THE THANKFUL TRAVELER
By Joe Brancatelli
November 25, 2009 -- Hear that sound? It's the collective click of business travelers' laptops shutting, the seminal snap of luggage closing, and the communal sigh of relief that comes with knowing we'll be off the road for a long weekend.
Three or four days of downtime—food, family, and no glances at our watches to make sure we're not late for our flight—makes a traveler thankful. And here's what else I'm thankful for this season.
First and foremost, I am thankful that I don't have to be in motion during Thanksgiving week. I happily leave the vagaries of airlines, airports, and the Transportation Security Administration's edicts about security checkpoints—no cranberry sauce in your carry-on bags, please—to amateur holiday flyers.
I am thankful that the Windows 7 upgrade went off without a hitch on my two Vista laptops.
I am thankful that most of my clients permit me to fly in business class. Eight- or 10-hour flights in coach make Joe a rumpled, grumpy consultant in that first meeting just two hours after I arrive at the airport.
I am thankful that Southwest Airlines has made money every year for more than a generation. It proves that a well-managed, laser-focused airline can prosper, and it puts the lie to those who claim that commercial aviation is inherently a loss-making proposition.
I am thankful that there are still hotels that offer wired Internet in guestrooms. WiFi is great, but wired Internet is more stable, and I'm not big on curling up with my laptop on the bed anyway.
I am thankful that JetBlue Airways offers free seat-back television on all of its flights. I've lost count of the playoff games and breaking-news events I would have missed if not for JetBlue's "killer app."
I am thankful that none of my clients ask me to go to Las Vegas or Orlando. I just don't get either place—and I seem to be the only one that doesn't.
I am thankful for Sky.fm. There is nothing bad about a website that streams dozens of free channels of well-targeted music. And it's great to have the bossa nova channel wafting from my laptop in a hotel room in Budapest, Bangkok—or Boise.
I am thankful that Al Neuharth, the founder of USA Today, taught me how to pack for a road trip. He said if you only travel with monochromatic clothes—black, grey, or blue—you can pack lighter and never be caught short. It's always worked for me, although I do travel with cordovan loafers too.
I am thankful for those deep overhead bins on airplanes. Now that the world's rolling-bag users can stow their oversized cases vertically, there's room in the overhead for my little garment bag.
I am thankful that we've gone from big, clunky, ludicrous-looking cell phones to incredibly smart mobile devices in the relative blink of an eye. My BlackBerry gets all my email, of course, but also serves as my portable music and video player, my address book, alarm clock, and calculator—and a backup modem for my laptop. And it's all in a package that's smaller than my old paper phone book.
I am thankful for airlines that put power points at their seats. I am especially thankful to the carriers that have switched to standard AC power with universal plugs. I hate carrying my clunky DC-AC plug converter around.
I am thankful for airline clubs at airports. I always feel like the smartest traveler alive when I'm sitting (or working) comfortably in a lounge while the airport outside resembles a shopping mall on Black Friday.
I am thankful that I carry a backup printer cable in my carry-on bag. Just last week in Honolulu, when the airline club's network was down, I logged onto the Internet via WiFi and used my cable to redirect the club's networked printer to my laptop. A half-dozen business travelers were then able use my laptop to print off their boarding passes.
I am thankful for hotels that put coffeemakers and (empty) mini-fridges in their guestrooms. Coffee is jet fuel for most road warriors, and I don't know any business traveler who subsists without a constant supply of bottled water and/or Diet Coke.
I am thankful for Skype and all those other VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) calling services. I was getting tired of buying a SIM card for every country I visited.
I am thankful for all of the places and things a kid from Brooklyn has experienced only because business travel made it possible. I look at the tidbits of my life—ties from a small shop in Rome, English preserves on my morning poi muffin from Hawaii, ultraslim Japanese scissors from a Hong Kong boutique, spices from a Mumbai market—and I think I am the luckiest person on the planet.
I am thankful that my frequent-flying wife understands the peculiar lives that business travelers live. Of course, we met on a business trip, so we are children of the road.
Finally, I am thankful that you are here, metaphorically sitting in Seat 2A. Those of us who push a noun against a verb for a living are nothing if you don't read what tumbles off our keyboards. I appreciate your loyalty, your passion, your comments and commitment, your tips and tirades, and, especially, your willingness to allow me onto your computer desktop. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!
The Fine Print...
Here's an update to this month's column on in-flight WiFi. Aircell now offers service on United Airlines nonstops between San Francisco and Los Angeles and New York Kennedy. And more than a year after it was first announced and months behind schedule, Aircell is testing WiFi on Air Canada flights between Toronto and Montreal and Los Angeles. Due to legal and technical complications, however, the service is only available while the flights are traveling over the continental United States. We also have a better understanding of the usage in-flight WiFi gets. Aircell claimed last week that in-flight WiFi is "fast approaching 100,000 [sessions] per week." Based on the number of planes wired, airline schedules, seats per flight, and load factors, that puts the so-called "take" rate at approximately 5 percent since about 2 million passengers a week would be exposed to in-flight WiFi.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT This column is Copyright © 2009 Condé Nast Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.