By West McDonald, Vice President of Business Development, Print Audit & Owner, FocusMPS
Business Travel Getting You Down? Not Me, And Here’s Why
Whether you are a seasoned business traveler in the million mile club or a young professional just getting started as a road warrior, business travel can become tiresome and aggravating. As a Canadian business traveler with mostly U.S. customers, I stack up a lot of miles during the year. Between visiting with my customers, going to tradeshows and events and a host of other obligations that require me to get on a plane, I find myself at 30,000 feet far more often than I like to think about.
Here’s the cool part: After 20+ years of business travel I enjoy it more now than ever before.“What?!”, you might be thinking. “Impossible!” Read on to find the secrets I’ve picked up along the way and make your next business trip less stressful and more rewarding.
Enroll in a “Trusted Traveller” program: Ever go to the airport and have your jaw drop at how long the security line is? Worse yet, have you ever nearly missed a flight because of long delays in screening lines? It doesn’t have to be this way. The Global Entry & Nexus trusted traveler programs will save you more time and aggravation than anything else. Once enrolled you’ll skip the lines and have more time to get to your gate without rushing or stress. Most Hub airports and Canada/USA border crossings have enrollment centers. To learn more visit https://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs and get past the lines.
Check-in early & get a great seat: Never, ever, EVER wait until you arrive at the airport to check in unless you’re a fan of getting stuck in the middle seat or right by the bathroom. Most airlines now send you reminders to check-in 24 hours before your flight. If you download your carrier’s app on your smartphone they make it very easy to check-in no matter where you might be. For flights less than 3 hours, I usually try to get a window seat. I sleep well on planes and I find the window makes a great prop for my improvised pillow (rolled up jacked or airplane blanket). For longer flights, I usually book an aisle seat so I can get up and move around without being a pain to my neighbors. Emergency exit rows are nearly as good as first class when it comes to legroom and comfort but most airlines charge extra for these now. Tip: Once checked in, go to your gate and be super nice to the gate agent. They often have the power to get you into an emergency exit row for free!
Pack light: I learned this lesson the hard way on a trip with a coworker in my early days of business travel. I packed checked baggage and he packed only a carry-on. My luggage got lost between connecting flights and when we arrived to the conference hotel he swam and played in the pool while I sat there fuming in my dress pants and shirt. The same outfit, by the way, that I was forced to wear for the first day of the conference. That never happened again. Ever. I have learned how to pack for a full week of business travel without ever having to check luggage and you can too. I’ve had female travel colleagues say they simply can’t do it. Here is a blog post that will help even the most ardent fashionistas travel light.
Leave plenty of time: Arrive 2 hours before boarding for domestic travel and 3 hours before boarding time for international travel. There is nothing more stressful than knowing you’re against the clock. Once a gate is closed they don’t open it, no matter what your reasoning. Sometimes you’ll get through security and breeze through to your gate with a lot of time on your hands. That’s okay. It’s better to be bored than stressed when traveling, you’ll be more refreshed and in the zone when you reach your destination. Here are some handy tips to help you fight boredom while waiting for your flight.
Connections & layovers: In my early days of business travel nearly all of my flights were direct, but those days are long gone. Most flights today require a “connection” through a Hub airport. Nothing makes me grin more than watching panicked people doing their entire year of cardio in one mad dash to make a tight connecting flight. When booking your connecting flight be certain you have at least 1.5 hours between. A leisurely walk to your next gate is far easier on the adrenal glands. Some airports will make you change terminals altogether for your connecting flight and you’ll have to cover some great distance. Do you have a layover of 6 hours or more due to flight delays? Play tourist! I’ve had delays of over 8 hours in both Chicago and San Francisco. On both occasions, I used public transit from the airport to go exploring the sights and sounds and they were some of the best days I’ve ever had. For more tips on what to do for a long layover check out this fun blog.
Check for “Operated by” small print: This could be a newer phenomenon or maybe I have just been luckier in years past. To cut costs many airlines are “renting” space on their emptier flights to other airlines. Known as “code sharing” this means that even if you book through one airline you could end up flying on another one altogether. The problem with some “operated by” tickets is that the two airlines may have very different rules when it comes to check-in and travel. I won’t name names here, but I can tell you that the airline I usually fly allows for free carry-on but the “operated by” carrier charged me for the privilege. On another occasion, my name was misspelled on my boarding pass and the “operated by” airline was going to charge me over $200 to fix it! If you see “operated by” small print when looking at flight options make sure you understand the rules for both your airlines. Don’t learn the hard way like I did. There are a host of other issues you could run into such as reduced legroom and poor onboard service. Here is a great article to help make sure if you have to fly on an “operated by” flight that you go in fully prepared.
