The Good, the Bad
and the Ugly on the Road
THURSDAY, JANUARY 27, 2022 -- Chris Barnett this week suggests that Hollywood has too often pushed a fantasy version of business travel. He's right, of course, but I've always looked elsewhere for inspiration: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the glorious 1966 spaghetti Western with Italian, Spanish, German and American roots.

Business travelers always feel like the Man With No Name--given name Joe, by the way--fighting the good fight against the forces of real or imagined travel evil. Plus, you know, that killer Ennio Morricone score. Tromping through another dreary airport corridor or bland hotel hallway is never quite so bad if you whistle the main theme as you go. In our heads, we're always Clint Eastwood staring down officious ticket agents or dithering front-desk clerks.

I've been doing a lot of whistling in the last few weeks as I got back on the road for a five-city tour. And I ran into a lot of good, a lot of bad and a lot of ugly.

Elite levels at airlines and hotels are essentially worthless now and I'm convinced 2022 will be the year many frequent travelers learn that lesson. Still, Hyatt's top level--the hideously named Globalist--offers genuine value. It was an easier get last year (30 nights) than the normal 60-night buy-in and, boy, does it pay off. When one of my colleagues arrived late and needed a room, I called Hyatt. It responded with a suite and free breakfast at what my colleague insisted was "a buffet that was 50-feet long." A few weeks later, I had to call an audible and move folks to a new city on short notice. Hyatt responded with suites and free full breakfast for all. And when we had a 7am checkout to make our flights home, the front-desk clerk had take-away boxes of breakfast pastry waiting.

I'm luckier than most: As a New York State resident, I have a state-sponsored app with my vaccination records. But we need those hateful white CDC vaccination cards in most circumstances and they are embarrassingly quaint in jurisdictions (anywhere in Europe, for instance) with digital solutions. It's tiring explaining to befuddled Germans or Italians that yes, America is so backward that we rely on handwritten card stock. I store mine flat in a plastic case, but one of our number had his folded in his wallet. It was frayed and ripped and about to disintegrate.

A weather-related flight delay meant I had to cancel my pre-scheduled Lyft pickup at New York/JFK. When I tried to reschedule, the app inexplicably failed. It showed me all the cars circling Kennedy, but it wouldn't let me book any. That forced me to drastic action--downloading Uber--to catch a ride home. Now every time I pick up my mobile phone, there's another frivolous Uber notification that requires me to unsubscribe.

Will Allen alerted us months ago to the brilliance of Emed's proctored Abbott antigen tests. I feared the U.S. decision last month to move the return testing requirement to one day would cause long waits to secure a proctor. Thankfully not. I've helped several travelers use the Emed/Abbott system both for departure and arrival flights and none required a wait of more than 30 seconds. Kits work flawlessly and, at $30 a pop, are a great low-cost testing option. I can't imagine travelers needing another solution.

Between United's absurd five-year-plus rollout for its "new" Polaris seat in international business class and the pandemic-related slowdown, I never actually caught up with a full United experience. Bottom line: awful. The pods are uncomfortable as seats and as beds, the in-flight service is distracted and the food-and-beverage service is forgettable. One saving grace: The Polaris Lounges at United's key hubs have reopened and they are quite good. Of course, United never opened all the lounges it promised back in 2016 and probably never will.

To its credit, United has a remarkably simple and seamless system for uploading testing and other information to your flight records. Whether you do it online or via the United app, you'll find United's approach intuitive and painless. On the other hand, American Airlines farms everything out to VeriFly, one of many third-party "health" apps. VeriFly is objectively awful. It even fights with you when you're taking the required selfie. It also requires repeated reentry of the most basic information. Worst of all: When you upload your testing data, VeriFly tries to scare you into an upsell because it claims it can't otherwise guarantee timely processing. And you can't fly American if VeriFly hasn't processed your data. It's a despicable grift aimed at travelers when you are most vulnerable and pressed for time.

Assuming VeriFly processes your data so you can fly, American's international business class has held up surprisingly well in these pandemic times. The seats are far more comfortable than anything United or Delta offers up front. In-flight entertainment is extensive enough and the food-and-beverage service is surprisingly decent, at least on my flight. There are even printed menus and a notable Champagne (Lanson). And while American's flight attendants this week convinced the airline to reduce premium class in-flight services--Coronavirus, you know--the international business product was spared.

The EU requires most Web sites to disclose their cookie policy and ostensibly gives you the choice to accept, decline or customize the options. Nice in theory, but incredibly annoying because you have to do all of this before proceeding to the Web site itself. It's a crapshoot between dealing with this absurd bureaucracy or having a crapload of cookies on your device.

On the long flight home, I actually had time to screen three movies. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly wasn't one of them. But I did watch The Great Escape and Casablanca again. Then I made a mistake: I'd never seen Good Will Hunting from beginning to end. So I settled back and watched. And, yes, the 1997 flick holds up remarkably well. But over the end scene and credits someone thought it was a good idea to use Afternoon Delight, the hideous 1975 trifle by the Starland Vocal Band. Now it's a week later and I can't get it out of my head. It's torture. Even listening to the clever, all-ukulele version of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly hasn't helped flush the earworm out of my head.