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.
DECEMBER 30: SUBMITTED FOR YOUR APPROVAL
The Twilight Zone marathon starts at 6am on New Year's Eve on the SyFy network. Even in these 24/7 streaming times, a broadcast marathon brings comfort. And, boy, do we need comfort in these very odd times. And I promise, I won't write about the episodes we all know. I'll tell you things about episodes you might have missed.
DECEMBER 23: HOW THE AIRLINE GRINCHES STOLE CHRISTMAS
It took Dr. Seuss just 69 pages to explain how The Grinch stole Christmas. The Airlines stole Christmas (again) this week and it took nearly 5,600 pages. But why the $2.3 trillion bill awards airlines $15 billion to rehire 32,000 unneeded employees for just four months will remain a mystery.
DECEMBER 17: WHAT I LEARNED ON THE ROAD THIS YEAR
Every year I write a column explaining that a life on the road is okay so long as you can look back at the end of the year and say you learned something. Even in this most awful year for business travel and most dreadful year for the entire planet, I learned stuff. A lot of them can fit in an Altoids tin.
DECEMBER 10: HOW TO THINK ABOUT TRAVEL NOW
The CDC said this week to expect a 9/11 death toll for the next 60 days. Not a comfortable environment for traveling, frankly. We won't be hunkered down forever, however. But the road, when we get back on it, will be a different place. The airlines, hotels and destinations themselves will be altered. Accepting that reality may be the most difficult transition of all.
DECEMBER 3: NO DAY BUT TODAY. DON'T TRAVEL TODAY.
Today, as we stare down a 9/11 of Coronavirus deaths every day for weeks or maybe months, it would be irresponsible to talk about travel. It's impossible even to plan travel with that kind of viral gun pointed at our collective head. Anyone who tells you differently is lying--or feeding you pablum to make a buck. Yeah, vaccines are coming and that's good. But right now is the time to defer as much travel as you can.
NOVEMBER 19: THERE'LL ALWAYS BE AN ENGLAND, BUT ...
You know what they say: There'll always be an England. You know what we say: How are we gonna get there? While all travel is depressed, the collapse of our busiest international market--flights between the United States and Britain--has been breathtaking. Things won't go back to normal when travel returns, either. Here are the latest changes.
NOVEMBER 12: ONE VOTE, TWO VOTES, RED HUB, BLUE HUB
Even when we're off the road, strange and sometimes bewildering things are happening. This week, for example, we saw four major airport hubs flip from red states to blue states; two airlines improve their frequent flyer programs; another airline give up on blocked middle seats; and, yes, a Four Seasons hotel confused for a landscaping company. Are you ready for Lawn and Order? It's all here.
NOVEMBER 5: WHERE I'LL GO NEXT ... EVENTUALLY
Do I have a "bucket list" of destinations I want to go when and if we can ever travel again? Much to my own surprise, I do. Some of the choices are prosaic (Philadelphia), some are exotic (Morocco) and some are a combination of old favorites (Italy and Hawaii) and new realities (Hong Kong). When can I work on the list? Your guess is as good as mine.
OCTOBER 31: POLITICS IN BLACK AND WHITE
A half-dozen films released in 1962 and 1964--all black and white, all with star casts, all made by great directors--form the canon of American political movies. Yet these flicks, coming in such a compressed time period, just as America was coming to grips with its post-war nuclear power and a generational enemy, say much about the nation we now inhabit. They are alternately polemic and paranoid; soapy and serious; earnest and existential. Plus they're fun to watch!
OCTOBER 29: FEAR, FRUGALITY AND THE FUTURE OF TRAVEL
Despite what you hear from airlines, flying is actually increasing albeit at low levels. But the future of travel will be decided by how fearful we are of aircraft during the pandemic, how frugal we must be in the face of a Coronavirus-created recession--and how desperate we'll be to see far-flung family members.
OCTOBER 22: ROOM SERVICE? SEND UP MORE SERVICE!
Airlines always suck the oxygen out of a business travel discussion, of course, but airlines are basically airlines: a tube, a seat, a from and a to. There isn't much that can or will change, pandemic or no. Hotels are more interesting and more varied and their response to the pandemic has been more immediate. If only the news was better for us guests. A look at what we're losing in lodging.
OCTOBER 15: WHERE TO GO NEXT (I THINK)
Most of the world doesn't want us--and won't want us for months, perhaps years. Many of the places we can go are more dangerous than here. The good news? There are now clearly domestic destinations that life and virus (and airline schedules) are leading us to: Colorado for ski season, the California desert and Hawaii.
