Category Archives: Travel

Is Travel Efficient?

I often travel for business. Maybe that is the reason that I seem to find myself writing about business travel so frequently. I used to think that travel was exciting and exotic. That was right up until the point where I actually started traveling, a lot. For those of you that don’t travel much, trust me, it isn’t that great. I noticed a new commercial on television (since there really aren’t any new shows out right now, I notice the new commercials during the reruns) extolling the virtues of a certain hotel for those that “get” to travel as opposed to those that “have” to travel. Cute approach, but definitely aimed at those that don’t know anything about traveling.

I think very few of us who have done any traveling actually feel like we “get” to travel. I understand that a certain amount of travel is to be expected, and might even be considered mandatory for the proper conduct of business. Even in the virtual world that we now work in, sometimes there is no substitution for being there in person. We can video conference, Instant Message, email or even call on the phone all we want, but it is just not the same as being there.

If we accept that there is a defined amount of travel that should occur, we now need establish some boundaries around it so that we can make sure that we are efficient with the use of our travel. Is too little bad for business? Can you travel too much? Do you get a good return for your travel dollar cost investment?

Remember that travel constitutes the entire amount of time portal to portal, and back that the trip encompasses. The two hour meeting that you attended may have been very productive, but was it worth the entire two business days of work time (including travel) that were invested in it for you to attend? Before we can answer that question I think we need to apply a “weighting” factor. Customer meetings are important. They are always more important than internal business meetings. Time with the customer is precious. The customer has only a limited amount of time available in their day and if they choose to spend any of it with you, it should be treated as precious.

On the other hand, internal business meetings occur all the time. I have discussed in the past that there seems to have been a blurring of the lines between what is a meeting and what is a conference call. This blurring if anything has devalued the time spent in meetings. Now multiple people choose to attend by video or conference circuit. It may be a meeting requiring time, travel and expense, but for several it is just another phone call.

For me travel is not a very efficient use of time. I look on with great admiration and envy at those on the plane that are able to open their PCs and work on their spreadsheets or presentations. I have tried to do it. Occasionally I try again to do it, just to see if something has magically changed and I am now able to work in a cramped, strange setting with 250 strangers sitting close by, with several of whom seemingly in succession needing to go to the bathroom. It is to no avail. For whatever reason I cannot get meaningful work done on an airplane. I have even tried to write articles for publication in this forum while spending twelve hours en route to Brazil, and was unsuccessful at it.

Perhaps it is the same internal programming that makes it difficult for me to work at home instead of coming into the office. For whatever reason I find that I am most productive at the office, in a professional environment. I seem to have the tools, space and environment that I find conducive to high productivity work when I am in a business office. I find that I am reasonably productive when I travel to a remote company location and can work from an office while there, as well. It seems to be the transit time where it is difficult for me to work.

It is possible that my productivity on a plane has decreased with the available room to work on a plane. There was a time in the dim, glorious past where a standard coach seat on a plane was a whopping thirty inches wide and there was a staggering thirty two inches of leg room for each seat, in coach no less. Now it seems that there is only twenty seven inches of seat room and twenty eight inches of leg room (if you are lucky). That means we the travelers on average have lost two hundred and four square inches of room on the plane. That is almost one and a half square feet. That is a loss of approximately twenty one percent of the space that we used to get to travel in.

For comparison’s sake, my laptop computer measures eight inches by twelve inches, or is approximately ninety six square inches. On average we have lost more than two laptop computers worth of room on the average airplane seat.

Isn’t it interesting how the cost of travel continues to increase but the space that our airline ticket now purchases has decreased so significantly?

I don’t know how I was going to relate the loss of one and a half square feet of space with my difficulty in being able to work on a plane. I don’t remember being particularly able to work that much better on the old roomier seats. Perhaps it is the now much closer proximity of other people who are also not working on the plane, but who do seem to have over active bladders that is affecting me.

