2019 Archive
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 is also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer magazine and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He began his career as a business reporter and created JoeSentMe.com in the dark days after 9/11 while stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in Cold Spring, New York.

SEPTEMBER 11: GRANDCHILD OF THE WRETCHED REFUSE
Not for the 18th time or the 1,800th time or the 18-millionth time, I'm sitting in a hotel room thinking about 9/11. And I think being America isn't easy. Being the kind of place people want to escape to and want to visit isn't easy. Being the kind of place that lets you earn citizenship simply by yearning to breathe free isn't easy. Being the kind of country that says give us your tired and poor isn't easy. I'm thinking being America is hard. But the hard is what makes it great.

SEPTEMBER 1: SEPTEMBER STORMS
The heart of the summer was brutal for business travel. September is looking little better. Start with a monstrous Category 5 hurricane with almost unimaginably high winds, throw in continued problems in Hong Kong and glitches elsewhere and you have another miserable month of travel.

AUGUST 15: SUMMERTIME BLUES
Strikes, hurricanes, thunderstorms, demonstrations. Computer meltdowns. You name it, it's happened on the road this summer, which has featured record heat in Europe, protests at Hong Kong Airport and the de rigeur threat of summer strikes at London's Heathrow Airport. Here is how we've covered it.

AUGUST 8: SOYLENT GOOGLE AND AIRPORT SWINDLES
When an airport gets swindled by an airline why would it want to continue subsidizing flying? Why is Google bulling its way into ticket sales? Why are water bottles verboten at SFO? Why have there been so many delays and cancellations this week? All this and more explained.

AUGUST 1: THE LITTLE THINGS WE DO TOGETHER
InterContinental Hotels says it will banish individual bathroom amenities and replace them with bulk items bolted to the walls. That promptly set off a rhetorical battle between those who find environmental heroism in eliminating single-use plastic bottles and those appalled by the idea of unsanitary a common-use amenities. A pox on both their houses--well, er, I guess I mean: A pox on both their hotel rooms.

JULY 25: THIS SUMMER IS BREAKING BAD ON THE ROAD
I suggested last month that we were in for a cruel, cruel summer on the road. I was wrong. I admit it. It's been worse than even I thought. Here are some further thoughts on how to navigate a travel landscape pockmarked with massive cancellations, endless delays and all sorts of other summer stupidities.

JULY 18: GYPSIES, TRAMPS AND THIEVES--AND DELTA
In its quest to dominate the airline world, Delta Air Lines has aligned with a gaggle of government-supported gypsies, tramps and thieves to take over Alitalia, the Italian zombie carrier. No matter that Delta has railed for years against government subsidies to its competitors. Now Delta is essentially the most subsidized airline on the planet.

JULY 11: DON'T DO THAT!
An obscure British regulator has hit British Airways and Marriott with huge fines--hundreds of millions of dollars--for their data breaches. History--think tarmac holds--has proven the only way to get the travel industry to respond is to make it hurt financially. So bravo for the regulators. Keep punching them in the product section.

JUNE 27: WHEN IT ALL WENT WRONG ON THE ROAD
As you may dimly recall from grade-school history, Austria's ill-fated Franz Ferdinand was assassinated 105 years ago this weekend. That act of political terrorism was the immediate cause of World War I. The war destroyed the Ottoman Empire and ended Turkish hegemony over the Middle East. And a senseless post-war realignment has been the font of most of the terrorism that has plagued business travel ever since.

JUNE 20: CRUEL, CRUEL SUMMER (ON THE ROAD)
Summer's here and the time may be right for Dancing in the Street. But summer flying? Ignore Martha Reeves and listen to Bananarama or Ace of Base. It's gonna be a cruel, cruel summer. A nasty confluence of factors--plane shortages, labor disputes, record traffic and deteriorating airline operations--will make for a troubling summer in the skies. Here are some tips for avoiding the worst snafus.

JUNE 13: BUSINESS CLASS AND HOW WE GOT THERE
Whenever a fellow traveler rails about the atrocious state of airline travel, I agree emphatically, nod gravely and promptly go to my happy place: international business class. For all the indignities heaped on domestic first class customers and global coach flyers, international business class has been on an upward path since airlines first stumbled upon the idea in 1978. But it looks like airlines have forgotten the message--again.

JUNE 6: FLYING FREDOS
This question has haunted me for the entirety of my business travel life: Why do the airlines think we're stupid? We're not, as Fredo Corleone so memorably said in The Godfather II, dumb. We're smart. Not like the airlines think. Yet every day, in every way, the airlines let it be known that they think we're stupid, a throng of Flying Fredos tromping from airport to airport giving them money and taking their abuse.

