Seat 2B by Joe Brancatelli for 2008
December 30: TRAVEL ESCAPES
Since this might be the only week of the year we're not required to watch our movies in the air, I've put together my list of my favorite business-travel flicks. Want to see Elizabeth Taylor in an airport lounge? Cary Grant in a battle of wits with a hotel front-desk clerk? Juliette Binoche sharing the last airport hotel room with a burnout chef? I know the films--and the one where the business traveler is the hero in just 30 seconds.
December 23: WHAT 2008 TAUGHT US
At the end of each of the 30-something years that I have survived a life on the road, I inevitably reach the same conclusion: It sure has been another bizarre 12 months. This year, we learned that the rich aren't different when it comes to travel; that better aviation mousetraps don't guarantee travelers beat a path to the cabin door; that slow and steady wins the airport race; that all a la carte fees aren't created equal; and much more.
December 16: UNDER THE RADAR
I am ushered up the aisle and into Seat 2B just once a week. That means there are dozens of topics I should have covered and lots of business-travel news that didn’t quite make the cut. But here are three brief looks at important issues: the future of registered traveler programs; Lufthansa's rapid growth and buying binge; and good news and bad on "passenger's rights" issues.
December 9: TOURISM AND TERRORISM
Put aside your fear and loathing for a moment, because we need to discuss the business of travel terrorism. Like it or not, acts of terror aimed at travelers and the places they frequent are very good business tactics indeed.
December 2: HOW TO CUT YOUR TRAVEL COSTS
Even in these down times, we can do better than doubling up in hotel rooms and begging sofas from friends on the road. There are sane ways to cut T&E expenses. You won't live the lush life, of course, but you won't feel like a traveling tramp either.
November 25: ATTACK OF THE VELCRO HOTELS
Ever heard the term Velcro Hotel? It's what lodging insiders derisively call a property that changes brand names so often that hotel signs may as well be fastened with hook-and-loop tape. Better get ready for a slew of these hotels as the lodging industry buckles under the financial pressure and begins "reflagging" properties with abandon.
November 18: AIRBORNE PORN
In-flight Internet service means access to adult content in close quarters--and a problem for airlines and passengers. But some people think there are issues with adult content in the privacy of your hotel room, too.
November 11: BYE-BYE BUSINESS TRAVELERS
It's doctrine: Travel and entertainment spending is the first to fall when the economy weakens. But the collapse of travel since the markets shuddered in mid-September is unprecedented. With the obvious exception of the months immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attack, travel has never fallen this far or this fast.
November 4: SECRET SOCIETIES
Think you're special because you have platinum status? Then you haven't heard about hush-hush programs that airlines, hotels, and car-rental companies have for their super-VIPs. What does the travel industry do for its customers who are so special that they transcend the top levels of frequent travel program loyalty?
October 28: CAMPAIGN FLIERS
After almost two years of campaigning, here's what we know about Obama's and McCain's positions on issues that affect business travelers: Nothing. But just because the soon-to-be President Elect won't talk about business travel doesn't mean that he won't have to address our concerns. I've compiled a list presidential-level travel issues. We may not know where they stand on them, but we know that this is the landscape that all travelers must negotiate during the next four years.
October 21: FLYING FOURTH CLASS
The extraordinary creature comforts of OpenSkies' prem+ cabin are the latest and best-articulated developments in the nearly 20-year evolution of a fourth and entirely new class of international airline service. Prosaically and generically named "premium economy," this class aims to offer many of the perks and comforts of business class for about the price of a full-fare coach ticket.
October 14: BEATING JET LAG
How do you get jet lag from 27 hours on a train that doesn't change time zones? What is jet lag anyway? How do you "cure" it or "prevent" it? A lagged-out Brancatelli has all of the details--if he can remember where he put the link to this column.
October 7: SHUTTLE SCUTTLEBUTT
It's remarkable that we are talking about a declining shuttle market when New York bankers, Washington politicians, and East Coast media elites are busily remaking the underpinning of the nation's economy. But the Air Shuttles aren't what they were when Eastern ruled the roost and travelers are finding alternatives.