I do however remember being able to sleep more comfortably in the old coach seats.

Regardless, what I find is that I am not as productive when I travel as when I am in the office. I suspect to some extent this is the case for everyone, with the possible exception of my daughter. She seems to be able to conduct her work, which appears to consist of the use of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and any other number of social media programs, equally well from anywhere. Maybe that is the future of business as well, although I haven’t heard if she can study for her classes as well while on a road trip with her girl friends as she can in her dorm room, but she definitely can “tweet” up a storm.

This brings me in a roundabout way to the topic of if travel actually is efficient. I have had to think about this one for a while. We spend a lot of time and money on travel. Do we actually get our monies worth out of it?

I guess it really depends on a few contributing criteria as to whether business travel can be considered efficient and whether or not we think we are getting our monies worth for the resource investment. Criteria such as who is traveling, who are they meeting, what is the purpose of the meeting, how long is the meeting and how long will it take to get there (and back) should all come into play when looking at travel.

With a decreased productivity associate with travel, spending double digit hours in transit to attend an internal meeting that is scheduled for a couple of hours doesn’t seem efficient. On the other hand as I said earlier, meetings with customers would significantly change the balance of this equation.

I have mentioned travel and meetings with customers several times. That doesn’t mean that all travel associated with customers should be construed as necessary, or efficient. There are only so many dinners, sporting events and outings that you can take a customer to before you should expect some progress. Too many times it seems that we have the tendency to associate meetings with customers as progress. Meetings with customers are activities. As I said earlier, time with a customer should be precious, but progress is actually closing deals with customers and getting contracts.

What this means that in many instances it is difficult to know if the meeting with the customer is going to progress the desired result of a business contract or a product order, or if it will be just another activity.

I guess the bottom line is that travel, even travel to see customers is more expensive from an efficiency and work opportunity lost point of view than just the cost of the airfare and hotel. When you travel you have to put several other functions and opportunities on hold or at least in a lower priority state in order to focus on the travel task at hand. I think it might have been viewed in the past that travel was some sort of break from the grind of work and hence travel might have been something to look forward to.

It’s not.

And as business and the world in general speed up and virtualizes, I am not even sure that it is really an efficient way of conducting much of our business anymore. There is definitely a place for travel, particularly where customer contact is concerned, but I am not so sure about anywhere else.

Maybe I have just traveled enough and don’t want to “get” to travel anymore.

Flying Fourth Class

Please take note of the following comment as it is one that I would never have thought that even I would ever say. Starting off like that ought to get your attention. I have been told by those that know me that they are continually surprised by what I say. I have also been told that I have a tendency to go ahead and say what others were thinking but decided not to say. These events seem to occur when the buffer between my brain and mouth is either overloaded, or I have decided to just not engage it. As you might guess on occasion I have gotten in trouble for what I have said.

So, with that kind of a build-up, here goes:

I sure miss the good old days when I could fly coach.

For those of you who are not fully versed in the class warfare that is occurring daily in our skies, let me try to elaborate. I will focus my comments primarily on international flights since it appears that it is on these flights where the new “under-class” has appeared.

At the very top, the acme, the apex of the travel class hierarchy is “First Class”. They usually sit at the very front of the plane. They get on first. They have no baggage limitation rules. Flight attendants throw rose petals in the aisles in front of them as they walk to their seats. They get the good booze, and as much of it as they want, without ever having to ask.

It is a mythical place where they get to sit, as they are a mythical people who can afford the exorbitant prices required to sit there. People who sit in first class normally carry a scepter when they get on the plane. They wear capes and cloaks that are lined with real fur. If one is ever caught wearing faux-fur they are immediately removed. It took a special dispensation to allow the pilot of the plane to be able to walk through first class to get to the flight deck so that he could in fact fly the plane.

