A new book by author, venture capitalist, and college president Richard Moran explains how much can go wrong on a business flight and offers some been there/done-that tips to prevent catastrophe. In The Thing About Work: Showing Up and Other Important Matters, he recounts a particularly awful red-eye trip from San Francisco to New York City that involved a last-minute re-ticket to a middle seat, a seatmate toting a cat (Moran is 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 to a meeting that was ultimately canceled at the last minute.
“I’ve taken many trips like that, and after a while one becomes inured to the indignities,” comments Moran, in his book. Along the way he’s learned some valuable lessons, and a few tricks from seasoned road warriors. Here are just a few.
DON’T check a bag
“It’s not about the fees or the schlep factor,” he explains. It’s more about changing flights, which you may have to do to avoid missing a connection if your current flight is delayed. When this happens, the first question any gate agent will ask you, is, “Did you check a bag?”
DON’T follow a family
“When it comes to airport lines, find a fellow road warrior to get behind,” says Moran. “Following 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, even for frequent business travelers, are few, thanks to computerized automated seating and stricter airline regulations,” Moran concedes. “As you file through those marginally larger, overpriced seats on your way to coach, remember this – you’re all ending up in the same place.”
DO go into Zen mode
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 a productive or professional look,” says Moran.
DON’T travel with your boss on a flight longer than an hour
They say the experience of traveling together is so illuminating that it can help you decide if your significant other is truly the one. But your boss is not your boyfriend, girlfriend, or anyone you’d want to experience the trapped-in-the-air side of your personality. And he or she is certainly not the best shoulder to sleep (and probably drool) on.
DON’T use the seat-back pocket
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,” says Moran. “Avoid a lot of grief by showing up with your own system in place to hold your glasses, passport, and other important items.”
DO bring reading material
“No matter how much work you have to do, breaks are essential,” advises Moran. “Bring a book, either a paper or electronic one. Interesting people do well, and interesting people read.”
DO bring headphones
“Nothing says, ‘I don’t want to talk to you,’ like a good pair of headphones,” says Moran. “Plus, airline headphones aren’t very good.”
DO be alert for bad news
Certain words and phrases coming from the cockpit, a text, or another weary traveler can signal doom. They range from “unfortunately…” to “shuttle bus,” “system problems,” “storm,” or, “The president is in town.” What’s more, the “good news/bad news” expression never really carries good news. But the worst? “We’re going to need to check that bag,” says Moran.
Richard Moran blends corporate and academic experience and leadership with everyday insight, relaxed humor, and a touch of pathos. His advice is highly applicable to all employees contemplating how to navigate their careers and their travels, and helps make the contemplation and journey more enjoyable. For more information, visit richardmoran.com.