OCTOBER 8: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT I'M TELLING YOU ANYWAY
In a week of whirlwind developments, this much is clear: Airlines are losing a lot of money flying empty aircraft, train travel has fallen to 19th-century levels and people bounce between irrational exuberance and utter despair on the future. Plus, you know, snark, Disraeli and Gladstone.
OCTOBER 1: TESTING AND TURMOIL
Here is this week's news in brief: Assuming you ever get to an airport again, you'll see many fewer airline employees and many more Coronavirus tests. Both, I hasten to add, will make travel better. Concentrate first on the spate of Covid-19 testing options coming to airlines and airports.
SEPTEMBER 27: ZIGGY STARDUST GOT TANGLED UP IN BLUE
has affirmed that Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks
is a better album than David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust
. It's cold comfort because the friend I argued with about it is gone. He was a rock 'n' roll suicide and the rest of us were left with rain fallin' on our shoes.
SEPTEMBER 24: YOUR QUESTIONS, SOMEONE ELSE'S ANSWERS
You have asked me many questions in recent days about travel, the pace of recovery and the safety of flying. Rather than answer them myself, I pass along the wisdom of the experts. But fair warning: They are even more pessimistic than I am about the state of things.
SEPTEMBER 17: LOYALTY FOR SALE
Delta Air Lines is mortgaging SkyMiles for a king's ransom--it's $9 billion now--to keep the carrier going. What are we learning about the program while Delta sells our loyalty? Some of the news is interesting, some shocking--and some, sadly, proves frequent flyer plans turn frequent flyers into sheep.
SEPTEMBER 10: BITTER IRONY
Nineteen years ago, on the awful day after 9/11, I wrote a column assuring the world--and myself--that we would fly again. Today, I write a column celebrating the few of us who are now flying even as we remain in the grip of the Coronavirus pandemic. I find that a bitter irony and, honestly, I am not in the mood for bitter irony. I spit on bitter irony. I curse bitter irony. I shake my fist at bitter irony.
SEPTEMBER 3: CHANGING THE CHANGE FEES
Desperate for traffic and bereft of better ideas, five carriers this week rushed to change their change fees. Despite what you may have heard elsewhere, the changes aren't "permanent" and they're not completely eliminated. But does it matter? Is a change fee the reason why you're not flying right now?
AUGUST 27: TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS
Right about now is when I write a column about places you could go if your candidate loses and you feel you must leave the country. But we can't do that this year, can we? We are global pariahs and no other country will have us. So face reality: You're here for the duration and you might want to consider what seems to be shaping up as the newest normal in travel.
AUGUST 22: MOVIES AREN'T SMALL ANYMORE
We've focused on just five films here--and not in a rote, review-y kind of way. Hell, one of the blurbs isn't actually about the movie at all. But as we all slog through this seemingly endless grounding, we thought you'd appreciate unique "guidance" on some films worth your time.
AUGUST 21: I'M SHOCKED--SHOCKED!--THAT CASABLANCA ISN'T PERFECT
If it is not quite the greatest movie ever made, Casablanca
is certainly the most felicitous confluence of luck, timing, improvisation, schmaltz, style and unsentimental sentimentality ever committed to film. It has Nazis and antifa, hats and hubris, love and death, hate and heart, sardonic dialogue and very snappy quotes. But it's not perfect.
AUGUST 20: THIS TIME IT'S PERSONAL
I live where I live because nearly 30 years ago American Airlines pioneered service from a new airport. Now it's threatening to cut that airport and 14 others off its route map unless it gets another bailout. My answer is simple: Go. Don't let the cockpit door hit you in the butt. Airlines don't deserve still another bailout and their attempt to take cities and service hostage won't work when travel is down 75 percent.
AUGUST 6: HOW TO GET ON THE ROAD AGAIN SAFELY
The numbers are ugly: Only about 25 percent of us are back on the road and the surveys say few seem interested in flying. But if you're considering getting in the air again, here are several useful thoughts about managing masks; approaching aircraft cleanliness; the importance of an empty middle seat; the lack of in-flight food and beverages; and what happens if you change your mind.
AUGUST 1: COME
FLY MOVIE WITH US
TCM's annual Summer Under the Stars event started today: A marathon of movies every day devoted to one actor. When you have had enough of the world, there is nothing better than dipping into TCM for a favorite movie--or ten or 20 or 30. A group of JoeSentMe contributors got together and picked some of our favorites among the nearly 400 playing on TCM this month.
