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IS IT TIME FOR YOU TO PACK IT IN?
By Chris Barnett
August 12, 2010 -- Time flies faster than jet planes now that Concorde has been grounded. And business travelers, still schlepping to the airport every Sunday night for another week of waiting for cancelled flights and cancelled appointments, might want to consider mothballing themselves.
But how do you really know when it's time to pack it in under your own power before some weasel factotum hands you the pink slip his boss didn't have the guts to deliver personally? When do you know that you've been on the road too long?
You know you've been on the road too long when a Delta Air Lines gate agent regales you with tales of his days as a Western Airlines gate agent at the old LAX. He tells you how he escorted young lovelies traveling solo to Mike Lyman's Restaurant for a drink or three. And you remember the bar.
You know you've been on the road too long when you remember that the Eastern Shuttle from New York to Washington guaranteed you a seat on its endless line of prop aircraft. Spartan and cold, you paid on board. The Eastern Shuttle was the first real "airbus."
You know you've been on the road too long when you and your seatmate in first class get cold sandwiches and you grumble that World Airways used to set up tables with white linen and a flight attendant would carve thick slabs off a baron of beef and keep the wine and champagne flowing.
You know you've been on the road too long when you remember flying a Pan Am Boeing 747 from LAX to New York/Kennedy for $99 each way.
You know you've been on the road too long when you can recall the requests you made leaning on the piano at 40,000 feet aboard a Continental Airlines "pub" flight. Pop quiz: Did Bob Six, Continental's tough but charismatic chief executive, ever play the piano or did he just sing-along, a drink in his ham-sized hand?
You've been on the road way too long if you checked into a Statler Hotel. E.M. Statler built what was arguably the first chain of hotels catering to business travelers, starting in 1907 in Buffalo. He was the first hotelier to put a bathroom in every guestroom and touted it with the slogan "a room and a bath for a buck and a half." The remaining Statler, built decades after E.M.'s death in 1928, operates at Cornell University. The chain was sold to Hilton in the 1950s for a whopping $111 million. It was the world's largest real estate transaction at the time. The only Statler still operating as a Hilton is the Capital Hilton in Washington, but several others (in Detroit, St. Louis and New York) continue under other brand names.
You know you've been on the road too long if you dressed for supper and took the spiral staircase down to the belly of the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. You could have a martini at the bar, sit down for a leisurely, lavish dinner meticulously served by waiters in white, then slip into your PJs and climb into your sleeperette for a snooze across the Pacific or the Atlantic. Dubbed the Clipper, Pan Am bought 20 of the 56 "Strats" built and acquired others.
Some other hints that it might be time to hang up the old roll-aboard? You paid $9.99 one-way to fly Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) from San Diego to San Francisco, a two-hour haul on a DC-6B. Or, in the jet age, you paid $29 one-way for PSA's Midnight Flyer from SFO to LAX. Or you remember stepping aboard these mostly California airlines: California Central Airlines; Bonanza Airlines; Hughes Air West; Pacific Air Lines; and Air Cal.
Meanwhile, in my spare time--stuck on tarmacs, stranded in airports--I am trying to build an "airline tree" of U.S. commercial carriers with roots, trunks, branches and dates with births and deaths. For example, Bonanza and Pacific were part of a merger that became Air West in 1968. That became Hughes Air West when it was purchased by Howard Hughes in 1970. It was folded into Republic Airlines in 1980, which merged with Northwest Airlines in 1986. Northwest, of course, was merged into Delta Air Lines last year. Care to contribute hard facts to my aeronautic genealogical exercise? Please E-mail me at Cbarn@aol.com.
Even if you've had enough hassles road soldiering through the decades, cherish your memories, since I'm clearly losing mine.
Example: Oakland Airport, like every other similar enterprise, wants to get rid of the people who make their living standing in little booths, freezing or sweltering, deciphering tickets and taking payments so you can drive away from the gate.
Oakland recently automated its economy parking lot so you insert a credit card to get in and out. Like airlines, they're going cashless. But when I wanted to exit the place recently, I forgot about the credit card gimmick. So I spent 15 minutes looking through every pocket, carry-on bag and every square inch of the car for the white parking ticket. Then I finally remembered: no white tickets anymore.
That means the men in white coats can't be far behind.
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ABOUT CHRIS BARNETT Chris Barnett writes about business-travel tactics and strategies that save time and money and help minimize hassles. He is based in San Francisco and has written for a wide variety of major newspapers and national magazines. Barnett on Business Travel is syndicated by Creators Syndicate.
THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Chris Barnett in the spirit of free speech and to help encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Barnett. This material may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Chris Barnett.
This column is Copyright © 2010 by Chris Barnett. JoeSentMe is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.