This post is part of a series in which LinkedIn Influencers and members share their business travel advice and stories from life on the road. Read all the posts here.
One film quickly became a cult classic among business travelers – Up in the Air. And George Clooney’s character in it – a consultant who flies around the country firing people whose boss doesn’t have the guts to do it – became the yardstick for road warriors. Can you spot the fastest TSA line at a glance? Can you name every airport in the film? What seat do you choose at online check-in? (Please tell me you use online check-in…) And the ultimate question: how many miles?
We put these same questions to our Influencers, a group of road warriors if ever there was one. This week, 60+ of them share their lessons and their best – and worst – stories from a life spent on the road. Listen up, and you’ll never look at an airport the same way again.
Business travel has rules and the most uncontested one is this: never check luggage. Ever. From World Bank president Jim Kim to Rockefeller’s Judith Rodin, from GE’s Beth Comstock to Beyond Philosophy’s Colin Shaw, all have learned to make the most of a roll-aboard. It’s not so much that it’ll get lost, Richard Moran explains, it’s that a checked suitcase is like an anchor tying you to that plane. “If you want to change flights, which you will, the first question the gate agent will ask is, ‘Did you check a bag?’,” he warns. (Another option: fashion guru Rachel Zoe sends her – necessarily fabulous – wardrobe ahead of her, by ground transport.) Other hacks include Don Peppers’ step-by-step guide to never experiencing jetlag, Paul Metselaar’s bag of tricks from his own travel consultants at Ovation and Ruslan Kogan’s seriously thought-through analysis of how to get the most bucks for your miles. (Be ready to invest some time…)
Of course, even the best prepared will encounter their share of travel snafus. And as CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg points out, “the funniest travel stories almost always evolve from travel pain”. (“Or pure travel stupidity,” he continues. On that, see how Southwest CEO Gary Kelly once boarded the wrong flight, back when those mishaps were still possible. No, the irony isn’t lost on him.) Greenberg’s story of an overbooked plane boarding in Lagos, Nigeria under the eye of a trigger-happy colonelis a must-read.
And here are a few more. Joel Peterson faced the worst day of his time as JetBlue’s chairman when on a Valentine’s Day a winter storm froze aircraft to the ground at New York’s JFK airport. The airline had been too slow in canceling flights and passengers showed up, with tempers quickly rising when they found out they wouldn’t go anywhere. “That’s when our general counsel found himself on a ticket counter with a megaphone calling for the National Guard for help,” Peterson writes. “It was a pretty good clue that things had gone seriously awry.” Things went awry too for Australian entrepreneur Creel Price when, on an epic 60-hour trek from Hong Kong to Tel Aviv, he found himself running through London’s Heathrow airport and spending quality time with a Mossad interrogator. Warby Parker’s Neil Blumenthal learned the value of deodorant while waiting through a blackout at an Indian airport. And no less than three Influencers were diverted by an erupting volcano. UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon ended up driving across Argentina in a bus, Spencer Stuart’s Jim Citrin did the same in European trains and Science House’s Rita King participated in an impromptu TedX at the airport before boarding a British “booze cruise.” You can’t make this stuff up. But whatever travel delay you encounter, you can keep things in perspective because none will beat Eileen Collins seeing the Space Shuttle flight she commanded get cancelled before take-off!
Perspective is indeed essential. “Traveling often is frustrating and it can trigger irritable behavior. Counteract those annoyances by building your mindfulness,” Jim Kim advises. “Remind yourself of the opportunity you have to travel, a luxury enjoyed by only a small minority of people in the world.” Business travel isn’t even about you, argues Naomi Simson: it’s about getting the right message to the right people at the right time. Whatever it takes to get there – and she has a couple crazy stories herself – your audience doesn’t need to know.
From bad experiences, ideas can be born too. Uber was famously inspired by a snow storm in Paris and the difficulty founder Travis Kalanick had in finding a taxi. Similarly, it was frustrating flying experiences that pushed Richard Branson to create Virgin Atlantic. “The service was terrible, you were lucky if a frowning cabin crew member dumped a lump of cold chicken on your lap, and the entertainment was non-existent,” he remembers. Cyrus Massoumi got the idea for the online medical appointment platform Zocdoc after rupturing his eardrum on a flight and struggling to find a doctor. An idle mind is a great cradle for creativity so many advise against filling every minute of your schedule with meetings. Halliburton’s Jeff Miller has a great technique: the second you check into your hotel room, put on your running gear. You’ll beat jetlag, see a new city and let your mind roam free. “If you want to improve productivity and focus, you need to let your analytical mind rest,” echoes Hightower CEO Elliott Weissbluth, hoping against hope that cellphones will remain forever switched off in the sky. When you’re flying, so should your mind, agrees Beth Comstock. Rather than use your flight to catch up on work projects, let your mind wander. Take time to think, to reflect, to imagine… and to remember.
You should have read this post two weeks ago. But when Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, only to be followed by two more crashes in the ensuing days, we paused. We mourn hundreds of fellow travelers and can only imagine the pain of their families and friends. Is it right then, in a summer of harrowing news stories, to count down our travel pet peeves or check boxes on our wishlist of international destinations? Yes, we say, because travel is the best weapon. It opens our eyes and our hearts to the world, as it did for Charlene Li when she decided to remove her earplugs and start talking to her seat neighbors or Peter Guber who learned an unforgettable cross-cultural lesson when giving a disastrous presentation in Japan. Expedia’s Dara Khosrowshahi likes to quote Mark Twain, who says travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness. (He – that is, Dara – also says don’t check your bag!) Whether you travel for business or pleasure, chances are you’ll meet someone you never would have otherwise. You’ll talk over a miniature whiskey, commiserate over a crying baby and maybe, just maybe, come out understanding a fellow human a little bit better. And that is worth celebrating.
In the end, as Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson wisely writes, the biggest travel mistake is not going.
How do you cope on the road? What are your travel stories and best advice for fellow road warriors or newbie travelers? Please share your own thoughts here on LinkedIn, making sure to include the hashtag #biztravel in the body of your post (not the headline). And share the link for us all to read here.