JULY 30: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...
I've historically studded these types of columns with plenty of humor and snark. But it's harder this week with so many dreary news items and statistics that cast doubt on our future ability to travel freely. But the news is what the news is.
JULY 23: NO TESTS, NO TRAVEL
If the travel industry wanted to save itself--and allow us to get back on the road--it would go all-in on fast, on-the-spot testing. A vaccine certainly won't come this year, probably not next and its effectiveness is questionable. Rapid testing would make it easier for us to travel again. Plus information about airline employment, Global Entry skirmishes, Georgia's mask wars--and one great song to get you through.
JULY 16: CHICKEN LITTLE WAS RIGHT
This may be the worst week in the history of business travel--and it surely is the worst week of this awful pandemic. Airline traffic is dropping again. Nationwide hotel occupancy has stalled. Our civic discourse has been soured by cowardly politicians and the Kens and Karens who will not wear a mask. This is not good. Totally understandable, but not good.
JULY 12: WHAT DOES AMERICAN MUSIC SOUND LIKE?
What does American popular music sound like? American music is rich and relentless, a kaleidoscopic amalgam of styles and influences, so there's no right answer. But here are five artists I would mention if a strange visitor from another planet asked about musical truth, melodic justice and the American way.
JULY 9: EVERYTHING'S TREIF AND TRAVEL'S KAPU
It's true that I'm running out of ways to talk about the Coronavirus' effect on travel. But I bestätigen
--that's German for swear--that treif
(unclean) was the first word that came to my mind as I checked into a hotel on Monday and had my first in-restaurant experiences since March. And kapu
(forbidden) is really how I think when I think of travel now. Don't do it if you don't have to. It just seems wrong and risky.
JULY 2: WHERE WE STAND
Some fresh thinking about wearing masks in-flight; the chimera of fast Coronavirus testing at airports; the big lie about an imminent vaccine; and the stark divide between airlines attempting to offer social distancing (AKA empty middle seat) and carriers that just don't care. Plus a look at flying patterns over the last four months.
JUNE 25: NOT ALL DRESSED UP WITH NOWHERE TO GO
I haven't gotten dressed up or flown in months. But I live in a beautiful place, so not being all dressed up with nowhere to go will work for me at least through the summer. If not being all dressed with nowhere to go isn't working for you, hang in. Stay tough. Stay strong. Be positive. Test negative. Get ready. We will all fly again. I just don't know when.
JUNE 21: A 'NEW' OLD ALBUM FROM NEIL YOUNG
Neil Young released a "new" album on Friday, but to appreciate the significance and provenance of Homegrown
--and understand the quotes around "new"--we must consider a road not taken and detour into rock music's most creative and controversial ditch. It's been a long, brave ride.
JUNE 18: MORTGAGING OUR LOYALTY
United and American airlines are mortgaging our loyalty in order to raise funds. Both have pledged their frequent flyer plans for loans. In United's case, it's had to let us peek behind the curtain at MileagePlus. Its extraordinary government filing shows exactly how much we toss into airline coffers.
JUNE 11: SUMMER'S HERE BUT YOU'RE NOT GOING THERE
I've spent the last week researching rules and restrictions and airline routes for traveling to cool places this summer. My conclusion: I know less now than when I started researching. I have no idea where you can go or where might be worth a visit just now. Here's everything I've found to help you make decisions.
JUNE 4: EXPECTING TO FLY
Is the glass one-eighth full or seven-eighth empty? That's how to explain the "boom" in flying now. Traffic more than tripled since mid-April, but it's still just an eighth of where it was last year. If you're expecting to fly soon, however, allow me to offer seven tips to get ready. The road you left behind in February has changed dramatically. You'll have to change with it.
MAY 31: MOVIES TO MAKE THE WORLD GO AWAY
When I found myself walking away from the news this awful weekend--overcome by grief, consumed by anger, heartbroken, frightened and beaten down--I headed for my break-glass-in-case-of-emergency stash of films for chasing the world away. I can slip one of these in the DVD player--yes, I still have DVDs--and the news goes away for a little while. We're all in pain just now. Maybe one of these will make the world go away for you, too.
MAY 28: HOTELS IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS
Like a business traveler in days of yore, I stayed at a hotel this week. Strange to take notice of a run-of-the-mill hotel stay, but travel in the time of Coronavirus is in its earliest moments. Getting on the road again is as novel as the Coronavirus, in fact. And, boy, hotels are strange just now.
