Seat 2B By Joe Brancatelli
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I'm Making a List (of Columns)
November 26, 2014 -- It's only Thanksgiving, but I've already finished making my list and checking it twice. I know which columns were spotty and which were nice enough to remind you that I was right.
And, please, don't pout. I promise no more rewrites of Christmas carols as we dive into Seat 2B columns past and see how travel has changed since we first touched on these major issues.
The autumn of our year's travel
Even I'm shocked at how accurately I predicted this fall's major travel stories.
JetBlue Airways chief executive David Barger jumped or was pushed from his perch and will soon be replaced by president Robin Hayes. And Hayes' first move as CEO-in-waiting was to sell the airline's soul to carping security analysts. Besides demanding Barger's blood, the analysts demanded checked-bag fees and more seats squeezed into JetBlue's commodious coach cabins. Hayes last week gave them both, thus putting the airline in a defensive crouch and reversing its 15-year run as a disruptive innovator. The irony: JetBlue is being pummeled by customers on its own Facebook page and the airline had to post an appeal for "trust." Yet the market has shrugged and the carrier's stock price has improved only marginally.
Meanwhile, notorious greenmailer turned "shareholder activist" Carl Icahn immediately began disrupting Hertz, the flagging car-rental icon. Much-disliked chief executive Mark Frissora was pushed out and Icahn blessed his successor: John Tague, best known for a series of ridiculed marketing moves at pre-merger United Airlines. There's no reason to think Tague will improve Hertz's deteriorating customer service or its image as the gold standard of rental firms.
Like a virgin public company
In a Seat 2B posted this summer, I couldn't figure out the financial appeal of Virgin America's initial public offering. Neither could that other bald eminence, CNBC's Jim Cramer. But the market has so far decided otherwise. Virgin America went public this month, pricing its IPO at $23 a share. It promptly shot skyward and was selling north $35 in early trading on Monday.
Go down gambling
It didn't take much prescience to predict grisly times for Atlantic City, the down-on-its-luck New Jersey seaside getaway. Four casinos have closed this year and a fifth, the Trump Taj Mahal, may lock the doors in December. The Revel, the $2.4 billion centerpiece of my column and Atlantic City's most recent failed revival, is in worse financial shape than many thought. The only qualified buyer at the property's auction has walked away from its bottom-fishing offer of $110 million.
The resort town was dealt still another blow earlier this month when United Airlines announced it would stop flights from its Houston and Chicago hubs. The service began with much hoopla only months earlier as part of Gov. Chris Christie's supposed revitalization strategy. Christie's Atlantic City failures shouldn't be a surprise, either. Statistics released last week show New Jersey is 49th in the nation in job growth despite Christie's oft-repeated campaign claims that his economic policies are sound.
No power to the people
While most of the mainstream media was dazzled by the revival of the not-worth-reviving People Express name, Seat 2B earlier this year insisted that the kinda-sorta-approximate airline could never survive. The operation shut down abruptly in September after a ground accident damaged one of its two aircraft. Gullible passengers were stranded around the country since no other carrier honored People Express tickets. Yet the airline boldly claimed it would resume service in October. It never happened and the carrier now has been booted out of the terminal of its hometown airport in Newport News, Virginia. History will record that the revived People Express operated just 817 flights and hoodwinked dozens of travel "experts" who really should have known better.
The devil goes down to Indiana
Okay, "devil" is harsh, but business travelers won't be sad to see the back of John Pistole. The controversial Pistole, who has spent more than four years as President Obama's administrator of the Transportation Security Agency (TSA), is leaving at the end of the year to run a private college in Indiana. Pistole has been so confrontational that Congress had to pass a law specifically requiring him to not to thwart a previous law that allowed airports to hire private security firms to replace the TSA. He also made a terrible hash of PreCheck, the program that was supposed to speed vetted travelers through airport security. Fliers have been so reluctant to pay the agency $85 for the maybe-you-can-have-it-maybe-you-can't scheme that Pistole has had to hire private contractors to help peddle it. Pistole's parting salvo: He thinks his successor should end the TSA's liquids ban, but won't explain why he's never done it and won't do it during his remaining month in power.
Hey, small spenders
Way back in 2007, when the Seat 2B column was young, I warned you about Jumpjet, which made the preposterous claim that it could sell corporate-jet flights for the price of commercial coach. The company has spent the intervening years restarting and quickly halting service, moving its corporate headquarters from state to state, soliciting memberships and promising "private roundtrip flights from $450." But you can't fool people forever and even small spenders looking to live large know when a deal is too good to be true. Jumpjet's most recent ploy, crowd-funding still another restart, raised just $3,963 of the $200,000 it sought.
The sounds of silence
One thing I haven't written about in Seat 2B is Ebola. In my judgment, it was a non-issue for travelers. Despite October's frenzy fueled by a combination of pre-election politics and cable news' hunger for ratings, there was no logical reason to suspect that Ebola would sweep the country because we allowed flights and passengers from West Africa. In fact, except for the original flier who died, not a single commercial traveler has entered the country with the disease. Panic for panic's sake is sad. Panic for political gain or a few ratings points is despicable. And the editors at the Business Journals deserve credit for not following the maddened media crowd and forcing me to waste time and space on a red herring.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.