FOR THE RECORD: THIS IS WHO WE ARE
By Joe Brancatelli
June 11, 2009 -- Someone really said to me this week that I must live an exciting life as a business traveler. She was serious. And envious.
It took all of my self-control not to respond: Why not trying telling that to the folks who died on Air France Flight 447 last week or the business travelers who died on Tuesday in the bombing of the Pearl Continental hotel in Peshawar, Pakistan?
Instead, I was polite and sent her an E-mail explaining that what I do is not glamorous or particularly exotic. Yes, I said, I do get to many wonderful parts of America and the world that I would have never seen had I not been a business traveler. But far too often my only memory of the place is a chain hotel's conference room or another bleary-eyed ride to another airport to face another stone-faced security screener or bone-tired flight attendant.
I also attached part of what appears below in an attempt to explain who we business travelers are and what we do. It was from a column I wrote years ago called Us, Explained.
After two weeks of back-to-back tragedies, of the hearings into the man-made miracle of US Airways Flight 1549 and the rehash of the fire-and-ice of Continental Connection Flight 3407, I can't imagine why anyone would want to be us. I'm not even sure we want to be us.
But, for better and for worse, this is who we are.
WE'RE BUSINESSPEOPLE WHO TRAVEL
When you wake up in the morning and stare into the mirror in your hotel room, you see a business person who happens to be working in a remote location. Your needs and goals and motivation are no different than yesterday, when you happened to be working at your desk. But no one else gets it. They think that stepping onto an airplane or checking into a hotel room transforms you into a "traveler," a mythic beast who roams the globe in search of diversion, enlightenment and pleasure. In fact, you are a stranger in a strange land trying to get your work done, but the whole world treats you as if you're a globe-trotting sybarite on holiday.
WE HATE THE WORD 'NO'
Business travel is so expensive that only the best, brightest and most important corporate citizens are now permitted to go on the road. That means we are people of power and influence in our firms. We give directions or formulate strategies and expect people in our company to do what we ask them to do. We rarely hear the word "no" in our office. But then we go on the road and the answer is always "no." "No," you can't upgrade to first class, or "No," your reservation isn't in the computer, or "No," we don't have your rental car. Worse, the people who tell us "no" on the road are overworked, underpaid clerks. They would never, ever, say "no" to their bosses. But we are fair game. That's why we are always frustrated and cranky. Somebody on the road just told us "no"--and we never saw it coming.
WE'RE SMARTER THAN THEY ARE
Business travelers don't get to be people of power and influence without being good at what they do. We fight and win our battles in the dog-eat-dog, only-the-strong-survive, Darwinian world of free enterprise. We grow, learn and conquer in the free and competitive marketplace of ideas, products and services. On the other hand, the airline industry has been deregulated for only 30 years. Airline executives and airline corporate cultures aren't even a generation removed from the cost-plus, quasi-utility environment of their past. And when they get into trouble, there always seems to be a politician in their back pocket with a tax break or a bailout. Every time we walk onto an airplane, we look at how things are run and we know we can manage better, market better, sell better, plan better and satisfy customers better than the arrogant, hot-house flowers who run the airlines. We're tougher and smarter than most top airline managers and their incompetence and their condescension make us angry. We want to work with profitable vendors that give good service. Instead, we have airlines that lose billions, abuse their line employees and treat us like trash. And then they have the unmitigated gall to tell us their problems are all our fault.
THE AIRLINES DRIVE THE BUS
It may be a mixed metaphor, but it's true: The airlines drive the bus. They lead--and we're forced to follow. They control our destinies as well as our destinations. We may spend more time (and money) in hotels and rented cars, but our lives on the road are dominated by our relationship with the airlines. Maybe it's because we spend all that time in a metal tube with our lives in their hands. Whatever the reason, what the airlines do affects our mental, business and physical equilibrium more than anything that the hotel or car-rental industries do.
OUR 80/20 RULE
The world lumps all business travelers into one group. We know better. The 80 percent of us whose business travels are primarily domestic know that we lead totally different lives from the 20 percent of us who are international business travelers. Domestic business travelers and international business travelers have nothing in common except that we know the rest of the world doesn't understand the differences between us.
PERKS, NOT POINTS
The road to our hearts, minds and wallets is not paved with frequent flyer miles or frequent stay points. Frequent travelers have all the miles and points they need--and far more free trips than we can ever claim. We earn so many miles for expenditures on the core business-travel products (transportation, lodging, credit cards and telecommunications), we're not going to buy a couch or a magazine because we get some more miles. The gamers may relish the opportunity to refinance their mortgages or fly a "mileage run" or switch gas stations for miles, but real business travelers are too busy for those games. What we want from the frequent travel programs is perks: the recognition that we are loyal, profitable customers; the upgrades and preferred treatment; a slightly more comfortable life while we do business on the road; and a simple "thank you" for emptying our wallets into their cash registers.
WE'RE ABOUT TO IMPLODE
Even 20 years ago our life on the road, despite all of the pitfalls, was a refuge from the craziness of our life in the office and our life on the home front. We hit the road and we left everything behind. And we controlled the access. We called in--to the office or back home--only when and where we felt it was appropriate. No more. With mobile phones, BlackBerrys, laptops and all-Internet-all-the-time access, it's unacceptable to be out of touch. Ever. For even a minute. The result? We're not only managing our road trip, we're also dealing with all the stuff at the office and at home that we once left behind. There's no space anymore. No time anymore. No escape anymore. And we're about to implode because no one can manage all of that all of the time.
WE SOMETIMES LOSE PERSPECTIVE
I wrote this line in 1997 and, more than a decade later, I see it quoted all over the place by all sorts of people: Life on the road stinks. And it gets worse, day by day, week by week, year by year. But truth, especially a stark one, tends to warp our perspective. As miserable as our lives on the road are, we sometimes forget that our problems are nothing compared to the burdens being borne by others on this troubled planet. We've got a right to sing the blues. Just not as loudly as we sometimes do.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
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This column is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.