September 30: FLYING THE UNFRIENDLY SKIES
The nation's financial upheaval has sucked so much oxygen out of the media room that we've barely gotten coverage of a horrific bombing of the Marriott in Islamabad and the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Yemen. But we know what this stuff means to our lives on the road. We all have a playbook, a set of time-tested rules honed during a generation of terrorism aimed at travelers in general and U.S. business travelers in specific.
September 23: A RUN ON THE BANKERS
Ever heard of the Horny Banker Theory of business travel? It posits that the Big Six can charge whatever they want because there's always an investment banker who'll pay anything because he needs to fly home for a date. I've never been convinced that the Horny Banker Theory held water, but we'll certainly find out now, won't we? Bankers and brokers have always been the base of the airlines' high-yield business. What happens when they are fewer of them?
September 16: TERMINAL INVASION
Want to scare the living daylights out of a business traveler? Just give him or her an itinerary that includes a city with a newly opened airport terminal. So what do we do now that four major airport projects are opening in the next two week. Hope everything goes well. Meanwhile, details of the new terminals in Detroit, New York, Raleigh and Indianapolis.
September 9: IN-FLIGHT FOOD FIGHT
I've never understood travelers' obsession with in-flight food, and I relish quoting comedian David Brenner: He didn't go to a diner expecting a flight to Los Angeles, so why should he get on a flight expecting an omelet? And I never forget the brutally frank assessment by one airline executive, who explained to me that airline food is essentially leftovers. Yet the galvanizing power of in-flight food is undeniable.
September 2: WHAT NOT TO WORRY ABOUT THIS FALL
Business travelers come by paranoia legitimately. And I would never suggest that we business travelers abandon this well-earned paranoia, but I do think there are some things we need not worry about this fall.
August 26: INN TESTING
Tucked away on a side street between Sepulveda Boulevard and a Green Line rail station, the generic-looking Hilton Garden Inn at Los Angeles Airport is almost a parody of a midprice, midmarket, middle-of-nowhere airport hotel. But behind the double doors and down a secret hallway is Hilton's secret hotel "lab" where, if you're chosen, you can test the hotel of the future.
August 19: WHY NO WIFI IN THE SKY?
After months of delays, American Airlines finally started its test of inflight Internet this week. It comes against a background of the spectacular, costly failure of the only previous attempt at inflight Net access and lots of vaporware in the current crop of supposed contenders.
August 5: THE MILES BYE CLUB
The airline guys who invented frequent-flyer programs almost 30 years ago proudly called frequent flyer miles "the nation's second currency." These days, however, miles are looking a lot like Zimbabwean dollars. The currency is being devalued with spirit-crushing regularity. There's less to buy now that airlines are slashing their route networks and seating capacity. And airlines are hitting us with an astonishing array of annoying and costly fees.
July 29: HEARTBREAK HOTELS
Like so many Olympics before it, the 2008 Beijing Summer Games aren't turning out to be much of a tourist magnet for the host city. That means thousands of empty and newly built hotel rooms. But Beijing isn't unique. Hotel occupancy is falling in most American cities, too, and that means hoteliers are starting to pile on the value-added perks.
July 22: DON'T TAKE A FLIER ON AIRLINES
The big airlines have been reporting billions of dollars of losses over the last two weeks. The market's response? An insane rally that had bid up airline stocks by 50 or 100 percent or more. Why? Oil has falled to about $125 a barrel. But the airlines can't make money at $125 a barrel. Or $110 a barrel. Or even $100 a barrel. So why is everyone so happy when all of the carriers except Southwest may soon be in bankruptcy or even liquidation.
July 15: WHY HI WIFI?
A decade ago we were complaining about the cost of calls from hotel-room phones. Mobile phones mooted that debate, and no business traveler even thinks about using a guest-room telephone today. But the deep, philosophical disagreements are back—over the price hotels may or may not charge to access high-speed internet and WiFi service.
July 8: WHY SOUTHWEST STILL WORKS
The rest of the U.S. airline industry is back in the tanks, yet Southwest remains a notable exception. It's still expanding, still profitable and its market capitalization now exceeds the rest of the industry combined. Why it still works is no mystery. Why no one else does it Southwest's ways is.
