BUSINESS TRAVEL HERE AND NOW
By Joe Brancatelli
April 3, 2014 --My life on the road almost exactly tracks the dawn of airline deregulation in 1978, but I have learned that the past is rarely prologue in business travel.
In fact, this is how it works: Anything that happened before airline deregulation is prehistoric. The less said about those who moon about the "good old days" on Pan Am the better. Between deregulation and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001? Ancient history. It's like arguing about Hernando de Soto, the explorer now best known as a punch Seinfeld line. . Even events in the last dozen years are little more than reference.
Business travel is always about now. It moves far too fast to worry about what has come before. And you'd be well advised to be equally ruthless in your thinking. Only now--your next flight, your next hotel stay--really matters. So here are seven things that matter about business travel right now.
On-time ratings are wrong
You can come home again faster
Revenge of the Dreamliner The much-chronicled woes of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the plane's grounding last year has made the aircraft the butt of many jokes. But for all the laughing, the Dreamliner 787 is remaking longer-haul business travel. British Airways last month launched nonstop flights between Austin and London and the primary reason was the Dreamliner. It's much more fuel efficient — about 20 percent better than other aircraft, says Sean Doyle, BA's executive vice president for North America. That means carriers can add more "long, thin routes," industry jargon for connecting two distant cities that don't have huge passenger traffic. In June, United Airlines will use Dreamliners on a new route between its San Francisco hub and Chengdu, the capital of China's Sichuan province. All Nippon Airways uses the Boeing 787 to connect Tokyo and San Jose, the airport of the Silicon Valley, and Japan Airlines uses it on a route between Boston and Tokyo.
Slimline seats stink Airlines are jamming more seats into coach cabins to offset the extra real estate devoted to lie-flat beds and other more commodious premium-class chairs. And no matter what the airlines claim and seatmakers promise, the lighter-weight, ultra-trim "slimline" seats being introduced are not comfortable. Or, to be more precise, their lack of padding and reduced recline stink. "What a horrible experience," one business traveler told me after sitting in a slimline chair on a recent transcontinental flight. "The seat cushions have noticeably shrunk," said another. "They make you feel like you're sitting on a bench." Worse, airlines won't stop using them. United Airlines, for example, expects half of its 2014 capacity growth will be the result of slimline seats, which permit the installation of one or two additional rows of coach chairs per aircraft.
If you can make it there ... New York may be the center of the aviation universe and the New York-London run may be the key international route, but making it there is harder than it looks. Just asks Delta Air Lines, the nation's most profitable carrier, which still isn't profitable in the Big Apple. And it's not for lack of trying. Delta purchased a 49 percent interest in Virgin Atlantic to bulk up on the so-called NyLon run. It has spent billions improving its terminals at New York's LaGuardia and Kennedy airports. It even paid a huge premium to get a chunk of US Airways' New York operations. But after years of effort, expanding market share and increased visibility, the Atlanta-based airline has yet to turn the financial corner in New York. It promises 2014 will be the year, however. Of course, Delta also promised to improve its SkyMiles frequent flier program and we know how that turned out.
You don't want Israeli-style security Every time the Transportation Security Administration does something dumb or we have a tragedy like Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, some wag suggests the United States switch to "Israeli-style" security. And there's always a gaggle of talking heads identified as "former Mossad agents" to endorse the idea. But consider: Israel spends about eight times more per passenger on security than we do. Duplicating Israeli-style security and scaling it for U.S. passenger volumes would add about $40 billion to the TSA's current budget of $6 billion and require three million security agents compared to the TSA's workforce of 50,000 employees.
April in Paris is still a bad idea It's a testament to the power of great music that Americans, even us business travelers, dream about April in Paris. But the 1932 tune with a Vernon Duke melody and Yip Harburg lyrics is a romantic lie. It's cold and rainy in Paris in April and there are few chestnuts in blossom or warm embraces. Despite frequent service by Air France and Delta Air Lines, Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport is a dreary hub with a confusing layout and labyrinthine transit halls. The economy is awful and French pilots are threatening a strike. But what did Harburg know? He'd never been to Paris when he wrote April in Paris. Besides, you should know better than to trust the travel writing of the guy who also penned the lyrics to The Wizard of Oz.
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 © 2014 American City Business Journals. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.