Portfolio's business travel columnist wrote his "Year in Travel" piece late enough to reflect last weekend's terrorist attack on Northwest Flight 253, putting an exclamation point on what was already a witty review the state of business travel and how it's only going to get worse.
It's been another bizarre 12 months for business travel. But that shouldn't surprise you. It never surprises me because I've come to the same conclusion after each of the thirtysomething years I've been on the road.
Odd as it may be, though, business travel is nothing if not instructive. You learn things. Rarely good things, I admit, but you learn nevertheless. Here are some of the hard lessons I learned in 2009. I don't expect 2010 to be much happier, but I'm open to the prospect of good news. Honest, I am. It would be a nice surprise.
Brancatelli flies by kabuki security at airports, airlines' inability to keep planes in the air without "horny bankers," skyrocketing executive pay compared with shrinking compensation for the line employees who have to deal with travelers and more while also tweaking non-specialized reporters for buying industry b.s.
Frequent flyers are poorly served whenever the mainstream media covers business-travel topics, and 2009 proved again that reporters and editors who sit behind a desk and make believe they understand life on the road do more harm than good. The general media continued to buy the hype and fantasies fed to them by the supporters of the hopelessly inadequate "registered traveler" programs right up to the June day that the largest provider, Clear, abruptly shut down.
And my friends in the mainstream media continue to support the meme that airlines imposing checked-bag fees are racking up huge gains. In fact, the opposite is true: Carriers that charge bag fees have watched their overall revenue plummet in 2009. Yet JetBlue Airways, which still allows one free checked bag, and Southwest Airlines, which maintains its two-bags-free policy, are winning passengers and revenue. Southwest's gains are especially notable. It registered a startling 11.7 percent increase in revenue passenger miles in November, even though its overall seating capacity dropped by nearly 8 percent.
All in all, the column is just the tonic for the often-horrible experience air travel is in 2009.