Seat 2B By Joe Brancatelli for 2016
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.
November 17: NOW'S THE TIME FOR TRANSATLANTIC TRAVEL
You need to stop what you're doing and plan a trip to Europe. A confluence of factors has made travel to the continent in the next six months or so as cheap as it has been in about 30 years. There's time for a pre-Christmas shopping trip or one last business run. Or fly over in January and hit some shows or the sales. Perhaps visit a few Michelin-starred dining palaces in Paris. Or do them all. It's that cheap.
November 10: WHAT THE ELECTION MEANS TO BUSINESS TRAVELERS
Bet you weren't thinking about business travel on Tuesday night as the poll-defying election results rolled in. I was--and, for better and worse, the results are a mixed bag. The good news? We should learn fairly quickly if Donald Trump is a man of his word and honors contracts. The bad news? Someone sleeping with the enemy kept his position atop the Congressional transportation power structure.
November 3: FLOODING THE ZONE OF INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL
British Airways is adding flights to Fort Lauderdale and Oakland. Aer Lingus is now flying from Hartford. After decades of concentrating on Kennedy, Cathay Pacific flies from Newark and Boston, too. Why are international carriers adding dots to the map? It's a flood-the-zone strategy aimed at stealing connecting customers from other airlines.
October 27: HAPPY FARE DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN
Fare numbers released by the Department of Transportation on Tuesday were about as electrifying as a bureaucratic data dump could be. And they were bound to put a smile on the faces of hard-pressed business travelers. Prices are falling and falling fast. When was the last time we could say that?
October 13: HOTELS ARE CHANGING, LIKE IT OR NOT
Have you noticed your hotel room getting smaller? That hotels have turned their lobbies into bazaars that want to sell you anything and everything? Or that they keep fiddling with the check-in process? That there is a blizzard of new brands? It's all part of the game. Hotels are changing, like it or not.
October 6: SEVEN UNBREAKABLE RULES OF BUSINESS TRAVEL
Business travel always changes. Except when it doesn't. There are immutable rules that have never changed in the nearly 40 years I've been on the road. Here are seven crucial ones you should never break. I don't think your mileage will vary on this one.
September 29: SETTLING DEBATES OVER BUSINESS-TRAVEL ISSUES
Monday's unconventional presidential debate was the first of a quartet of television conflicts packed into the next few weeks. That still leaves plenty of time to consider the debates raging in the world of business travel. Like or hate the Marriott-Starwood merger? Who's got the upper hand between the U.S. and Gulf carriers? What's the state of premium economy? These things matter as much to us road warriors as the stuff they claimed to be discussing on Monday night.
September 22: HOW THE BIG AIRLINES RATE NOW
Airlines have so completely eviscerated the frequent flier programs that they've effectively eliminated any pretense of returning your loyalty. It's a transactional world now and we're just flying in it. But who should you be flying? I try to rate the six largest domestic airlines. Your mileage probably will vary.
September 15: HOW BREXIT IS CHANGING OUR TRAVEL
Nearly three months after British citizens voted to leave the European Union, there are few signs that the United Kingdom is rushing to execute a Brexit. But travelers are seeing a rapid and substantial realignment of air service across the pond. Established airlines are pulling back from the British hinterlands. All-business class boutique routes aimed at upscale fliers are disappearing. And an upstart interloper is pouring lower-priced capacity into London.
September 8: BUY NOW, FLY NOW -- IT'S THAT CHEAP
Fares to Europe and Asia are at levels we haven't seen in at least a decade. Bargains are everywhere. Jump on the deals while you can. Here are seven reasons why it's happening--and a reminder to buy now before the wheel turns again.
September 1: FREQUENT FLYERS AND FEAR ITSELF
After chaotic and mindless evacuations at LAX and JFK in the last few weeks, I planned to opine that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was wrong. I was about to suggest that flyers had more to fear than fear itself. But I listened to the key sentence of FDR's first inauguration address and realized that he was right. Everyone knows FDR said "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." But then he explained the term. Fear itself was "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror." And, boy, there's a lot of fear itself around.
August 25: SEVEN THINGS TO DO BEFORE LABOR DAY
I challenge the accepted conventional wisdom that nothing important happens in business travel before Labor Day. While it might be quiet on the news front, now is the time for you to be preparing for the onslaught of your autumn on the road. Now is the time to prep for the long days of business travel ahead and here are seven things you should do before Labor Day.
