PAST IS PROLOGUE IN BUSINESS TRAVEL
By Joe Brancatelli
January 2, 2014 --Before you do forget those old acquaintance, let me tell you about TWA Comfort Class, an honorable forerunner of today's premium economy cabins.
Back in 1993, reeling from years of mismanagement by corporate-raider-turned-CEO Carl Icahn, Trans World Airlines found itself with planeloads of empty coach seats. So the airline's marketing chief, Bob Cozzi, ripped out some rows and increased legroom at the remaining seats. As Cozzi explained to me at the time, removing seats he couldn't sell cost nothing and the extra legroom gave TWA a marketing angle.
As you can see from old TV ads, TWA tried hard to sell travelers on the benefits flying an airline with more legroom. A year later, though, both Cozzi and Comfort Class were history.
Flash forward seven years: American Airlines tears out rows of unsold seats and calls it More Room Throughout Coach. American's TV spots even repeated TWA's you-can-cross-your-legs-in-coach giddiness.
More Room Throughout Coach didn't last much longer than Comfort Class. But over at United Airlines, the extra-legroom Economy Plus service is doing just fine. Launched in 1999, E+ plays a featured role in United's revived "friendly skies" campaign. One spot also deploys a visual gimmick—the seat in front being pushed away from a flier's knees—first used in a Comfort Class commercial.
My point? That Robert Burns' admonition to forget old acquaintance is a singable New Year's sentiment, but a lousy way to understand life on the road. Rather than forget how airlines and hotels have marketed themselves over the years, we should remember—because there's rarely anything new or original or unique.
Even a decade ago, however, finding the past would require lots of research and a goodly chunk of change. Today, though, a treasure trove of business travel history is just a mouse click away. And it's almost all free.
Any journey through the ghosts of airline business past should probably begin at Airchive.com, the brainchild of television executive Chris Sloan. Surf anywhere at Airchive.com and you will find a digital storehouse of photos, sales brochures, historical documents and memorabilia.
Want to know about Northeast Airlines, a carrier long ago folded into Delta Air Lines? Sloan has a mountain of material. Want a 1959 picture of the entrance to Miami International Airport when it looked like a come-on to a tatty shopping strip? Airchive.com has it.
Perhaps most amazing, much of the stuff comes from Sloan himself. "I have been collecting since I was 6 year old," says the 45-year-old founder of 2C Media. "I would stalk airport ticket counters, city ticket offices, and 800 numbers to get memorabilia and timetables."
Sloan's personal favorite? National Airlines, whose 1979 merger with Pan Am immediately after airline deregulation was one of the worst combinations in aviation history. And while I'm no plane wonk, I'm impressed with Airchive.com's crystal-clear photo of a seductive-looking TWA Super G Constellation.
Of course, airlines and aircraft have a magnetic attraction for enthusiastic frequent fliers, crew members and collectors. There are several sites dedicated to airline timetables and dozens of sites dedicated to airline photographs.
There's an always fascinating, sometimes revolting site dedicated to photographs and details of airline meals. Another site offers beauty shots of in-flight service items such as plates and salt-and-pepper shakers. Inevitably, there's even a site specializing in airsick bags.
Pan Am, erstwhile "queen of the skies," inspires many historical sites (including PanAm.org, Everything PanAm, PanAmAir.org) as well as one that peddles reproductions of Pan Am flight bags. Other dead airlines also have Internet museums dedicated to keeping the memories alive. (Try this one for Braniff or this one for British Caledonian.)
Interested in how airlines and hotels groomed their images in print? Vintage Ad Browser offers decades of airline advertisements. Dozens of old hotel campaigns are shown here and you can buy old lodging images here.
More than one company has made a business selling reproductions of old travel stickers. A firm called Cody-Chrome produces gorgeous luggage tags using classic travel posters. And an Ebay search will turn up a suitcase of memories: playing cards from the days airlines when offered them on board; shot glasses and telephones from long-closed Las Vegas casinos; and even the hubcap from a Northwest Airlines Boeing 747 jet. "Some wear but overall good condition," promises the listing.
If only television ads slakes your thirst for our past on the road, try the spots at AirOdyssey.net or the YouTube account of AviationExplorer. It's mind-bending to screen the 1978 commercial for Iran Air's nonstop flights between New York and Tehran. And this charming Indian Airlines spot says much about the dichotomy between how carriers market themselves and the reality of day-to-day service. Despite what the ad depicts, government-owned Indian Airlines was one of the world's most disliked and unreliable carriers before it was merged into Air India in 2011.
Two of my favorite sites are HoJoLand and Under the Orange Roof, both dedicated to Howard Johnson's, the once-ubiquitous chain of roadside restaurants. Under the Orange Roof documents the history and evolution of dozens of former HoJo buildings. HoJoLand not only lists all 28 of the chain's ice cream flavors (including macaroon and something called "frozen pudding"), it also notes that two HoJo restaurants are still in operation. One is in Lake Placid, New York. The other, in Bangor, Maine, is situated in a Howard Johnson hotel, a budget lodging group long ago spun off from the restaurant chain.
Sadly, the Bangor HoJo doesn't even have an orange mansard roof, a beacon for generations of road warriors. Of course, McDonald's, the de facto successor to HoJo, has been eliminating the signature red mansard roof from its restaurants, too.
As I said, when you can access the past, you realize there's very little new on the road. Not even the fate of colorful iconic roofs.
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.