Remember 'Hernando's Hideaway?' You had to 'knock three times and whisper low that you and I were sent by Joe.' I hope JoeSentMe.com will open some business-travel doors.

HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR LIFE ON THE ROAD
A flight delay, a cancellation or a security-inspired airport closure will wreck havoc with your entire itinerary, but it can be managed better if you plan ahead. For example: Program your mobile phone with the toll-free reservation numbers of your chosen airlines. If a disruption occurs, don't go back to the ticket counter. Just call the airline. The telephone agents can do almost anything the folks at the ticket counter can do. Programming your car-rental firm's toll-free number into the phone wouldn't hurt, either. You may find yourself stranded at an airport that's within driving distance of your final destination. Having the rental firm's number in your phone memory will save time and effort.

The fundamental flaw in complaint letters written by business travelers is that they do not specifically ask for tangible compensation. Writing a letter of complaint without asking for something specific is guaranteed to generate little more than a form letter and a form apology. Tell the airline, hotel or car-rental firm exactly what is required to make amends. But be reasonable. Have a sense of proportion. A one-hour flight delay doesn't entitle you to a ticket refund. A rude employee isn't grounds for a free hotel night. The punishment, so to speak, should fit the crime. Asking for hard cash is always dicey, although, sometimes, a refund is the only fair resolution. However, if you'd be happy with bonus miles or points, room or flight upgrades, or discount coupons, ask for them. If you're a truly frequent traveler, immediate elevation to the next level of elite status might be the best compensation of all.

If you can't resolve your complaint with an airline in any other way, you may have to sue them. But don't play in their legal ballpark. If you hire a lawyer and pursue your complaint through the usual civil-court channels, the airline will tie you up over jurisdictional issues for years. Why? Airlines claim they can only be sued in federal court. You can't beat them that way. Instead, play on your home turf: small-claims court. If you sue a carrier in the small-claims court of a county where the airline does business--you can sue them in any county where they maintain a sales office, ticket office or, of course, an airport presence--the airline will be compelled to respond. You risk nothing because you can represent yourself. On the other hand, the airline will have to send a high-priced executive or, more likely, a high-priced lawyer, to represent them. And they won't be able to fog the issue with legalities like jurisdiction. More often than not, the airline will try to negotiate a settlement with you before the small-claims court date. Even if they don't, you stand a decent chance of winning the day if your claim is valid. After all, small-claims judges and referees are customers, too…

Pay attention to the bags that you're checking. Note the brand name, size, color and style of each piece. Inside each bag you intend to check, place a sheet of paper with your name, your home telephone number, your mobile-phone number--and the locations and phone numbers of where you are staying on your trip. If your exterior tag is removed, the airline can track you down from the contact information you wisely stowed inside the bag. If you're headed overseas to a country where you don't speak the language, take Polaroid or digital photos of the bags and carry the pictures with you. A picture goes a long way toward breaking down the language barrier at a lost-luggage counter in an overseas airport.

For a quick trip, pack bags from bottom to top: heaviest items at the bottom of a bag, lightest items on top. That will minimize wrinkling. For an extended trip, however, pack according to itinerary: clothing for the last stop at the bottom, garments for each earlier stop layered on top. Underwear and socks can be stuffed inside your shoes and around the edges of the luggage. Items like slacks and ties can be loosely rolled to keep wrinkles away. Another way to lighten your load: Wear your heaviest shoes and bulkiest clothes on the day of departure so you won't have to pack them. And remember: The world is full of places where you can get overnight laundry and dry-cleaning service. Another useful tip: Limit your color palette and pack shoes, clothing and accessories that all complement each other. An item that you can wear with only one outfit isn't a good choice for a trip.

Finally, let's talk about smart strategies for the enlightened traveler. Click here for those tips.

joe JOE BRANCATELLI

ABOUT BRANCATELLI
Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means he helps media companies start, fix and reposition news-papers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT
All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.

This column is Copyright © 2005 by Joe Brancatelli.

JoeSentMe is Copyright © 2005 by Joe Brancatelli.