The next class of traveler in the pantheon of sky people is “Business Class”. This title is a misnomer. Very few if any “business people” can actually afford to sit in business class. Business class is only slightly less expensive than first class. I believe this slight price reduction is because that in business class you do not get the complimentary manicure and pedicure that is normally associated with first class.

Business class is usually populated by only the captains of industry. The CEOs, the movers, the shakers, the people whose corporate jets are either down for maintenance, or don’t have the flight range capability to actually fly the required ten to twelve hours needed to cross major oceans on international flights. People in business class normally have perfect teeth, expensive clothes and great tans.

The business class seat in principle is very similar to the first class seat in that it has the capability to be fully reclined into a bed where the weary traveler can sleep away the duration of the flight. The primary difference is that it is not in the very front of the plane, and it is separated from first class by a curtain. This curtain is a metaphorical iron curtain as there is normally a guard stationed there (in the guise of a flight attendant) to keep any would be social climbers from trying to use the first class toilet.

I still don’t know what the first class toilet looks like. I have heard rumors that in addition to an actual commode it also has a bidet, and one of those attendants that hands you rags, towels, and mints.

This brings us to the next set of seats; Coach Class. Instead of the four seats across that you have in first class, and the six seats across that you have in business class (all of which recline fully flat into beds) you now have nine seats across in coach class. These are the normal airline seats that we are all familiar with. They have been fully padded and engineered to be as physically uncomfortable as is possible, without actually being charged with some sort of cruelty crime. Coach seats don’t recline so much as they lean back, a little.

Coach class is nominally populated by mere mortals: People who are either trying to get somewhere, or get home after having been somewhere. Occasionally you will see newlyweds in coach. You can readily identify them as the will be the only ones smiling as they take their seats in coach. He will also be the only man that will help a woman put her carry-on bag in the overhead bin.

Nothing is complimentary in coach. You must buy your own booze and snacks and the flight attendants will only grudgingly give you a choice of inedible chicken or unappetizing pasta for your mandated meal. Digestive medications are premium priced and extra in coach. The experienced coach traveler brings their own snacks and drinks with them on board the plane.

This brings us to the new under-class in air travel: “Economy Coach Class”. Yes, it is true. Enterprising airlines have created a new lower class of coach. A while ago I would not have thought that it could be possible, but just as physicist Steven Hawking was able to create a unified theory of black holes and string theory, airline theoreticians were able to conceive of a passenger class that was lower than coach. Once thought of, it was only a matter of time before its practicality was empirically tested.

Instead of the nine seats across that are present in coach class, economy coach class has ten seats across the plane. Yes, it is true, ten seats. How can they do that you may ask? The simple answer is that they made the seats narrower, since it was impossible to make the aisles narrower and still have the drink cart pass through. Now for the average person whose shoulders are narrower than their hips this may not be too much of an issue. However there are some of us whose shoulders are in fact wider than their hips. We are the people who are now learning to sit forward in a chair from the waist down and sideways in it from the waist up.

Think about trying to hold that position, let alone sleep in that position for any number of hours.

Not only did the make the seats narrower, they also did away with all of that excess knee room that members of the coach class basked in. By arranging the rows so that your knees actually touch the seat in front of you, airlines achieved the twin goals of adding more rows (and hence more paying customers per flight) to the plane as well as taking your mind off the fact that unlike coach seats that “lean” back, your economy coach seat is now best described as “tilting” back, just a little bit. It can only tilt back just a little bit because the person sitting behind you also has their knees firmly pressed against the back of your seat. There is not much choice other than to sit straight up in economy coach.

It wasn’t too long ago that business travel, and travel in general might have been considered interesting and borderline enjoyable. As companies continue to work at finding ways to reduce costs, airlines have continued to work at ways to increase the revenues and margins that they are losing as businesses cut their travel related costs. The result is economy coach class: The underworld in the traveler class hierarchy. The class where the only difference between passengers and luggage is that it appears that luggage is handled in a more human and professional manner.