MAY 24: THE AGONY OF DEFEAT, THE CALMNESS OF CERTITUDE
No pitch has yet been thrown in the 2020 baseball season, but I know the Indians are five games out. The Indians are always five games out. That's because my team, the woebegone Cleveland Indians, have not won a World Series since Dewey beat Truman. But I've learned something: rooting for a perennial loser is a lot like business travel. The certitude of the screw-up is almost calming.
MAY 14: PANDEMIC PERSPECTIVE
So we're back to 9/11, are we? No, frankly, it's worse than that. As horrific as 9/11 was, it was one day. We're looking at a 9/11 death toll every day atop the 85,000 who have already fallen. And the airline industry as currently constituted cannot survive. Without sugarcoating anything, here's some perspective on what is coming on the road and in our lives.
MAY 10: WHAT'S NEW? ROCKING STANDARDS
Linda Ronstadt wasn't the first rock diva to cover the standards, but her chart success with a trilogy of albums opened the door to a flood of imitators. And those copies were even less creatively successful than Ronstadt's records. Rockers just aren't great covering the Great American Songbook.
MAY 7: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...
Some stray thoughts about what we should tell airlines as they prepare to ask for another bailout; when practicing social distancing will allow us to turn pro; how airlines found the perfect passengers; the state of hotel award charts; and a few revolutionary theories about the "future" of travel. All this and an extra added helping of snark.
MAY 3: THE WORLD WE LEFT BEHIND
When travel, business and otherwise, ended abruptly in early March and most of us went into lockdown, we forgot one thing: the world. The world we left behind has changed dramatically in our absence--for better and for worse. Yes, it is emptier, with major cities looking abandoned and forlorn. But it is cleaner, too, with much less pollution and smog. I've collected a series of remarkable films and photos of both phenomena.
APRIL 30: THE MASKED VIEW FROM THE BOTTOM
It's a good news, bad news kind of week. The good news: We've bottomed out and both airline traffic and hotel occupancy are growing albeit from our new, shriveled base. Bad news: Masks will be the order of the day as most U.S. airlines now demand passengers wear them starting next week.
APRIL 26: BINGING WITH BRANCATELLI
Without shame, I tell you that I am a huge consumer of television. Lucky for you, this omnivore mentality is really useful now. I know where all the good stuff--and far too much of the bad stuff--is buried. Let me tip you to five shows you should screen now that you have so much time to bask in TV's warm, glowing, warming glow.
APRIL 23: BAILING ON THE BAILOUT
The feds this week started sending our taxpayer dollars--well, our great-grandchildren's taxpayer dollars--to the airlines. Weirdly, we're paying to operate flights that no one is using. With only around 100,000 flyers a day, we have to stop paying airlines to run flights we don't need.
APRIL 16: THE NEW CASE AGAINST FREQUENCY PLANS
Airlines and hotels will screw us when this pandemic eases and we get back on the road. There will be no frequent travel award bargains, no useful new benefits and certainly no short-term deals. Here's my thinking on why programs will get worse and why now is the time to dump travel credit cards.
APRIL 9: NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM
The Easter/Passover holiday is usually when travelers gather with their families and plan summer holidays or end-of-year vacations. But this year that can't happen because no one know when we'll fly again. But as you sit down with your family, virtually or in person, tell them this: Next year in Jerusalem. Or Maui. Or Mumbai. Somehow, some way, we will do it. Next year in Jerusalem.
APRIL 5: BUSINESS TRAVEL DUMPSTER DIVING
The world is a terrible and terrifying place just now, but the business traveler's equivalent of a dumpster dive brings us a rare moment of ... well ... not joy so much as a brief instant of happy kismet. Amenity kit eye masks can be used as face masks.
APRIL 2: NO DAY BUT TODAY
Yesterday's gone. There is no tomorrow. What happened even last year on the road is ancient history. Nothing the talking heads predict about the future of travel is credible. All we have is today. And today we have no choice but to ride out this crisis.
MARCH 22: KEEP CALM AND LISTEN ON
Music helps me keep calm and soldier on. After every one of those bizarre and surreal daily Coronavirus briefings from the White House, I find myself turning to one of these albums for emotional stability and tranquility.
MARCH 19: MAKING TERMS FOR AN AIRLINE BAILOUT
Not a dollar. Not a dime. Not a penny. So now that I've gotten that out of my system, let's admit what we all know: The airlines are going to get a bailout even if they don't deserve one. They key will be making terms--and terms appropriate for this crisis. Here are my suggestions.