July 1: SETTING THE BAR
It's easier than ever to drown your sorrows at the airport. After decades of dreary, depressing bars of last resort, airports are now bursting with charming and well-stocked wine bars and convivial branches of local brewpubs that serve up some of the nation's best and most inventive brews. Airports have even become testing grounds for new drinking concepts, many branded with the most prestigious names in the liquor world.
June 24: DÉJÀ VU SKIES
Thirty years of business has made me older, balder, and fatter, but I have gained a lot of perspective. So take it from this weary, wizened road warrior: Despite all the announced service cutbacks, commercial air travel is merely changing. The sky isn't falling and "the system" itself isn't collapsing. In fact, we lived this once before, back in the days after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.
June 17: THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING AIRLINES
Airlines are getting smaller—fast—and that is going to have a profound and immediate effect on how you travel. And the longer oil stays above $100 a barrel—doesn't that sound like a blast from a much happier energy past?—the more the airlines will cut. Here's what you need to know to help you understand the new airscape and plan for the coming weeks and months.
June 10: WORST. AIRLINE. EVER.
Pick through the slag heap of the Big Six and it's easy to find the worst of the worst: United Airlines. Just 29 months removed from the longest, most expensive and least effective bankruptcy in aviation history, United is losing money and passengers twice as fast as anyone else. And day-to-day operations are tanking fast.
June 3: ALL BUSINESS, ALWAYS TROUBLE
If you want to understand why Silverjet, the last all-business-class airline between New York and London, folded last Friday, you might as well go back to the beginning of time. The first airline launched after deregulation, Midway, was also the first to go all-business. It failed. So have all business-class airlines launched since then. Why? Real estate.
May 27: A BAD BAG IDEA
If you ran the airline with the nation's worst on-time record and an awful lost-luggage rates, would you charge customers for the privilege of checking a bag? You probably wouldn't, but Gerard Arpey, chief of American, will. AA's first-bag fee will go into the Airline Stupid Hall of Fame. It'll anger travelers, further erode American's operating efficiency--and probably won't generate any profit, either.
May 20: FARE-Y TALES
Stung by rising oil costs, airlines are raising fares with uncharacteristic gusto. But travelers may actually be paying less to fly because carriers are also discounting lustily to offset falling traffic and passenger resistance to the run-up in prices. Sound insane? Of course it is. This is Fareland.
May 13: LIFE WITH LAPTOP
Laptops are like lovers. No matter the initial attraction, passions are fleeting. The gorgeous ones always break your heart. You constantly lust for the next great thing. And you remember every one you leave behind. Here's what I've learned after 25 years of life with laptop, which started with a 30-pound behemoth.
May 6: SUMMER FORECAST: CLEAR(ER) SKIES
Here is some good, old-fashioned irrational exuberance: I don't think travel this summer will be as arduous or as infuriating as it was last year. My comrades in the commentary class disagree, of course. But your curmudgeonly companion here in Seat 2B somehow sees silver linings this summer.
April 29: LOBBYING FOR CHANGE
The hotel lobby as we know it is changing. Hotels around the world at every price point and luxury level are rushing to refashion their sterile, stereotypical arrival halls into convivial lounges, alluring restaurants, hip cafés, mini-museums, and even comfortable, casual work centers and socializing areas. They’re pumping in music and designer scents and ripping out all of the visual cues and furnishings that once defined a hotel lobby. And it's all about profit, of course.
April 22: MERGER MOST FOUL
I've lost track of the number of real or attempted airline mergers that I've flown through in the last 30 years, but I can tell you this: The play is old and the plot is tired, but there are always enough twists to keep you watching until the final scene. The Delta-Northwest merger is no different. Consider this your guide to how this merger attempt will play out.
April 15: THE HIGH COST OF THE LOW DOLLAR
The dollar has been on a seven-year free fall against the world's leading currencies. The result: a nightmare for U.S. international travelers. Regardless of how you analyze the causes of the dollar's decline, the net effect is that we can't trade down fast enough to tread economic water.
April 8: WHO TAKES THE HIT?
Four airline failed last week, Frontier Airlines tanked today--and the Big Six have responded by jacking up our fees and fares.
