E-MAIL JOE    PRINT    2013 COLUMNS    ARCHIVES    SEARCH ARCHIVES
PLENTY TO BE THANKFUL FOR
By Joe Brancatelli
November 27, 2013 --As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, New York my family never journeyed more than a few hundred miles from home. So I am thankful that business travel has afforded me the opportunity to experience Brooklyns as nearby as Michigan, as unfamiliar as West Virginia, as unique as Nova Scotia, as far away as Australia and as exotic as the Brooklyn suburb of Cape Town, South Africa.

And for all the complaints that business travelers register during the course of the year, I think we all know we have plenty to be thankful for. We may not voice the sentiment as convincingly as Bing Crosby did in Holiday Inn, but we understand the cosmic pluses of business travel far outweigh the nitty-gritty negatives.

Here are some of the things I'm especially thankful for this year on the road.

Better airport dining
Twenty years ago, airport dining was most often an awful burger at an unbranded, commissary-style dining room and a watered-down drink at a dark, dreary airport bar. Even a decade ago, airport dining was usually about bad burgers from fast-food chains and bad booze at bad bars. But nothing about business travel has improved more dramatically than our gustatory choices at airport terminals around the nation.

Do I want to eat my Thanksgiving dinner at an airport? Of course not, but airport dining specialists such as HMS Host, OTG Management, Concessions International and SSP America have packed the nation's terminals with plenty of joints where your turkey and stuffing will compare favorably with any restaurant in your hometown. There are great steaks, barbecue, ethnic cuisine and fish at airports, too. And Vino Volo, a wine bar specifically created for airports, is so good that it recently began opening branches in city-center locations.

Want food from a celebrity chef? Stars such as Michael Symon, Martin Yan, Todd English, Lorena Garcia and Cat Cora are all at the airport. Crave local favorites? Rick Bayless, Chicago's Mexican master, is at O'Hare Airport. Seattle star chef Kathy Casey is a fixture at Sea-Tac. Many Southern California obsessions, including Umami Burger, 800° Pizzeria and ink.sack, recently opened at LAX's new international terminal. Johnny Hernandez brought his much-honored La Gloria from the heart of San Antonio to the city's airport. You'll find great local beers thanks to the franchise deals many artisan brewers strike with HMS Host. And if you just can't help yourself, the first-ever airport branch of IHOP opened earlier this fall at Atlanta-Hartsfield.

Justice Department action
When US Airways and American Airlines announced their merger agreement earlier this year, airline-industry apologists immediately pronounced it a done deal that needed no government oversight. When the Department of Justice decided to challenge the deal in August, the same apologists were livid that Justice would intervene. They then were sure the DOJ would lose the trial.

The merger never got to trial, of course. Earlier this month, the Justice Department and the two airlines cut a deal to allow the combination. Like most frequent fliers, I'm thankful that the DOJ took action. Justice required US Airways and American to surrender enough "slots" at capacity-constrained Washington National Airport to allow other carriers to add about 50 new round-trip flights. Some additional concessions at other airports will also help keep the playing field level. And Justice also got some assurances that the combined airline won't abandon any of its hubs in the next few years. From a traveler's perspective, no merger would have been better, of course, but I'm grateful that the DOJ didn't listen to the airline apologists.

JetBlue's continued presence
One of the likely winners of the DOJ-arranged asset divestiture at US Air and American is JetBlue Airways. I'm plenty thankful for JetBlue's continued presence in the marketplace. It offers the best and most spacious standard coach cabin in the domestic skies—as much as three inches of additional legroom at each seat. It doesn't require round-trip purchases, its ticket-change and cancellation fees are more gentle than traditional carriers and it includes free in-flight TV and a free checked bag with each purchase. This year has brought improvements to its frequent-flier program and many new routes from New York, Boston and Fort Lauderdale. Next year will bring systemwide in-flight Internet and an aggressively priced premium class on transcontinental flights.

Widespread adoption of TSA PreCheck
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) isn't too popular with business travelers, but I'm thankful that it has mostly gotten the PreCheck program right. The security-bypass scheme allows elite-status frequent fliers and members of Global Entry to leave on their shoes, belts and jackets. Toiletries and laptops can stay in our carry-on bags. The agency has grown PreCheck to 90 airports nationwide and this month it added Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways to the roster of participating carriers. Six airlines also notify fliers on boarding passes that they are PreCheck eligible.

For those of us who qualify, the simplified and fast security regimen in effect at PreCheck lanes is a breeze. Of course, nothing is ever simple with the TSA. In recent weeks, TSA has been funneling infrequent, inexperienced fliers to PreCheck lanes. That has slowed the process and caused some delays. I'm happy to share my PreCheck lanes, but I'd be thankful if the TSA educated newbie fliers before they put them in front of me and slowed me down.

Finally...
Most importantly, I am thankful that you come and sit with me in Seat 2B every week. It's an honor to serve. I appreciate your continued support and your comments and I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and best wishes for the holiday season. And I challenge you to screen Holiday Inn without cringing at the horribly racist blackface number. I'm thankful no one thinks that stuff is acceptable anymore.

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 © 2013 American City Business Journals. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.