCKS IT TO US
The travel industry is so profitable now that the bosses have time to dress as superheroes and have contests to decide who has the most ridiculous stockings. But when you peer behind the mask, you realize the industry continues to lie to us about everything from their a la carte pricing models to their "go green" campaigns. Here are four big and little fibs to watch for.
August 27: YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN. YOU PROBABLY SHOULDN'T.
My hometown of Brooklyn is trendy now. But when I go home and check out the ever-expanding roster of hotels, I wonder who is staying in these places--and why? I mean, what is the value of staying in a hotel overlooking one of the nation's most fetid and polluted waterways? Or checking into a hotel in a tumbledown neighborhood close to a "downtown" that isn't a downtown at all? My inevitable conclusion? You can go home again. But you probably shouldn't.
August 13: HOW DUBLIN WILL BECOME LONDON'S THIRD AIRPORT
London, the crossroads of global aviation, needs more flights and more connections. British authorities want to spend tens of billions to build another runway at Heathrow. Willie Walsh, who runs BA's parent company, thinks it'd be cheaper to buy Aer Lingus, the Irish airline that hubs at cozy, casual, less crowded Dublin. See how your future flights to Europe may be routed over Dublin using the revitalized Aer Lingus.
August 6: DELTA LIVES ON THE NARRATIVE, DIES ON SKYMILES
Delta Air Lines wants to be seen as the very model of a modern commercial carrier. And it spends a ton of money trying to control the narrative. But its carefully honed image runs smack against one ugly reality: SkyMiles stinks and Delta has no interest in running a fair and honest program. And business travelers are judging Delta on the weakness of SkyMiles, not the carrier's strengths.
July 30: FACTS, FANTASY AND POLITICAL DOUBLESPEAK AT LGA
With the vice president and LGA critic-in-chief in attendance, New York government Andrew Cuomo this week announced a $4 billion plan to create a new LaGuardia Airport. LGA serves more than 25 million flyers a year and desperately needs a fix. But reality is different from political spectacle. If it's built at all, the "new" LGA will hardly be new at all and there are already some worrisome shortcuts in the mix.
July 23: TWELVE TIPS TO CRAFT THE PERFECT COMPLAINT LETTER
Given the state of business travel--crowded flights, aging rental cars, rising hotel rates--it's no surprise that road warriors have a cornucopia of complaints. I've compiled a dozen tips for the perfect complaint letter. I can't guarantee 100 percent success, of course, but follow this 12-step program and you'll turn most legitimate gripes into a satisfactory resolution.
July 16: US AIR FINALLY MORPHS INTO AMERICAN AIRLINES
Almost two years after US Airways engineered a reverse merger with American Airlines, the combined carrier this weekend begins the final and trickiest part of the integration: merging the so-called "passenger service systems." Here's what you need to know to protect yourself during the 90-day transition process.
July 9: FIVE WAYS TO FIX FLYING NOW
The moment the Justice Department announced it was probing U.S. carriers for collusion, talking heads started babbling. But the probe (and the babblers) won't change our flying lives. But I have five suggestions for regulators that are easy to implement and would immediately level the playing field for flyers feeling crushed by the airline oligarchy.
July 2: WHEN HOTELS ATTACK ...
The days when business travelers can consider hotels a home away from home appear to be over. Whether it's terrorists hitting us where we temporarily live or the nasty by-products of our digital age, hotels aren't the safe, secure and welcoming sanctuaries they once seemed to be.
June 25: TEN WAYS TO BATTLE MOTHER NATURE THIS SUMMER
A lot of us thought summer would bring relief from the awful winter and stormy spring. But no-o-o-o! Summer has arrived with a cascade of flight cancellations and thousands of delays nationwide. We'll never beat Mother Nature, but here are 10 timely tips to keep you on schedule this summer.
June 18: WHY DO THE AIRLINES HATE US?
After nearly 40 years as a business traveler, this question haunts me: Why do the airlines hate us? Why, in fact, do airlines seem to hate everyone? The people who distribute and book their tickets? The corporate travel managers who keep us flying? Travel agents. The people who make the luggage we carry. And, for all I know, attendants at the garages where airline bosses park their limos.