April 1: THE AIRPORT WAITING GAME
As far as I can tell, 1963 was the last time that passengers were treated well at an airport after a flight disruption. And that was in a cheezy movie called The VIPs. But, in the real world, record delays and cancellations force us to scramble. Here are my best tips for surviving and prospering in the current airport environment.
March 25: TIPS FOR A SKY-HIGH SPRING
It sounds insane, but most of the big airlines bet oil prices would fall this year. That means higher prices for us unless we exploit the sales and the two-seat scenario; use alternate carriers and airports; and work the premium-class pricing system. All these spring tips and more.
March 18: THE SAFE (BUT SCARY) SKIES
My head knows, and the statistics prove, that the skies are safe. But there's always fear in my heart and there is plenty to worry about: the FAA's habit of inspecting paper, not planes; the airlines' rush to outsource maintenance; the fact that everyone and everything involved with flying is exhausted and overworked; out-of-control air-traffic control; immature, under-paid pilots; and more.
March 11: THE SKIES OPEN OVERSEAS
A confluence of factors--new airport terminals, service concepts, airlines, and especially new aviation treaties--is remaking the international skyscape. At least in the giddy early days, service should improve, and there will be more flight options. Whether that good news will last, however, is anybody's guess.
March 4: PHONING HOME
We didn't so much win the Phone Wars--when hotels would charge a 500 or 600 percent premium for using the guestroom phone--as have them made obsolete by mobile phones. And now the greatest innovation in the short, happy history of business travel and mobile phones: "all-you-can-eat" flat-rate monthly pricing. The major firms have introduced just such packages and I've got the details.
February 26: TRAVEL IN THE TIME OF MERGER
As the Big Six enter a period of frenzied negotiations, there’s smoke, mirrors, sound, fury, bread, circuses, heat, light, and a torrent of conflicting and spectacularly ill-informed media analyses. Forget what you're reading and concentrate instead on these tips to protect yourself while you're traveling in the time of merger.
February 19: JOIN THE (AIRLINE) CLUB
After 30 years of business travel, I have just one remaining unshakable belief: Membership in an airline-sponsored airport club is the single best investment you can make in your own comfort, productivity and sanity on the road. I've got club-by-club reviews and alternatives.
February 12: BEST HOT HOTEL TIPS
I don't think much of the big airlines and the way they run their businesses. Generally speaking, however, I like hotels. A lot. But as with every other facet of life on the road, you can make your hotel stays better, cheaper, more comfortable, and more productive if you know how to work the system. Here's the best of what I've learned in three decades of doing just that.
February 5: SHIP, DON'T SCHLEP
Honest, I didn't know United was gonna start fiddling with the checked baggage limits. It's just kismet that I chose to write this week about the alternative to handing your bags over to the airlines. Here's a primer on how to ship your bags, whom to use--and how much it costs.
January 29: HOW TO COMPLAIN AND WIN
The travel industry long ago abandoned any pretense of providing good service. The bean counters have decided that the best way to make money in travel is to treat everyone poorly and make amends only to the select few who go to the extraordinary effort of complaining about how they are treated. Here are 10 tips--from the beginning of the process to resolution--to make sure that your complaint squeaks the loudest and gets the most metaphoric grease.
January 22: MERGER MADNESS
I won't bore you with all of this week's Big Six merger rumors. Suffice it to say everyone is merging with everyone. But I will say this: Airline bosses do what is expedient for them. Customers, airports, employees, and the communities they serve are just inconvenient distractions along the way. But the irony is that mergers are as bad for airlines as they are for us.
January 15: URBAN TRAVEL MYTHS
We business travelers are a secretive, clannish lot, and we take perverse pride in knowing the picayune details of how life works on the road. Then there are those persistent factoids that can only be classified as Urban Travel Legends. They’re usually not true, yet they continue to clutter our database of travel knowledge. Here are several of the most enduring legends, along with some clear-eyed facts.
January 8: THE 2008 TRAVEL AGENDA
If you think the New Year's Day Battery Rule was a weird way to start the year on the road, you're right. But more strangeness is coming. Our 2008 travel agenda will include a massive transatlantic revision of the skies; merger madness; Internet on planes; another boom in the lodging supplies; and much more. Here's 2008 in a nutshell.
These columns originally appeared at Portfolio.com.
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