For better or worse, I’m back on the business travel road again. And, friends, let me tell you, it’s miserable out there these days.
Here are some woes my friends and I have faced — and what you can do to avoid them.
First, remember that COVID-19 continues to be a problem. At my last conference, three of the organization’s top leaders came down with it immediately after they arrived. Organizationally, they managed to juggle all their duties — but for a while, I thought I’d end up introducing keynote speakers!
(Fortunately for all, it didn’t come to that.)
It’s important to be well organized when you travel, so if you or a member of your crew gets sick, you can keep going.
And it’s wise to bring a COVID test with you to ensure that sore throat, sneeze, or whatever is just allergies and not the virus.
I always pack a minimum of two tests with me now; convention hotels don’t seem to keep them in stock.
Another major headache is you actually can’t count on flights to get to your destination on time. Or even at all!
Of the last three events I’ve been to, hundreds of people’s flights were delayed by more than three hours. And I knew dozens at each event whose flights were canceled outright or so late that they didn’t bother to show up.
Flight cancellations and delays have become an epidemic.
During the Father’s Day and Juneteenth weekend, 3,000 flights were canceled and more than 19,000 delayed. Ironically, even U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg had a flight canceled after an airline executives meeting last month. So he wound up having to drive to New York from D.C.
What’s going on? It’s an ugly combination of not enough airline staff, too few airline controllers — and COVID-19.
This is not likely to get better anytime soon.
While the airlines and the FAA squabble over who should take the blame, travelers just want to get to their destinations.
What can you do? First, make your reservations for as early in the day as you can.
Airline troubles tend to snowball as the day goes on. But, with luck, you’ll arrive at your destination before trouble catches up to you.
A corollary to this is to avoid tight connections.
One airline’s automated system gave me a flight with a 45-minute gap between segments. With delays everywhere, there’s no way I’m taking a chance that I’ll miss that tight connection.
Whenever possible, book a direct flight.
For instance, if you live in a small city, you might want to drive to your nearest major airport. Indeed, some people are driving seven — yes, seven — hours to avoid missed connections.
Better still, if you have a business meeting on Monday afternoon, fly in on Sunday morning. Yes, you’ll end up with more hotel bills, but at least there’s a much better chance you’ll make your meeting.
Let’s say it’s the day you’re going to the airport. To get an idea of what you’ll face in the air that day, bookmark and check FlightAware.
In particular, the well-named Misery Map can show you what’s going wrong at the major airports. Of course, you should also manually check the status of your flight on your airline’s website.
If there’s a delay, there are many thoughts on your best move.
Personally, I grit my teeth and get to the airport at the originally scheduled time. Why? Because you never know.
For instance, if the delay is due to a ground halt for weather, your flight will launch into the air as quickly as possible once it’s cleared up.
If your flight is canceled outright, don’t spend time standing in line to talk to someone.
Use the airline’s online app or in-airport kiosk to rebook a flight as fast as possible. There won’t be many seats on the alternatives, and you want the best possible option.
And when things really go south — say your next available flight won’t be for two days — try finding a ticket agent. No luck? And the airline call center has you on a hold time measured in hours? Try The Point Guy’s recommended ways to get ahead in the phone line.
Finally, if you have access to an airline club, go there. The front desk staff may be able to help you.
Even if they can’t, at least you can sit down, have a drink, and try to figure out your next move calmly.
Even there, though, you may run into trouble.
For example, I have beaucoup status with Delta. But I don’t have Diamond status; it’s top rank. I recently couldn’t get into an Atlanta Delta Sky Club because, thanks to overcrowding, they were only letting Diamond members in.
Let’s face it; no one’s that happy these days regarding travel.
I suggest you take a deep breath and practice meditation. Eventually, you’ll get to your destination. Or not. Either way, you might as well relax. Stressing about it won’t help.
Being prepared will.
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