June 11: CUSTOM(S) SOLUTIONS
The TSA is living proof that government can't run efficiently or with our best interests at heart. In contrast, however, I give you U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It's not perfect, of course, but it does seem to understand our best interaction with it is as little interaction as possible. That's led to a raft of improvements--Global Entry, customs kiosks, apps--that have improved the airport customs-clearance process.
June 4: HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE THE TSA?
The news this week that the TSA failed to detect mock weapons and explosives in 95 percent of tests run by the Homeland Security Department pretty much confirms what we already know. The government agency is an abject failure. But here's the problem. Private airport security was a failure, too. Looks like we'll be flying between a political rock and a privatized hard space for the rest of our lives.
May 28: WHAT WE KNOW ON THE ROAD ALWAYS CHANGES
The "facts" of business travel are as transitory as military intelligence. What you knew to be true last week, last month, last year is not necessarily valid data for your next road trip. Keep that in mind as I update you on the state of premium economy, the resurgence of "secret" flights, the end of Malaysia Airlines, the airlines' war against travel agencies and the never-ending national disgrace that is Berlin's new airport.
May 21: THE SUMMER TRAVEL SUMMARY
We all need some summer downtime. With my few days, I expect to pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep. But if you want to travel this summer, I suggest you try a great American road trip rather than risk the domestic skies. I also look at the market for bargains in Europe and Asia this summer.
May 14: HOW TO ESCAPE ECONOBOX RENTALS NOW
Tired of the same old Chevys, Hyundais and Toyotas when you rent a car? Rental firms have occasionally offered better cars, but the process has always been a pain. But National Car Rental's new program offers snappy vehicles--even Maseratis--at a flat rate over your existing reservation. Just choose your car and go. And a start-up called Silvercar is building a rental business around a single type of upmarket Audi sedan.
May 7: THE GOLDILOCKS SYNDROME OF AIRFARES
How would you like your airfare news: Factual? Truthful? Anecdotal? Since fares are quite personal--only you know what's just right or too much for you--I give you all three. Then you decide how to make sense of what we've learned about what (and how) airlines charge us to fly.
April 30: PLAYING THE RIGHT CLUB CARD
It's time to bury an old and reliable traveling companion: Priority Pass, the global network of airport lounges. What I once called "the magic card" is passe now, doomed by modern airline economics and convoluted banking partnerships and replaced by other ways to access the growing global network of airport lounges. Here's how to play your cards (and clubs) now.
April 23: THE HOTEL INDUSTRY'S 'SOFT' EXISTENTIAL CRISIS
Can a hotel still be an independent property if it joins a lodging brand? Can a gigantic hotel company have a chain comprised of independents? Can it be a "brand" if all the hotels maintain their own names and identities? Here's an existential primer to explain why big lodging firms are furiously creating "collections" of independent hotels around the world.
April 16: PHONING (AND TEXTING AND DATA-ING) HOME
We may have mastered the ins and outs of currency changes and language, but even savvy international travelers obsess over the prices they pay for calls, texts and data access overseas. A mistake can cost hundreds of dollars in a matter of days. Here are five ways to make sure you're least likely to get clipped.
April 9: THE POWER AND THE PERIL OF TRAVEL BOYCOTTS
The threat of travel boycotts forced Indiana into a panicked climb down from a law many believe encouraged and permitted discrimination. Ya-ay us, I guess. But business travelers are more comfortable keeping our collective head down and doing our job without a fuss. Besides, travel boycotts have a checked history of success.
April 2: ALL BUSINESS CLASS RETURNS, PROFITS STILL AWOL
Even the least-impressive all-business-class flight is a joy because the seats are better, the service is better and there are fewer tourists gumming up the works. But now that the all-business-class concept is making a modest comeback, a key problem remains: They are financial flights to nowhere.