Keep your cool: Not only is yelling at the gate agent pointless but it’s also disrespectful and rude. Most of the issues I’ve seen people lose their cool over at a gate had nothing to do with the gate agent and were outside their power to remedy. If you have issues and are trying to get the gate agent to help, do so with a smile and patience. They’ve seen it all, trust me, and will be far more apt to help you if you are kind to them vs. being a jerk. If you feel you’ve been wronged in some way on your journey, jot down some notes on your smartphone or travel diary and contact the airline when you get back from your trip. You can also use Twitter to notify an airline of a bad experience and they will bend over backward to get you happy again. I have received free flights following this recipe as well as getting flight upgrades on occasion. I’m not saying you don’t have a right to feel slighted, I’m just saying it’s best to keep your cool and save the big guns for when you can actually get the most impact. Check out this read in the Wall Street Journal for some great background on what gate agents can typically do (and not do).
Book time for pleasure: I can’t tell you the number of business travelers I’ve known that complain they never get to see anything other than the airport and hotel when on business travel. It’s no wonder they feel burnt out and frustrated with business travel! Not me. If I’m going someplace I’ve never been before or a destination that has some cool sights I will make time to see them. If you book a flight that gets you in late on the evening just prior to your meetings the next morning and fly back home the evening of your conference that’s your own fault. I often book early morning flights on my travel days so I have a few hours to get out and see the sights. Sometimes that isn’t possible, but most times you can work it out. Most employers understand that if you spend a crazy amount of time on the road away from family and personal obligations that you are deserving of a few hours to enjoy yourself. I’ve hiked Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale, walked the beach at Torrey Pines in San Diego and swam in the ocean and collected fossilized shark teeth while in Florida, all on business trips! Most times I’ve done these mini excursions with business colleagues who make sure to make time to do the same. Who says the golf course is the only place to get business done?! Here are some great tips to make your next business trip feel like a mini vacation.
Take Public Transit/Shuttles when possible: I avoid renting a car whenever possible. Not only are car rentals expensive, at most airports now you have to take a shuttle to a central rental car pickup and drop off location which can add another hour or two to your travel. Whenever possible I make use of public transit, ride shares and shuttles. If you care going to a conference most hotels near the airport have free shuttle service. Going closer to the city? Do a little homework and see which cities have good public transit to and from the airport. Chicago O’Hare, for example, has a direct subway line that goes right to the center of the city. Heathrow in the UK even has a bullet train to get you downtown. No public transit? Uber has airport rideshare programs that cut travel costs dramatically. Are you going to be traveling on sales calls? Are you going with a local rep? See if they’ll pick you up and drop you off at your hotel. In my early days I used to rent cars all the time but thanks to a friend sharing his travel tips I rarely do anymore. With a little pre-planning you can use alternatives and enjoy your time much more.
Don’t fly every time: One thing I’ve learned over the years is that if I have a short flight I’ll often just drive instead. Add up the time it takes you to travel by air to decide if just driving makes sense. When I travel to NYC from Buffalo I often drive. Think that’s crazy? Think again. It takes me 45 minutes to get to the Buffalo airport, I arrive 2 hours early, spend 1.5 hours in the air, another 40 minutes taxing and getting through the airport, and then over an hour getting from the airport to the heart of the city on public transit. That is 6 or 7 hours of traveling for a 1.5-hour flight. Driving straight from Buffalo to NYC city center takes 6 to 7 hours. Do the math yourself and think about it. Not only can driving be far less stressful than the airport rigamarole, it can be more productive. When driving I’ll often schedule calls and use my bluetooth/handsfree. I can’t tell you how much more I like doing conference calls in my car vs. in a hotel room or airport lounge. And the amount that I fly it sure is nice to have an alternative every now and then.
Now it’s your turn! Are you a frequent flyer and business traveler with some gold nuggets to share? Have you developed certain tricks to make business travel less stressful and more rewarding? Share your thoughts here and lead the conversation!
Have a few more minutes? Check out this hilarious inflight safety video by Air New Zealand. Happy travels.