MAY 30: NO FOOD, NO FLIGHTS, NO HYATTS, NO PERKS
It's just another week on the road: Amex tells you that its cards no longer allow you to use Priority Pass at airport restaurants. Hyatt triples down on a weird lie. An airline literally disappears in the night. A major Marriott owner wants you to know it doesn't like Bonvoy elites getting free breakfasts.

MAY 22: OLD MAN YELLS AT TRAVEL CLOUD
I thought that writing about Route 66, the cool travel song, would be a great way to celebrate my 66th birthday. But that's a lie. I'm not a finger-popping, hepcat Route 66 kind of guy on the road. I'm Old Man Yells at Cloud. Even when I was young, I was Old Man Yells at Cloud. In my defense, though, the cloud started it ...

MAY 16: HOW AIRLINES BEAT US ON BAG FEES
When American Airlines initiated checked-bag fees in 2008, observers--okay, me--said it was another terrible mistake by carriers notorious for making terrible mistakes. I was wrong, they were lucky and the $4.9 billion airlines collected on bag fees last year is just a small part of the story. These days we all pay bag fees whether we know it or not.

MAY 9: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...
What's new this week? We have tangible proof that United's chartless award pricing will cost us plenty. A spate of new in-flight turbulence incidents has one simple solution. World of Hyatt adds great new hotels--and it's still doing it wrong. Airlines are all wrong on passenger rights. Hummus as a travel lure. And much more plus plenty of snark.

MAY 2: FEASTING, FASTING AND LYING AIRLINES
What's news on the road this week? It's Restaurant Month at the airport. A quarter of the world will start observing Ramadan. The never-ending soap opera that is Alitalia takes another twist. Delta launches flights to India with a fusillade of lies and slurs.

APRIL 25: THE PIT OF OUR FREQUENCY FEARS
As airlines and hotels slash the value and liquidity of their frequency plans, I suggest some new rules for understanding the game. And if you're ready to finally cash out, I propose a DIY "travel bank" funded by the savvy use of cashback cards.

APRIL 18: PLAN, WORRY, KILL
This is a weekend for reflection and faith so I think it's time for a round of Plan, Worry, Kill, the business travel equivalent of Kiss, Marry, Kill (or, you know, other words). Seriously, please think about this stuff: The time to plan end-of-year-award travel is now. Istanbul's new airport takes some footwork. The Boeing 737MAX cancellations this summer will be worse than "experts" say. Airlines are reducing seat recline and overcharging you on fares if you're logged into the site. And much more.

APRIL 11: THE END OF THE FREQUENT FLYER WORLD AS WE KNOW IT
United's decisions to ditch award charts, duplicating Delta's 2015 move, means the end of the frequent flyer world as we know it. And, unlike R.E.M., you should not feel fine. Ditching award charts means only one thing: brutal, opaque, endless devaluations. How do we know? I created my own chart comparing Delta award prices in 2015 and its 2019 prices for two dozen itineraries. Prepare to be gobsmacked and enraged.

APRIL 4: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...
JetBlue will be flying to Gatwick and we've learned that from Delta. Showerheads, coffeemakers and hotels, oh my! How U.S. airlines are like bad sports teams. The House of Mogg, the House of Mogh and Brexit. The future of airport food and much more snark, news and silliness.

MARCH 28: WHY WE FLY WHERE WE FLY
Here is what I want you to do today: Stop. Breathe. Don't obsess about the next flight or the next upgrade or whether you got that acquisition bonus from your newest credit card. Let's look at the big picture and see which of the 800-pound gorillas of the skies are flying us where.

MARCH 21: THE FORKS IN THE ROAD IN AIRLINE SAFETY
We've reached a fork in the road of our understanding of airline safety, airline economics and global airline regulation. Let me do my best to calmly and logically cut through the hype and the hoopla and explain why we've reached so many forks in so many roads.

MARCH 14: SAFE AND SORRY ON THE 737MAX
We have chosen in haste to adopt the "better safe than sorry" route on the Boeing 737MAX. Prepare to live with safe and sorry for the rest of your business travel lives. It is undeniably true that putting the 350 or so Boeing 737MAX8 and MAX9 aircraft on the ground ensures that no one will die in an accident or a crash. We are safe as long as those planes are on the ground. But this is also undeniably true: If better safe than sorry is what drives our airline system, we must ground every aircraft on the planet.