August 18: BACK TO BUSINESS TRAVEL'S FUTURE
I've been covering the exigencies of business travel since forever and I've flown in almost everything and stayed in nearly everything sold to business travelers. One thing I've missed: a time machine. But even without one, we can reconsider my columns on the battle of LAX and the transcons; refocus on United, look at what's happened to the Hotel Collector, and review the growth of flights to China.
August 11: WHEN AIRLINES GO BAD
What did we learn this week on the road? Airlines in crisis react exactly as they do when things are running like clockwork. Delta melts down, lies about the reason, then tells customers that this isn't Delta's style. When it melted down last month, Southwest took the blame immediately, profusely apologized and showered travelers with discounts. Here are seven other lessons we learned from the disruptions.
August 4: LOVE 'EM OR LEAVE 'EM ...
Lots of folks seem unalterably opposed to living under a President Clinton or a President Trump. And if anyone is capable of pulling up stakes and moving on, it is business travelers. We know the system and we probably have enough miles and points in our frequency programs to sulk somewhere for free during the next four years. But where to go? Canada maybe? Ecuador? Singapore? Some distant island? Back where your people came from? I consider the options.
July 28: WATCH YOUR WALLET, AIRLINES ARE ON THE PROWL
Airlines turned in record profits during the second quarter--and they still complain business travelers don't pay enough. Do they hate us? Sure. But there's an irony here. Now the security analysts hate the airlines and that is making them scramble to pump up their financials even more. Bottom line, though, is the bottom line: The airlines are coming for our wallets. Again.
July 21: TO UNPLUG OR NOT TO UNPLUG
The experts all insist we should unplug on the road and on holiday lest we risk burning out. Seems like a reasonable point of view. Until you realize that Erdogan of Turkey would have been ousted had he unplugged while on holiday last weekend at a Turkish seaside resort. So, you know, decisions must be made.
July 14: FAIR WARNINGS. OR MAYBE NOT.
The world seems united on the fact that one country is overrun by gun violence, unsafe, unfair to minorities, plagued by hideously priced health care and so dangerous that you can't use ATMs. Where is this terrible place? The United States--at least as defined by travel advisories issued by major world governments. Meanwhile, our Department of State says lots of rotten things about other countries. Some thoughts about the political, imprecise world of official travel advice.
July 7: THE NEW RULES OF FREQUENT FLYER PLANS
Toss all the old advice away. Airlines don't care about your loyalty anymore. You won't win if you concentrate your flying. And elite status is useless. Here are five new rules for managing your flights and your frequency programs so that you can "win" the game.
June 30: BREXIT BONANZA
I have no idea what the long-term impact of Britain's exit from the EU will have on travel. And anyone who tells you they know is full of luncheon meat. But I do know what is happening NOW: The British pound is sliding precipitously, making trips to the UK a fabulous bargain. Europe, too, for that matter. Oh, Brexit has also reminded us that nothing good ever happens at O'Hare.
June 23: SIX TIPS FOR SUMMER TRAVEL PLANNING
Now that summer's here, six thoughts about how to make your summer travel better: Where to go (and where not to go) and how to make sure the airlines don't rip you off on a downgrade.
June 16: TEN BEST PICKS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS NOW
Most weeks in Seat 2B we talk about how life on the road stinks and gets worse every day. Even when I don't say it explicitly, it's implied. Because, you know, life on the road stinks and gets worse every day. Still, there are good things. Honest. And I can prove it. Here's my current 10-best list. Your mileage may vary (and do tell me how it does), but it's important to remember that some things are notably better than others.
June 9: THE REVENGE OF THE DREAMLINER
I never worried about flying the Dreamliner, but even I'm amazed at how quickly the Boeing 787 has shaken off its shaky start and become a mainstay of global aviation. The plane is literally remaking the world's route map. It's going where no other planes have gone before, connecting dozens of cities that have never before had nonstop links.