With that being said, I will now wedge myself into my ten across narrowed seat, turn my torso sideways so as to not invade my seat neighbor’s space, tilt my seat back the maximum seven and one half degrees from vertical and attempt to sleep in close proximity to at least two hundred and fifty others for the next ten hours.

Gosh, I love to travel.

More Joys of Travel

Even though every business on the planet continues to try and reduce costs, and those cost reduction efforts almost always include trying to reduce the amount spent on travel, we all seem to continue to have to travel. Personally I no longer see anything remotely alluring about travel. I have grown to regard all planes as not much more than glorified buses with wings. And when the lights are out and you are asleep it is amazing how one hotel room seems to resemble another. If it wasn’t for the opportunity to sample the local cuisines and the local beers, as I have said before, I don’t think there would be any way people could get me to travel anymore.
Oh yeah, there is that opportunity to meet with the customers thing. That is always a good reason to go.
It seems every time I turn on the television there is some commercial by some airline or another touting the fact that they are upgrading their fleet to the latest and greatest equipment available. I meet this with a decidedly mixed response. I like the fact that the old planes are being replaced by new ones and that there is now presumably a reduced opportunity for a mid flight malfunction that would cause the plane to suddenly become un-airworthy. I am much in favor of reducing the possibilities of this occurrence. 
On the other hand I know that the new planes will still have the same issue for me associated with the recycling of the cabin air in the plane that always uncomfortably dries out my skin, my eyes and my sinuses. This recycled cabin air makes it almost impossible for me to answer the customs agent’s questions regarding why I am visiting whatever place I am visiting. Blinking violently with blood shot eyes and choking in the middle of saying you are visiting for business, is not the most recommended way to try and enter a foreign country. It has a tendency to invite further questions and scrutiny, which always enjoyable.
One of the ways to deal with the dryness of the air in the cabin is to drink fluids. Water is always preferred, but if pressed as I have said before, I will replace the water with beer. No, wait a minute. I meant beer. Beer is always the preferred as the source of fluid replenishment while flying. If you are going to replenish fluids beer can help do that as well as provide other life sustaining nutrients. The only problem with replenishing much needed fluids while on an extended flight is that this occasionally results in the need to go to the bathroom.
For those of you who have not been on any of the new fleets of airplanes recently put in service, as advertised by the airlines, the new planes are designed to accommodate people with an efficiency that would make a modern automated sardine canning factory jealous. I believe that one of the ways they have accomplished this density of packing is by reducing the number of bathrooms on the plane. On most international flights these days you now have more than three hundred people sitting together for upwards of nine to ten hours and they all get to share the same two bathrooms. And these are not just ordinary bathrooms. These are single occupancy bathrooms that occupy no more than two square feet of precious and expensive space on these new airplanes that could otherwise be occupied by fare paying passengers. They are very cozy, if you know what I mean.
Despite this fact it seems that everyone who uses one of these bathrooms seems to believe that they are the only person that has to deal with a call of nature. They usually leave it in a condition that rivals that of a freshman’s dorm room immediately after a victorious homecoming football game celebration. Believe it or not I have actually seen someone bring their razors and hair driers into these bathrooms, apparently so they can look their best when they exit the plane after an overnight flight. In situations like this, one must plan for their bathroom needs well in advance or face the potential for a stressful wait.
The only thing more uncomfortable than standing in front of two hundred people waiting to use the micro-bathroom is sitting in a minimally padded chair for more than nine or ten hours. In another one of the airline’s efforts to be ever more cost efficient most airlines have adapted their jets to handle the largest number of passengers possible. They have done this by removing all the useless, unprofitable space possible.
Most of us commonly refer to this useless, unprofitable space as leg room.
They have also ingeniously compensated for this removal of leg room by modifying the seats so that they will no longer recline more than one and a half inches. By doing this they can continue to claim that you have the comfort of a reclining seat without actually having to provide you a seat that truly reclines. In the coach seats that are all that most businesses will pay for during business travel, you now get the opportunity to sit essentially erect with your knees firmly pressed against the seat in front of you for the entire flight. You are also afforded the opportunity to be continually reminded of this situation in that most usually the person in the seat behind you has their knees firmly against the back of your seat as well.
There are many seating options on a long flight. You have the choice of having people crawl over you on their way to waiting in line in front of everyone to use the bathroom, or conversely being the one that crawls over everyone on your way to standing line in front of everyone to go to the bathroom. For the unfamiliar, this means that you can either sit on the aisle or you can sit somewhere else. On the aisle everyone sitting inside of you gets to crawl over you when they want or need to get up. If you are not on the aisle, then you are one of the ones doing the crawling. I have come to the conclusion that I prefer to be crawled over instead of having to do the crawling.
There are those that prefer the window seat. I have done some empirical testing of my own by sitting in the window seat, and I guess I just don’t get it. The window seat provides a wonderful view of the airport when you are taking off or landing, unless you are doing one of those things at night, otherwise it affords you a wonderful view of the sky, the clouds, or most usually on an international flight, the night. Personally a great view of the various airports and the dark night sky does not hold great allure to me while travelling.
While flying does present several entertaining opportunities for comfort and enjoyment, it is at least flying. I recently had the opportunity to visit a major city that did not in fact have an airport with major airline service. I didn’t think those types of major metropolises existed anymore, but apparently they do. This necessitated travel via a means other than and in addition to air travel. I had to fly ten hours plus, and then take a train. Perhaps in the future I’ll relate the joys of train travel, but for now I’ll be content in having related more of the joys associated with international coach class air travel.