MARCH 13, 2PM ET: CANADIAN REGULATORS GROUND THE MAX
Citing new data, Canada's regulators have grounded Boeing 737MAX aircraft operated by Air Canada and WestJet and banned the plane from its airspace. Moments later, President Trump bypasses the FAA and announces a U.S. ban.

MARCH 13, 10AM ET: THE ROAD I CHOSE AT THE YELLOW WOOD OF A 737MAX8
Some of us, me included, will continue to fly the Boeing 737MAX. Some of us won't. All I can tell you today are the calculations I've made for myself. I can't be in your wallet when you make travel purchases, so I surely cannot be in your head and your heart. If you decide not to fly the MAX, I support you. Then let's meet for a drink on the other side of the yellow wood.

MARCH 12: AN UPDATE ON THE BOEING 737MAX8
I wanted to briefly--and practically--update you on the chaotic situation surrounding the Boeing 737MAX8. Although most other nations and airlines have grounded the plane, U.S. and Canadian carriers continue to fly the aircraft with the support of the FAA and Canada's regulator.

MARCH 7: HONG KONG IS ALWAYS ABOUT NEXT
Hong Kong is never the same from visit to visit. No place changes as fast or as furiously or as frequently. Every day may be a winding road, but Hong Kong is the only place on earth where there is a good chance the road was rerouted or paved over while you were sleeping. Hong Kong isn't about then. It's not even about now. It's about next. Always next.

FEBRUARY 28: YOU GOTTA REMEMBER THIS STUFF
The tsunami of news is now so intense that even the most punctilious business traveler misses stuff or forgets details. So let me remind you: hotel discounts are changing and guestroom bathtubs are disappearing; intra-Europe business class is awful; there's a difference between airport wheelchairs and aisle chairs; a Global Entry bureaucracy must be served; and American credit cards with chips don't solve all international problems.

FEBRUARY 14: WILL THERE BE EUROPE BUSINESS CLASS BARGAINS THIS YEAR?
Life on the road in mid-February is a sadly predictable affair. Storms obliterate travel schedules. Airport retailers offer schlocky don't-forget-your-loved-ones promos. And business travelers begin planning a European holiday. But will the traditional seasonal bargains be there? Here's a country-by-country outlook.

FEBRUARY 7: BRINGING JFK INTO THE 21ST-CENTURY. AGAIN. AND AGAIN.
New York politicians keep promising to bring Kennedy Airport into the 21st century. But it seems mired in the middle of the 20th. Billions are being spent, plans are being laid, airlines and terminals are being moved, but Kennedy isn't likely to make it into the 21st Century until sometime in the 22nd.

JANUARY 31: TRAVEL VORTICES, POLAR AND POLITICAL
Life on the road has come at us cold, hard and fast so far this year. I don't know what to talk about first, the polar vortex that made it difficult to fly this week or the political vortex that made airports a mess this month. But we need to discuss both.

JANUARY 24: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...
Why is British Airways painting old planes in old livery? To cover up its old business class seats, I presume. Meanwhile, Delta's boss wants to make travel "magic." He wouldn't know magic if a magician gave him a magic wand in the Magic Kingdom. Yup, it's time for some travel snark.

JANUARY 10: TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN COUNTRY
No one ever confused this bald lump of scribe with Kirk Douglas, but my jaw has been clenching and my chin clefting over these past two weeks in another town. But you learn stuff about life and life on the road being gone that long. Here's what I've learned these last two weeks.

JANUARY 3: HONG KONG FOR THE FIRST TIME
Business travelers are supposed to be fearless, flying where others fear to tread. Yet Hong Kong, for reasons I simply cannot fathom, seems to frighten some of the most dauntless frequent flyers I know. But as coach fares to Hong Kong have plunged and business class fares occasionally have gone on sale, there seem to be lots more first-time visitors to Hong Kong among the business travel set. Here are my must-dos for virgin visitors.

JANUARY 1: HOW THE SHUTDOWN AFFECTED TRAVEL
When the "partial" government shutdown began on December 22, 2018, most observers expected it to be short. It dragged on for 35 days, the longest in U.S. history. While the shutdown was partial, it had a disproportionate effect on travel. The TSA was hit, meaning airport security screeners were asked to work without pay. Ditto air traffic controllers--and, in the end, a shortage of controllers helped lead to the end of the shutdown. The FAA ran in gray mode, which meant aircraft and airports weren't inspected. The National Transportation Safety Board was also shut. Here is how we covered it.