March 26: WHEN A TRAGEDY BECOMES A NIGHTMARE
I landed in Europe on Tuesday just about the time news broke about Germanwings Flight 9525. And the tragedy became a nightmare when we learned yesterday that the co-pilot apparently went the murder-suicide route with the aircraft and 149 other souls. I offer the thinnest of silver linings and some practical thoughts for the days and weeks ahead.
March 19: STRONG DOLLAR'S WIN-WIN SCENARIO WITH AIRPORT ASTERISK
The U.S. dollar is almighty again in global currency markets and that's a win-win for business travelers. Prices are not only down sharply overseas, but the strong dollar is also lowering hotel rates here at home. Why? Because international visitors are staying away. The only asterisk: Airport ATMs, our go-to source of foreign currency, are being taken over by the folks who run the overpriced currency-exchange booths.
March 13: U.S. AIRLINES WAGE THEIR OWN GULF WAR
The Big Three U.S. airlines are attacking the Big Three Gulf carriers. They claim the Gulf airlines get unfair subsidies, that their governments build out the infrastructure for them and that the carriers are the aviation tools of government policy. So what? That's exactly how the U.S. Big Three got to be the U.S. Big Three.
March 5: IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY ROAD TRIP
Ever wonder how your fellow flyers cope when the weather turns nasty? Here are four tales of life on the road in the snow and ice penned by fellow members who have insight, a sense of humor and very definite ideas of how airlines treat them.
February 26: TIME TO REGULATE FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAMS
For all the travel nightmares this month, one thing that hasn't happened is flyers held hostage for hours on the tarmac. Why? The Transportation Department adopted regulations to stop the practice and carriers adjusted. So given how airlines are playing fast and loose with frequent flyer plans, can the DOT come up with smart regulations to curb the abuses? I think so and I have some suggestions.
February 19: THE GUERILLA GUIDE TO NEW WORLD OF FREQUENCY PROGRAMS
Now that airlines act like Vladimir Putin--they take what they want and they don't care about promises or image--we need new rules for playing the frequent travel programs. Here are my thoughts about how to manage and maintain your programs in an era when the travel industry no longer cares about loyalty, only the dollars they can extract from you.
February 12: WHERE ARE THE AIRLINE UPSTARTS?
Airlines are now profitable and more arrogant than ever. But the good news is that conditions are ripe for some upstart carriers to launch. Oil is cheap, airports and planes are available and passengers and companies are ready for a change. All we need are some smart and savvy entrepreneurs.
February 5: THE CHINA TRAVEL SYNDROME
It's China's world now and the rest of us are just traveling in it. Having already achieved the largest rural-to-urban migration in recorded history, Chinese travelers are expected to surpass U.S. businesspeople next year as the world's biggest spenders at airlines and hotels. The numbers, and the trend lines, are staggering.
January 29: BIZ TRAVELERS, MEAN GIRLS AND SKYMALL
It turns out business travelers are mean girls and had a "burn book" prepared for the moment SkyMall bit the metaphoric dust. But we apparently always read the catalog and often bought things--even though buying wasn't important to SkyMall's business model.
January 22: INTRODUCING FAIR AIR
At a conference last week, I was asked if there could be a "perfect" airline for business travelers. I said no, but it got me wondering what kind of airline I could create for a better business-travel experience. Here's "Fair Air," the carrier I, er, blue-skied, as I flew home from the conference.
January 15: NINE THINGS TO DO NOW TO MAKE 2015 BETTER
So now that you've blown all of your New Year's Resolutions, here I come with nine things I want you to do. But my resolutions are practical. You only have to do them once. None of them are hard. And I promise that if you do them this month, the rest of the year on the road will be better.
January 8: THE SNIDELY WHIPLASH OF THE SKIES VERSUS FLYERS
United Airlines, the Snidely Whiplash of the skies, is suing a 22-year-old for computerizing an age-old loophole in the fare structure. It isn't just another airline-industry attempt to slap down a clever new way to search for long-buried discounts. It's still another attempt to regulate how you use a product after you purchase it.
These columns originally appeared at BizJournals.com.
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