The Elegance of Travel

As the leader of your organization it is your responsibility to be both visible to the team, and to be where you are needed. This will necessitate travel. In some situations, a significant amount of travel. Do not delegate it. Get the ticket. Get on the plane and go.

Many people consider the concept of travel to be elegant. They associate it with the way it is portrayed on TV. I guess it depends on what your definition of “elegant” is.

Most of the time you will be leaving later in the day (so that you can get at least some work done earlier in the day). You will be arriving at your destination later in the day / evening (if you are traveling domestically. If you are travelling internationally there is no telling when you will be arriving).

You will travel on what amounts to a glorified bus with wings, except that it will be more cramped than a bus, with less leg room. There will be only stale, recycled air to breathe and no place to put your luggage. You will strive to get to the front of the line to board so that there may be room for your carry on bag because you don’t want to take the risk of losing you bag should you be forced to check it.

You will rent a small car, at night in an unfamiliar town. You will not be allowed to rent a
GPS system due to cost saving measures by your company. You will then try and locate an unknown hotel, in the dark, based on directions given to you by the stranger behind the car rental counter. Since this is the only map and directions you have, you will trust them implicitly.

Once you find the hotel, in the dark, you will rent a room. There are two types of rooms at hotels; Non-Smoking, and those that are uninhabitable. Hopefully you will have reserved the correct one. You will then hang up your clothes for the next days meeting and put your toiletries in the bathroom.

Here is where the “elegance” will come in. You will most likely order Room Service for dinner and start scanning the channels on the TV for anything of possible interest.

You will eat hotel food for dinner. You will sleep poorly in a strange bed. You will get up, eat (again, hotel food), rely on the directions from the stranger behind the hotel desk on how to get to your destination (hopefully on time), and try to navigate the rush hour in a strange town, amongst the friendly people on the road who have little to no time for people who do not know where they are going.

You will have your meeting.

You will then hurry back to the airport to try and return the car, get through security and get on your glorified bus in record time so that you can get home before
midnight so that you can get a few hours of sleep before your 8:00 meeting the next morning in your office.

Conference calls are good, but they are sometimes not a substitute for “being there”. It is your responsibility. Pack up and go.

And just smile and nod when someone reminds you about how much fun, and how elegant travel is.