By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
As the publisher of a trade magazine, I frequently travel to conventions and industry shows. And as a consultant, I frequently travel to my clients’ call centers. Therefore, it may surprise you that I don’t like to travel, especially to fly – the unpredictability, the impersonality, and the loss of control. I am a homebody, perfectly content to stay within the comfort of my home — my castle – which is also my office. It’s not that I am people adverse, because with the telephone, email, and IM (instant messaging), I am always in communication. It is simply that I enjoy being home and anything else, including travel, pales with the comfort of home sweet home.
Like any traveler, I have many stories. One time, awaiting a connecting flight in Detroit and anxious to return home, I sat at the sparsely occupied gate, immersed in my crossword puzzle. Suddenly, an announcement interrupted my focus, “Now boarding all rows, all passengers for flight 3512 for Kalamazoo; this is the final boarding.” Strange, I mused; I had apparently tuned out all the previous announcements. Grateful that I heard this one, I walked alone to the gate and handed the agent my ticket. “We wondered if you were here,” she smiled. Perplexed at such a strange comment, I smiled back and inanely replied, “Yes, I am here,” and proceeded through the doorway. The door shut behind me. Walking down the empty jet way, I stepped onto the plane; the flight attendant informed me that I was the only passenger. She asked if I would be needing beverage service. I thanked her and joked that she could take the night off. Later, as I deplaned in Kalamazoo, I inquired if this thing happened very often. “Occasionally,” she replied. “Once the plane was empty. But we have to fly anyway, because it needs to be in Kalamazoo for an early flight the next day.” So, for the price of a normal commercial ticket, I had a private flight with a personal flight attendant.
Another time, while anxiously waiting for my flight to Chicago – where I had a tight 40 minute connection – there was an announcement of a delay: 30 minutes, then an hour, then more. Finally, two hours past the scheduled departure, we had boarded and were ready to taxi. Then an unusual announcement has made. This was to be the captain’s final flight for the airline, as he was retiring after 22 years of service. To celebrate, 22 members of his family were on the plane with him. As was tradition in these cases, we would taxi past two fire trucks, which would spray a canopy of water over and on the plane. As we proceeded, parallel to the terminal, I noticed the windows lined with airline personnel, waving their goodbyes. Soon, passengers irrepressibly began waving back. Then came another surprise announcement, “Because this is the captain’s final flight, ground control has given us priority clearance for departure; we are next in-line for take-off.” Never before had I witnessed such a speedy departure. The runway even pointed us towards Chicago. In seemingly no time, there was another announcement, “We have enjoyed a strong tail wind and we are getting ready to land in Chicago. Because this is the captain’s final flight, air traffic control has given us priority clearance to land.” Again it was a straight shot to the runway and we quickly landed. Then a third unexpected announcement was made. “Because this is our captain’s final flight, ground control has given us priority to taxi to our gate.” “Could it be,” I wondered as I glanced at my watch. My departing flight left on time – and I was on it!
For my final story, I was traveling with two co-workers. We were headed home, again connecting in Chicago. It was winter and we landed only to learn that our flight home, the last one of the day, was cancelled due to weather. As the more savvy travelers snapped up all the rental cars, we sought other options; alas, the only one was to spend the night in Chicago and fly home the next day. That was the last thing I wanted to do. I anticipated sleeping in my own bed that night and anything else would be second-rate. Plus one of my associates was ill and the other was beginning her vacation the next morning with an early fight out for a cruise. If we delayed until the next day, she would miss her flight and part of the cruise. There were no more flights, no buses, and no rental cars. We were 150 miles from home. It was a desperate time, which called for desperate measures. Outside, a city employee was orchestrating cab rides. “What would be the possibility of getting a cabbie to take us to Kalamazoo, Michigan?” I inquired. “We really need to get home tonight,” I desperately added. Glancing at our discouraged and tired faces, she responded positively, “Let me find you a good ride.” After putting local fares in the next five cabs, a nice new cab, with a competent looking driver, pulled up. “This is your cab,” she smiled, with a grand wave towards our coach. She had a preliminary discussion with the now bewildered cabbie. Once I assured him that I could provide directions, we were off. Four hours later he dropped us off at the Kalamazoo airport. I paid the $380 fare and we each headed home. Later the airline refunded our unused tickets, so the net cost of our 150 mile cab ride was only $30.
Although there were other stories I could have shared, remember I don’t like to fly, I picked these for a reason. Each one is positive: a private flight, a priority trip, and an accommodating cabbie. These represent the perspective I have when I fly. I call it travel mode. To successfully travel, I need to be in travel mode. There are three aspects to it:
Have a plan: If you don’t have a plan to occupy the idle time when you fly, you will be bored and irritable. My plan starts with magazines to read. I don’t take ones I want to keep, as each one gets thrown away when it is read, making my load a little lighter. Magazines are for sitting in gates, standing in line, and before take off. Naturally, there are crossword puzzles in the in-flight magazines to occupy the actual flight. Movies, another favorite pastime, are a welcome offering on longer flights. Plus there is the added benefit of the more objectionable material being edited out. Finally, there are the rewards I give myself at each hub airport: food; frozen yogurt or popcorn are much anticipated treats. My plan beneficially fills my travel time. (I have another plan for hotels.)
Be realistic: I used to have the expectation that an airline schedule was an accurate representation of what would happen. The fact that airlines begin padding their schedules to boast a higher on-time arrival, did little to erase my frequent disappointment. Then I realized that a more reasonable attitude was to assume the plane would be late and to rejoice with an on-time or early arrival. Here’s why. Let’s say a trip has two flights there and two flights back. If one flight is late, do you remember the three that were on time? No, you dwell on the one that was late. Now look at it mathematically. Assume that each flight has an on-time arrival of 70%. That means that for the two flights to get to your destination, you only have a 49% chance that both flights will be on time. To include your return flights, you only have a 24% chance of all four planes being on time. And if you have three flights (two hubs) in each direction, your odds of all six being on time drop to 11%. With proper and realistic expectations, your chances of being disappointed are greatly reduced. This isn’t optimism versus pessimism; it’s realism.
Make the most of it: Is business travel something to be endured or an experience to be relished? If your perspective is one of tolerance, then you will gravitate towards the negative. If your perspective is one of adventure (I’m not quite there yet), then you will remember the positive – like I have done with my three stories. And there are many more. You meet people by chance whom you will never see again, yet a lasting impression is made. A simple kindness to another traveler uplifts one’s spirit. Even spending time to check out the airport architecture or infrastructure is not without its rewards.
I have just shared my prescription for travel mode, the perspective I need for a successful trip. However, this can be applied to any task or endeavor in order to realize a positive outcome: have a plan, be realistic, and make the most of it.