Trips to Hell and Back
9 Travel tips to save your sanity
Most seasoned business travelers believe they approach the airport in the way a zookeeper would approach a large predator: with cool, yet cautious confidence.
Successfully negotiating lines, juggling flights, knowing which food court has the best Chinese—it’s all second nature.
Unfortunately, the reality is that the airport can disrupt even the most seasoned Zen-traveler’s chi. The following three true stories relate just how badly a business trip can go and offer tips on how to avoid the dreaded phrase, "Sorry, but it’s out of our hands."
Where’s Leslie Nielsen when you need him?
After loyally and uneventfully flying a well-known airline for decades, comedian Jim Dailakis began to wonder if his friends’ horror stories about flying on that same air service were more myth than reality.
One afternoon, he arrived at JFK Airport for a short flight to Syracuse and received a text message that his flight was delayed by an hour. Dailakis prepared to bide his time when a second text message came in. Now his gate had changed. Then a third text message: The flight was delayed further. Then he received another alert… and another….
- The airline tried to compensate passengers with meal vouchers as the delays went into the dinner hour, but none of the nearby eateries could process them.
- Dailakis ended up missing two auditions and an appointment in Syracuse, all of which resulted in lost earnings.
- For some unknown reason, the gate agent stopped using the PA system and resorted to shouting across the crowd.
- As he sat at the various gates, Dailakis received a total of 12 text messages informing him of changes to his flight.
Dailakis notes, "At one point, I swear Leslie Nielsen was going to saunter out and tell us that we shouldn’t worry, because this is just a joke and we’re all part of the hilarious upcoming sequel to Airplane."
As the plane departed late that night with no Leslie Nielsen in sight, he thought how he’d given up the comfort and reliability of Amtrak. "The irony is that I cancelled my ticket because I didn’t want to spend five hours to get to Syracuse from New York."
He later cancelled his airline-issued American Express credit card.
- Be sure the airline has accurate contact information and consider signing up for alerts. It may seem like you’re setting yourself up for unwanted messages from their marketing department, but that far outweighs not knowing when they’re going to make an important logistical change.
- Speak your discontented mind, not only with your calls and emails but also with your wallet. Nothing hits home like getting an earful and then hearing about lost future business, especially if you’re a lifelong customer.
- Don’t bank on movie stars to help out when you’re in a travel pinch—especially if they aren’t alive.
Losing your bag, then your mind
Author Barry Maher flew from California to Virginia to give a presentation on what would turn out to be an ironic topic: customer service. Arriving at his destination, he experienced a sinking feeling as he stared longingly at the luggage carousel’s conveyor belt, willing it to please have one more bag.
Of course, Maher’s bag was a no-show.
- Not only did his lost suitcase contain his clothes for the next day’s presentation, it also contained Maher’s’s books—merchandise he was going to sell.
- After buying new clothes and cutting the books as a loss, the bag arrived at his hotel two days later. During the bag’s journey, Maher realized that someone must have thought it contained a dehydrated plant—the contents were soaked, including his books, thus ruining them.
- He attempted to put in a claim for restitution, but the airline attendant said he’d need to do that at his originating airport in California.
When he returned to California, Maher explains, "The bags were missing yet again. I was amazed. I went to the baggage office and the clerk said the airline wouldn’t pay a damage claim unless I could produce the books, so they could verify the damage."
This was an infuriating demand, considering the airline was behind the reason why Maher couldn’t show them the books. Finally, the clerk noted triumphantly that if the books were truly ruined, it didn’t matter that the airline had lost them in the first place.
- Sadly—you should always travel as if your bags will be lost. Carry on as much as possible, including a change of clothes.
- With today’s heavy baggage fees it’s often cheaper to ship materials ahead of time rather than check them. Plus, having one less heavy item to lug around with you often trumps the extra cost to ship.
- If you do have to check a bag, jot down a quick list of the valuable contents as you’re packing. In the event it mysteriously disappears en route, you don’t want to spare any expense should the apathetic baggage clerk give you that patented "nothing I can do" shrug as he hands you the claim form.
Around 11 a.m. on a Sunday, Cheryl Freer of Gateway Creative Services had just completed the corner-to-corner journey from Rochester, New York, to Los Angeles without a hitch. She left the airport with her roller bag and headed for the rental car lot. Her mind began to swim with mental checklists in preparation for her meetings the next morning.
As Freer hurried to catch the bus, her roller-bag’s wheel caught a rock and tripped her up. She tried to regain her footing but fell and slammed her knee on the concrete.
- Freer tried to call her husband and discuss what she should do—the pain was suffocating—yet the phone kept ringing. She decided to go to the hospital.
- After X-rays and hours of waiting, the doctors said, "We’re not sure if it’s broken… but we don’t think so."
- About 16 hours later, Freer returned to the hotel lobby and found her husband, frantic, on the phone with the desk clerk. A rainstorm had knocked out the power in Rochester. He knew she was landing and staying in rougher section of LA. He hadn’t heard from her, panicked and sent the police searching for his wife.
Freer cancelled her meetings immediately, booked the first flight home and proceeded to navigate through two airports with her knee wrapped only in an Ace bandage.
Yet the ultimate irony was waiting at home: "By the time I reached home, I had been traveling with no sleep and lots of pain for about 26 hours. As my husband and I walked into the house, the telephone rang. It was the Los Angeles hospital calling to tell me that I had fractured my leg," says Freer.
- Like any travel—expect sunshine, prepare for rain. Have a plan should something go really wrong. A broken computer is one thing; a broken bone is another.
- Know how your health insurance works when out of network and do a quick search for the hospital closest to your hotel in which you’re staying.
- Have access to a couple of communication channels to get in touch with family—not just a single phone line, susceptible to the same force majeure as the airlines.
By Caleb Garling