In my latest book, I recount one of my own trips from San Francisco to New York City during which everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The disaster involved a red-eye flight, a last-minute re-ticket to a middle seat, a seatmate toting a cat (to which I am allergic), someone else's medical crisis, an emergency landing in Chicago, a post-landing "sink shower" and public suit change in the JFK lavatory, and a stressful taxi ride rushing to a meeting that was ultimately canceled at the last minute.
There were many trips like that, and after a while, one becomes inured to the indignities. But along the way you learn tricks from fellow road warriors—the tricks they typically don't want to tell the newbies.
The entire process of business air travel is fraught with land mines that, if navigated incorrectly, can ruin the way you get there, and maybe even your performance after you do. Here are 10 travel do’s and don'ts to learn before you leave for the airport:
- DON'T check a bag. It's not about the fees or the schlep factor. It's about changing flights, which you'll want to do at some point. When this inevitably happens, the first question any gate agent will ask you: “Did you check a bag?"
- DON'T get behind the family. When it comes to airport lines, find a fellow road warrior to get behind. As cute as babies are, getting in line behind the family with the stroller at security is just plain inefficient, and it's going to slow you down.
- DON'T expect an upgrade. Getting a surprise upgrade may be everyone's fantasy, but the chances of this happening these days, even for frequent business travelers, are few and far between in the age of computerized automated seating and stricter airline regulations. But do remember as you file through those marginally larger, overpriced seats on your way to coach: You're all ending up in the same place.
- DO go into Zen mode... You may be thousands of feet in the air, but any kind of travel is a breeding ground for anxiety, impatience, and frustration. While total inner calm is probably impossible, do your best to not let the sounds, smells, and other annoyances get to you. Your state of mind won't magically transform when the wheels hit the runway, and “disgruntled” isn't productive, nor is it a professional look.
- ...so, DON'T travel with your boss on a flight that lasts over an hour. Being stuck inches away from your boss isn't "Zen" conducive. They say the experience of traveling together is so illuminating that it can decide if your significant other is truly "the one." Alas, your boss is not your boyfriend, girlfriend, or anyone you'd want to reveal the cooped-up, trapped-in-the-air side of your personality to, and certainly not the best shoulder to sleep (and probably drool) on.
- DON'T use the front pockets. The Bermuda Triangle of air travel is real, and it's sitting right in front of you. Anything you place in the handy pocket will likely be forgotten, lost, and never retrieved. Airlines aren't exactly known for their lost and found departments. Avoid a lot of grief by showing up with your own system in place to hold your glasses, passports, and those other important things.
- DO bring reading material. No matter how much work you have to do, breaks are essential. Bring a book, either a paper or electronic one. And People magazine doesn't count. Remember, interesting people do well, and interesting people read.
- DO bring headphones. You may not be a music enthusiast, but nothing says, “I don't want to talk to you” like a good pair of headphones. Plus, airline headphones aren't very good. Pop in your own pair and save yourself a lot of distraction.
- DO be alert for bad news. There are certain phrases that every seasoned traveler knows signal doom. They range from the obvious "unfortunately..." to "shuttle bus," "system problems," "storm" or "The president is in town," to what I consider the absolute worst: "We're going to need to check that bag." They can come from the cockpit, a text or maybe even the mouth of another weary traveler. And remember: The "good news, bad news" expression never carries real good news.
- And last... DON'T go (if at all possible). Remember the airplane conundrum of the seat-in-front-of-you kickback. Do you rudely return the kick to them? Pop your own seat back out of spite? Write a letter to the airline? No matter what etiquette you handle the annoyance with... there's no way you'll get room to use your laptop. This certainly isn't the only reason not to travel. There are simply too many stresses and too many ways to deviate from your plan. If it's at all possible, opt for the conference call instead.
The contest I don't want to enter is for “Worst Business Travel Story.” Every seasoned traveler has them. There's a certain set of instincts one must develop to protect themselves from disappointments and prepare for the war that is travel. One must develop a unique dance to deal with the challenges travel presents, and I'm here to share my secrets to navigating the downright unpredictable. iBi
Richard Moran is the president of Menlo College in Atherton, California, and the author of The Thing About Work: Showing Up and Other Important Matters. For more information, visit richardmoran.com.