Friday, July 13, 2018

First World Problems - Business Travel Sucks

"You'll survive all of this if it kills you
Just to show them that you never lost your nerve."
- The Old Ceremony, "Ghosts of Ferriday"

I have not always been a frequent business traveler but I'm an experienced one, both domestically and internationally, both pre- and post-9/11.  But I'm ready to stop.  Just quit it completely, unless it's a drive rather than a flight away.

I don't blog about work often and I'm not really talking about work itself here, just some of the wonder that surrounds it.

A couple of weeks ago I was visiting a customer in Andover, MA, around 45 minutes north of Boston.  Being the good corporate citizen that I am, I scheduled my flight for relatively late in the day so I could get a good day's work in before signing off.  The flight into Logan was uneventful, I picked up my rental car, plugged in the destination in Google Maps and away I went, through the Big Dig and off into the rainy night.

I arrived at my hotel around 11pm, maybe 11:15 and there is where the trouble began.  I had no reservation.  No record of it.  None. And of course the hotel was completely booked.  The guy behind the desk suggested a couple of other places to call (he did NOT offer to do that himself) but they were booked as well.  As a matter of fact, one of the people I spoke to at another hotel said she had been trying to find rooms as far away as Maine with no success.  There was some sort of huge softball tournament or some such going on and rooms were just not to be had.

Thinking that the travel folks our company uses had screwed the pooch, I emailed them and (to their everlasting credit) they responded within 5 minutes (meanwhile I had powered up my laptop and was looking for other options myself).  I heard the phone behind the reception desk ring and realized that the guy behind the counter was being reamed out by our travel people but to no avail.

I tried a few more places on my own as did the guy from our travel team.  I had zero luck.  He kept finding places that had rooms available online but when he called them to confirm, they were not actually available (again, I've derided these guys before but they performed admirably).

By this time it was around 12:30 am and I was contemplating sleeping in the back seat of the little Mercedes crossover I had rented and then blowing off my customer meeting and flying the fuck home.  I had been pretty well convinced that this had been a screw-up on the part of our travel people but just for the hell of it, I called the toll-free number for the hotel chain (yes, it was Holiday Inn Express).  I gave the guy my reservation confirmation number, telling him that the guy at the deck hadn't been able to find it.  No, the voice on the phone said, we had it but we canceled it because you hadn't checked in.

What the ever-loving fuckety fuck?!?!?

After blowing off a little steam venting at the sap on the other end of the line, I asked him how the hell that could happen, given that the room was guaranteed.  Apparently that doesn't mean doodly in situations like this where they've overbooked and everyone else around is booked solid as well.  After questioning the parentage of the dumbfuck that thought up that policy, I demanded the smug little shit from customer disservice find me another damn room.  And he did.  In Seabrook, New Hampshire.  Another 35-45 minutes north.  Okay then.

I packed up my crap, which by this time was spread all over the lobby, and headed up through the rain to Seabrook.  And a bed.  And all of about 4 hours of sleep.

After a good meeting with my customer, it was time to head back to Logan.  I knew I was going to have a few hours to kill at the airport and figured I would use some Delta Skymiles to buy an afternoon in their Sky Club so I could have a comfortable place to sit and get some work done before flying home.  So I did.  It looked like a refugee camp.  The thunderstorms rolling through Boston were holding planes destined for Logan at their destination for hours, so everyone that had any way to access the Sky Lounge had done so.  I was lucky enough to find an actual chair (there were people sprawled all over the floor, leaning against table legs, etc and the line for the free (sucky) beer was 30 people deep).  All of that being said, I was more comfortable that I would have been in the terminal while I saw my departure time slip out by 1 hour. 2 hours.  3 hours.  For a second time in 24 hours I thought about calling my friend Lynn at BU to see if she'd come get me and let me crash on her sofa.

We finally took off around 11:30pm, landing at RDU well after 1am.  By the time I got out, got the car and drove home it was 2.  By the time I actually wound down enough to get to sleep it was 3, with a full day of work ahead of me starting a couple of hours later.  Another 4 hours of sleep.

Okay, so that sucked but how often is THAT going to happen.  Well, apparently, every.  fucking.  time.

I'll admit that Wednesday's flight through Charlotte to Birmingham went without a hitch.  Rental car achieved.  Hotel was fine.  Dinner with our team was fun and the food was good.  Good meetings with the customer.  Uneventful trip back to the airport and a quiet gate to catch up on some more work and make a few phone calls.  I was traveling with one of my guys and we had 50 minutes to get from our flight to the next in Charlotte, which I thought was cutting it close but figured we had a shot.  Then the delays started.  15 minutes.  45 minutes.  Then they stopped updating it but I was watching Flightaware and the equipment we were going to use was coming in from Charlotte, which was under a very angry-looking thunderstorm.  The good thing was that lots of planes were being held at their departure location before coming into Charlotte.  Except for one, apparently.  Our connecting flight was coming in from Providence RI and was perfectly on time, no delays, might have even been a couple of minutes early.  Naturally.  I heard others around me talking to the gate agents to rebook their connecting flights and they were all the next day at 10am, 11am, 1pm.  Fuck that.  We finally boarded about 50 minutes late and before they buttoned up, I pulled up the Budget website, logged into my Fastbreak account and reserved us a car for a one-way from CLT to RDU.  I figured I could cancel it if by some miracle we made our connection but as we landed at Charlotte-Douglas, Flightaware showed our connecting flight as taxiing on the runway.

So off we went to the Budget counter and our grey Nissan Sentra and a long drive to RDU.  We left around 11:15 and I figured we'd get to RDU around 1:45, which was after the Budget counter closed, so I had a 1pm turn-in time.  The drive was uneventful despite the construction on vast stretches of I-85 between Charlotte and Greensboro (lots of night work).  I dropped my friend off at the terminal so he could catch a shuttle out to park-and-ride to get his car and then headed for home, music blaring to keep me alert and awake.  Home at 2:15, asleep a little after 3, an all-to-familiar story.

My calendar for Friday was a disaster.  I was determined to blow off my 8am meeting and the hour-long 8:30 meeting but I was doubled-booked for the rest of the morning.  I finally had a break around 12:30 with my next (must-do) meeting at 2pm, giving me exactly an hour and a half to drive the rental to RTP, gas up, turn it in, take the shuttle to the terminal, walk over to the garage, pick up the XTerra and get home.  I pulled off on Miami Blvd to gas up and as I got back onto I-40 I realized that I had neglected to grab either my parking ticket or my freakin' keys to my XTerra.  So exit onto Page Rd, hop back onto I-40 (westbound this time) and back home.  I called Budget and spoke to a robot for 15 minutes in order to extend my rental for another 3 hours, then did my can't-miss meeting and tried it all again.

Luckily this time I was successful and things went off without a hitch, which is good as I was pretty much incapable of handling complexity after only around 4 hours of sleep.

I'm not sure if there are any lessons from any of this.  I'm pretty good at packing for air travel, I know how to manage the security lines even without TSA Pre, I always get to the airport with a few minutes to spare so that I'm not crushing people trying to reach my gate.  But some things are clearly beyond my control.  Which is actually the worst damn thing about air travel.  Other than unexpected traffic, I feel much more control if I'm driving, and if I can get to my destination in 6 hours or less, I'm driving not flying.  But that doesn't help me with Boston or Birmingham or Atlanta or London or Chennai or really anywhere beyond the DC Metro and Charlotte.

So I'm going to have to find a way to cope with this but any more of these 2am homecomings and I may have to find a way to retire early.

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