MARCH 17: A JAZZ SAMPLER: MUSIC FOR ADULTS
I was raised on rock and roll and became a chronological adult just as Joni Mitchell explained what it was like to be raised on robbery. Jazz came later. If you never crossed the bridge from rock (and robbery) to jazz, here are a few discs to get you started.
MARCH 15: THE ROAD GETS ROCKY FROM HERE
I've pulled together an emergency briefing that focuses on what we'll find on the road in the days ahead. At least as far as we can see at this moment. The road next week will be rocky. And then it'll get worse.
MARCH 12: NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...
A special Coronavirus edition with some chilling thoughts for the future of flying, the bizarre nature of modern hotel-building, the botched Europe travel ban and much, much more. Plus some snark and my official song for social separation.
MARCH 8: DIVAS ON DVD
I have no answers for our diva infatuation, but I do have some thoughts about flicks featuring their work. And now that we have some down time to catch up with things that aren't flying and business travel, maybe you'd like to feed your obsession, too.
MARCH 6: SEVEN DISCOUNT STRATEGIES IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS
Facing an existential crisis, the travel industry is reacting exactly to form. It cowers in fear, refuses to fight for or promote its business and starts counting the days until it can ask for government bailouts. What's this got to do with you, a bargain-hunting traveler looking for deals in the time of Coronavirus? Just this: You'll have to ferret out the bargains on your own. Here are seven tips for doing it.
FEBRUARY 27: THE COUNTERPOINT TO MORTALITY IS MOBILITY
I've lost track of the number of "new normals" we've been required to accommodate since 9/11, but this travel-in-the-time-of-Coronavirus stuff is nauseating. I refuse to stop traveling because of a virus. If you're elderly or have pre-existing conditions, yes, do reconsider your travels. But for the rest of us? It's absurd.
FEBRUARY 20: TOURISTS LOVE THE LIBERTIES. TOO BAD.
Tourists always destroy what they love about a place, of course. And the arrival of large-scale tourism will destroy the small-town, small-scale charm of The Liberties, a quaint Dublin neighborhood that suddenly has new hotels, pricey restaurants and the undeniable whiff of gentrification. Go before developers fill every empty lot with "mixed-use" complexes boasting all the trappings of sanitized, globalized, ersatz urbanity.
FEBRUARY 6: LAST FLIGHT FROM SHANGHAI
A blended Chinese-American family escapes from Shanghai on the last flight out. How and why they did it--and the mysterious men with hardhats and sledgehammers who showed up at their doors--make for a gripping tale about panic and the Coronavirus.
JANUARY 30: AMSTERDAM IS MORE THAN SCHIPHOL. HONEST.
Business travelers generally don't pay much attention to Amsterdam. We fly into Schiphol Airport, do our connecting business and move on to the next flight. Maybe we never get into Amsterdam itself and that's our loss. Amsterdam just works even as it wrestles with an existential branding problem.
JANUARY 23: THE FARES WE'RE PAYING, THE SEATS WE NEED
You're not crazy. Premium fares are skyrocketing. Plus, we don't have enough seats to Tel Aviv, British Airways is ripping us off for its awful business class and we face the existential question of turning ground transportation over to provably unethical firms like Uber. And if this sounds like four separate columns, you're right. But remember: Unlike the impeachment boys, I don't get days to make my case. I yield back ...
JANUARY 16: LISBON IS PERFECT. SORRY ABOUT THE AIRPORT.
Lisbon is everything that the glossy travel magazines and starry-eyed travel bloggers say it is. Warm, inexpensive, charming with great food and wine. You want to go. You should go. But the airport is so awful now that you might actually want to stay away.
JANUARY 9: NINE DAYS, FIVE AIRPORTS, SEVEN LESSONS
Nine days into the new year and I've already been through five airports. But that's given me time to think about the crash (Ukraine Flight 752); the cash (evil genius Willie Walsh retires young and rich); the trash (why did my hotel room have three types of garbage cans?); and to consider the overkill of business class pods, the rickety handles on rolling bags and much more.
JANUARY 5: NOT A HAPPY NEW YEAR ON THE ROAD
Happy New Year! But happy new year? Not so much on the road since we last spoke before Christmas. All over the world, there have been new and dangerous developments that you should consider before getting back on the road for the New Year. Allow me to bring you up-to-date on the major concerns. And sorry for all the terrible news ...
JANUARY 2: MY LONG AND WINDING ROAD WITH ROCK AND ROLL
When I digitized all my music I realized how few rock and roll albums from my youth still mattered to me. But these classics are still in my regular rotation and I carry them when I travel, too.