lunes, 24 de septiembre de 2007

Travel as a professional sport

In the past 12 months I have metered more than 250,000 travel miles thanks to my new job. After losing three consecutive airplane connections during the summer to and from San Antonio, Texas, I felt compelled to write a few recommendations for my fellow business travelers, as I finally realized that business traveling has become a professional sport.
Two of those connections lost meant an average of four more hours of wait time. In one occasion I got off the plane in San Antonio before departure, which forced me to arrive days later to my destination.
More than ever, traveling requires a plan, and if you want to get to your destination you might better stick to it.
No surprisingly for the three-strikes-a-month-passenger, the nation’s largest airlines recorded a lower rate of on-time flights and a higher rate of mishandled baggage and canceled flights nation-wide on June than a month and a year before, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
San Antonio’s airport has several qualities: it’s small and manageable size, its lack of crowds, its central location and fairly fast check in and security lines. But when it comes to national or international traveling, its limited destinations force passengers to make – sometimes too many -- connections. And every connection increases the possibility of arriving later than originally planned to your destination. In some cases, that means losing whole days of work.
So what to do?
Here are 10 quick non-exclusive tips to make your business trips better and to increase the chance of getting to your final destination, or at least getting there rested and calm:

1 – PROGRAM AT LEAST THREE HOURS FOR EACH PLANE CONNECTION. National carriers report a 68% arrival time, which means they are late 3 out of 10 times. There are certain routes that are chronically late (Continental’s flight 661 from SA to Newark, NJ, is late 72% of the time. The DOT lists 8 flights that are late 100% of the time, none to or from San Antonio). If you plan less than three hours for a connection the chances of losing it increase considerably.

2 – CHECK IF THE LOCAL AIPORT IS ENFORCING THE THREE HOUR RULE. Some international destinations, like Mexico City, will still enforce a three hour check in rule when the planes are over sold. Check if the airport you’re flying from still enforces this rules.

3 – ASK, ASK, ASK. If you want to catch a connection or make a flight, don’t be afraid to ask anything. Some airports in the US (Atlanta, Newark, Chicago) and abroad (Charles de Gaulle in Paris, Heathrow in London, among many others) are so confusing and complicated you need an instruction manual to navigate them. But it is even better to ask in the information desk before venturing to find something on your own.

4 – MAKE SURE TO SELECT YOUR SEATS DAYS BEFORE YOU BOARD. In a long flight – like the 14 hour new Delta flight from Atlanta to Dubai that I take once a month – you do not want to be stuck in the middle of the aisle. Call your airline days before your departure and make sure you get the seat you like. (For long flights and if you’re able to sleep with no support, aisle seats are strongly recommended.)

5 – USE THE PHONE. I you ever lose a connection and need to rebook a flight you should first try calling the airlines 800 number. Customer assistants on the phone do not have the pressure of dozens of eyeballs staring at them and have exactly the same data bases available to assist you. And, most importantly, you avoid the long slow lines in the airport.

6 – KEEP CALM AND RESPECTFUL. Traveling has become a real serious business in itself. Airline employees are overworked and under-motivated. Rarely are they in the mood to joke under stressful situations. You shouldn’t either. Be respectful and stay calm. Once your plane is gone there is not shouting or bickering that will bring it back. On the other hand, if you’re nice you might get a quick and convenient way out to your final destination.

7 – ADD YOUR MILES TO YOUR AIRLINE PLAN. Do not forget to add miles to your airlines mile plan, not only because you get free tickets after a gazillion flight but because you get priority seating, access to lounges and will get bumped up on waiting lists.

8 – AVOID CERTAIN AIRPORTS. Check out for airports under construction or reparations. London’s Heathrow and Paris’ Charles de Gaulle are two of the busiest airports in Europe and both are common connection hubs. But both are also under expansion, so try to use other airports for your European connections.

9 – TAKE THE TRILOGY WITH YOU: BOOK, PEN AND IPOD. Even if you plan and do your homework, there is always the chance of losing a connection or flight. Stay calm, safe and healthy (eat well!) but also make sure you take plenty of portable tools to help you spend the time productive or entertained.

10 – BE READY FOR SECURITY AND IMMIGRATION. If you’re coming back to the US and making a connection to other US city save enough time to go through customs and immigration. With the huge spike in traveling this summer, immigration lines in some airports where more than an hour wait. And it is required to check your baggage through customs in your first US stop, which takes us back to our first point: plan enough time for your connections and a stress-free trip!

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