June 2: ON THE CLOCK, ON THE PLATE, IN THE AIRPORT
Now that the TSA has screwed up our schedules, we either need to grab food fast as we rush through the airport or have hours to sit for a meal. Amazingly, the airport F&B industry is adjusting fast. Restaurants are now introducing seven-minute menus, apps that allow you to preorder meals and chef-driven outlets for the longer "dwell times." Here's the latest on the plate at the airport.
May 26: PATCH THE TSA NOW, FIX IT TOMORROW
Here's the reality: We need an instant patch to solve the problems that the TSA is creating at airports around the country. But it'll be next year (at least) before we can get to the systemic changes needed to get the agency back on track. It certainly won't happen this year under President Obama, whose administration has run a more repressive and authoritarian TSA than during the Bush years.
May 19: NO ROOM FOR SANE HOTEL RATES
You'd like to know where you can find the lowest prices on hotel rooms. So would I. I would also like my hair back. Neither is likely to happen any time soon. But we need to address the insanity of hotel rates because the major chains are lying about price guarantees and inventing phony "members-only" rates. Here are some better ways to deal with hotel pricing.
May 12: AIRLINES HAVE BILLIONS OF REASONS TO BE HAPPY
The airlines have billions of reasons to be happy about how things are going. Billions as in the $24 billion they collectively earned in 2015, triple what they earned in 2014. What have we gotten by contributing to the airlines' windfall profits? Not much. Not anything, really.
May 5: LIFE AMONG THE UNICORNS
Welcome to life among the unicorns, business travelers who generate so much revenue for the travel industry that they cavalierly expect upgrades. Unicorns who dote on their perks, but never seem to be quite happy with the extras that airlines or hotels toss us. We're hard to please, have numerous pain points and, most of all, don't move en masse. What I want from my travel providers probably isn't what you want. And it's not the same as the unicorn in the airline seat next to you or the hotel room one flight up.
April 28: TEED OFF AT THE TSA
Missed a flight lately because of a TSA delay? Stood in long, long checkpoint lines even with PreCheck? You're not alone. Delays are piling up, queues are lengthening, tempers are fraying, the Transportation Security Administration is alibiing. And, of course, it's all the TSA's fault.
April 21: FINDING INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT BARGAINS THIS SUMMER
Looking for a bargain on an international flight in the next few months? The best advice I can offer if you're hot for a holiday: Buy now. Or wait a while. But act before the flights disappear altogether. These nuggets may sound contradictory, even nonsensical, but we're talking airlines here. The straight-and-narrow is not on their flight path.
April 14: LUGGAGE BY ANY OTHER NAME IS VERY CONFUSING
Luggage by any other name often comes from Samsonite, the industry's leading player, or one of hundreds of anonymous Chinese manufacturers you find on Alibaba. Online retailer Ebags claims to carry 700 brands. Given that Babel of bags, how do you find the right one for you? Simple, honest answer: How the hell do I know? But I do have some general thoughts about how to think about luggage now.
April 7: VIRGIN NO MORE: ALASKA AIRLINES' BIG PURCHASE
Alaska Airlines decision to spend $2.6 billion to buy Virgin America highlights a sad reality of today's skies: Small is not beautiful and if you don't bulk up, you die. Meanwhile, here's what you need to know about how the merger will impact your life on the road in the days, weeks and months ahead.
March 31: THE FINAL FOUR AT THE AIRPORT
This'll happen at the airport thousands of times, in the next few days. Business travelers will fight their way through security checkpoints, or step off connecting flights, rush to the nearest bar, peer up at the TV and ask a total stranger, "What's the score?" Thus are born meaningful, if extraordinarily transitory, friendships on the road. Here is some airline and airport trivia to mix in with the basketball talk this weekend.
March 24: HARD TRUTHS ABOUT 'SOFT' TARGETS
The only surprise about the attacks in Brussels is that some supposed "experts" were surprised terrorists targeted the airport's public areas and the city's mass-transit system. If you watched TV coverage after the bombing of a check-in area at Brussels Zaventem Airport and the Maelbeek Metro Station, you'd think terrorists had invented a clever and devious new method of wreaking havoc on civilized society. But soft targets like public areas of airports are easy to hit and, frankly, there's very little we can do to harden them.
March 17: HANDICAPPING THE BATTLE FOR STARWOOD
Starwood Hotels this morning said it judged Anbang Insurance's all-cash offer superior to the previously accepted Marriott deal. That means we've got a three-sided battle for control of Starwood and the beloved elite levels of SPG. Where you stand on the battle really depends on where you sleep.
March 10: UNITED'S FISH-SLAPPING DANCE
Oscar Munoz, felled by heart trouble a month into his tenure as chief executive of United Airlines, returns to work on Monday. What will he do first: Fix the airline's in-flight product? Repair its wonky ground operations? Renew the fleet? Address employee relations? Of course not. First he'll have to wade into a fish-slapping fight for control of United's board of directors launched by former Continental boss and blowhard-in-chief Gordon Bethune.
March 3: TRUMP'S TRAVEL TRAVAILS
After his primary wins on Tuesday, Donald Trump is the man to beat for the Republican Party nomination for president. Trump's voters are enamored of his carefully burnished reputation as a businessman supposedly worth "in excess of TEN BILLION DOLLARS." But like his all-caps boasting on Federal Election Commission financial forms, Trump's record doesn't translate to the travel industry. His travel forays over the past 40 years have been a strange brew of missed opportunities, dreadful timing, questionable financial maneuvers, swaggering braggadocio, tear-down-the-competition innuendo and outright failure.
February 25: THE TIME(LY) TRAVELER
More than 30 years on the road has convinced me of one thing: Business travel is a selfish pursuit. We wish our fellow travelers well, of course, but we're mostly interested in our own comfort and productivity. This explains why we sometimes favor airlines other dislike and refuse to fly. But every once in a while it pays to look at the objective data to see which carriers are doing best (and worst) for baggage handling, on-time performance and other factors.
February 18: CUBA? OF COURSE. JUST NOT RIGHT NOW.
Word to the wise frequent flyer: Don't plan your family's Christmas holiday in Cuba. The announcement of new flights this week doesn't mean service will start immediately. Besides, the Cold War-era embargo remains in place, so most U.S. citizens can't go even if the flights are running. Here's a more likely time frame--and an overview of what happens and when.
February 11: DELTA'S FAILED FOREIGN POLICY
Richard Anderson, who retires in May, has led Delta to financial and operational glory. But Anderson's naked aggression and partisan thuggery in the field of foreign policy have been appalling. Surprised that an airline in the 21st century even has its own foreign policy? Then you haven't been following his ham-fisted attempts to bend U.S. policy to Delta's financial self-interest.
February 4: AIRLINES TALK SNACK. WE SHOULD TALK FARES.
Airlines suddenly seem intent on "giving" us stroopwafel crackers and speculoo biscuits in coach. This is our "reward" for airlines taking nearly every dime of energy savings to boost their bottom lines, which grew to a cumulative $20 billion in 2015. But if you look more closely, something else is happening, something airlines don't want to talk about. Fares are falling and there are spectacular bargains to be had.
January 28: WHY AIRBNB IS NO UBER
Uber the Ubiquitous is laying waste to traditional ground transportation from coast to coast, driving taxi companies into bankruptcy in San Francisco and stealing tax subsidies from New York mass transit. Not so Airbnb. It's growing rapidly, but not hurting the traditional hotel and lodging business. The reason? Hotels are purpose built for our business travel needs and Airbnb isn't quite what we require. Yet.
January 21: UNITED'S BROKEN CULTURE
Even though the mainstream media has now caught up with the parlous state of United, they are still missing the point. United's problem is its broken culture. Both pre-merger United and pre-merger Continental were broken. Combining two wrongs could not and did not make anything right. It just made things worse. And, right now, there are no substantive fixes on the horizon.
January 14: DELTA SAYS IT'S 'BETTER,' SO YOU DESERVE LESS
Does being a "better" airline allow you to offer a less competitive frequent flyer program? Delta Air Lines thinks so. It insists that it is "better" than its competitors and has responded with a new series of devaluations to its SkyMiles plan. At least as far as Delta views the world, having a "better" frequent flyer program is no longer a requirement for being a "better" airline.
January 7: BEATING THE WINTER FLYING WOES
Most of us were off the road between Christmas and New Year, but those who did fly were massacred by snow, rain, ice, winds and flooding. On-time rates plummeted and cancellations soared. It was an ugly reminder that we need to think carefully about our winter flying regimen if we want to avoid their fate.
These columns originally appeared at BizJournals.com.
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