As someone who has been travelling a lot over the course of the last decade or so, and to a lesser extent, my whole life, I have found that there are many things that frequent travelers experience differently than those who go on the odd vacation from time to time. This is the story of why frequent travelers love to travel, but hate the mechanics of travel.
Just recently I was on a flight from London, England back to Toronto. Having status with the airline, I’m able to board the aircraft before most regular passengers. This is a pretty common perk of someone who travels enough for business. The next time you get on a plane and see people scattered throughout the plane, take a closer look. You’re likely to notice that many of those “pre-board” folks are business passengers.
I sat down in my seat and heard someone say something about flying for business. I made the comment that the “novelty” of flying is quite common for those on vacation but for business travelers, the excitement of getting on a plane ended after the third or fourth business trip. A young man sitting in front of me turned and said “It ends after the first trip.” I smiled, unpacked my tablet and headphones, sat in my seat, and disappeared into a movie while the rest of the plane boarded.
To best describe how it truly is different, let’s look at the average person who might take a vacation once every now and then. This person, let’s call him Mike, goes to Florida, or somewhere tropical with his wife. Or maybe he takes a trip to Vegas for a bachelor party. But for Mike, travel is not something he does very often.
Mike gets to the airport late because he doesn’t know when he’s actually supposed to get there. He didn’t check in online so he’s waiting in the check-in area and finally gets his bag checked and his boarding passes. He makes his way to security and when he finally gets to the screening, he doesn’t have his boarding pass with him because he put it in his bag. He doesn’t know to hold onto it until he gets screened. He also forgets to take his laptop out of his bag, and remove any liquids he has. For that matter, he brought along his cologne which is too big and he gets mad about security throwing it out. He goes through the metal detector but didn’t take his belt off so the machine beeps and he has to go through a second time.
He finally gets to his gate and waits for them to call boarding. He hears something about his flight beginning to board and he sees a line form so he gets in line. When he gets to the agent, he’s told that he can’t board because they aren’t boarding his zone yet. He gets out of line and waits for his zone to be called and then eventually makes his way onto the plane.
When he finally gets onto the plane, he’s asked for his boarding pass again and since he put it away again, he’s now digging for it while a line forms behind him. He then gets confused by where his seat is and eventually does find it but decides he really needs to fold his jacket up and put it in the overhead space. He then can’t find room for his bag because it’s too large to be on this aircraft or he was in the last zone and all the overhead space is taken up. He finally gets his bag sorted, sits down and finally people start finishing the boarding process. He then realizes he needs something out of his bag, gets back up, opens up his stuff and can’t find what he’s looking for, all the while apologizing to everyone around him for him taking so long. Eventually he finally has everything he needs and the flight finishes boarding and takes off.
Mike has a big smile on his face and is really excited to be going on his trip and can’t wait to get there. He’s a kind and nice gentleman and seems friendly to everyone around him. He’s striking up conversations up with anyone that will speak to him and is completely and totally oblivious to how annoying his behavior has been to the frequent flyers.
Mike is the personification of every single thing that business and frequent travelers hate. Whether I am traveling for work or pleasure, the actual travel process, as in going from plane to plane and place to place, is the part of traveling that I abhor. From the moment I step out of my home and make my way to the airport, the only thing I am thinking about is getting to my destination. I have said before that many times the “journey” is part of the fun but for the actual travel part, it’s not. This is the one instance where the destination is all that matters and the journey is just a means to getting there. The “journey” to me is nothing more than lines filled with people like Mike who are holding me up from getting me where I want to go. Sure, I know that Mike isn’t going to prevent the plane from leaving with his minor eccentricities, but it still feels like a delay to me when all I want to do is get to my seat and be left alone as I wait for the plane to take off.
But for folks like Mike, and his friends who are traveling with him, the whole thing is just one big fun experience. That novelty of travel quickly wears off when you are doing it several times a month. After a while you come to realize that although it’s great to be able to see these different places you are visiting, it’s not really a lot of fun getting there. When you hear someone say that getting there is half the fun, ask them about that after they’ve had to fly to and from home 25 times a year.
I’ll then get friends who say that it must be nice to get to see the world on someone else’s dime. Yes, there are obvious perks to being able to travel when someone else is paying the bills. But when you travel for work, it’s not a vacation. There’s no sight- seeing like there is when you don’t have work obligations. I spend my entire day standing in front of a class of students delivering technical training. My days usually run anywhere from 9am to 5:30pm depending on the client. By the time I am done, I am exhausted, my feet hurt, and many times I’ve got a sore throat from talking so much. A lot of times the last thing I feel like doing is going out and seeing anything. I mean how do you feel at the end of a long hard work day when you get home? Do you feel like going out? Not likely. But, many times I feel I should go out and try to see something because I am often in new places I’ve never been before so I should go see something shouldn’t I? As I write this paragraph, I’m sitting in a hotel room in San Diego, California. It’s a city I’ve never had the chance to experience previously. I really wanted to go exploring the area tonight but my feet and legs were so sore from standing all day that I opted to stay in my room and watch TV and work on my book. Plus, I’m suffering from a 4hr time difference from home so jetlag is still setting in. As much as I want to explore the area my body is telling me to take the night off and rest. I can explore the area tomorrow (which I did).
Add to that the fact that most museums, galleries, or other interesting places to see (typical tourist stuff) is all closed by the time my day is done. That means that the only real time I get to see anything is on the day I arrive after I have checked into a hotel. If I am lucky, I might book a vacation day or two ahead of or after my work trip but those meals and hotels are on me, not work. So the amount of time I actually get to “see” anything is very limited because I spend my days working. Yes, work is paying for me to be there, but they aren’t paying me to be a tourist. The only time I might get extra days that are covered by work is when it’s an overseas flight and extras nights are cheaper than flights. A single day can make a flight $1000 cheaper in some instances.
Then there’s the constant fear of flights being delayed or cancelled. Cancellations and delays are a part of the entire air travel industry and for those who don’t fly often they tend to think that these things are done for no logical reason. I have heard many people gripe about delays and cancellations. Sure, I hate them too, but they are a reality of air travel and you can either accept that they will happen, or shake your firsts at the sky thinking it will help.
Nothing sucks more than sitting at a gate and then finding out your flight has been delayed or cancelled and it may throw off your entire trip. I once had a flight delayed because the toilet was frozen. A colleague of mine had his flight cancelled because the flight attendant didn’t have the demo seat belt to do the safety walk through. My first flight on my Galapagos vacation was cancelled because the pilot couldn’t turn a knob counter-clockwise. Because of that one cancellation, I showed up a day late for my tour.
In a typical year, I average about 8-10 flights a month depending on how busy I am. One year during the summer I had 16 different flights, to four cities, in two countries, with two other cities being used for connections. Dealing with security lines, delays, cancellations, dumb travelers, and countless other air related follies is something that is both physically and mentally draining. The stress of flying is hard on the head, and running your ass off from one end of an airport to another is physically tiring. The last time I had to run for a flight, I ran all the way from the US connections portion of Pearson airport to the Canadian side in about 13 minutes. It was bad enough that when I got on the plane, I actually had the flight attendants a bit scared for my health as I did not look very good. I was definitely having difficulties breathing and the sweat was pouring off of me. Speaking of which, I really need to get in better shape. But, to add insult to injury, after running all that distance, the plane sat at the gate for about 45 minutes before it left. I still would have missed the plane if I hadn’t ran across the airport, but then to get there and literally sit on the plane for that long before we left was extremely frustrating.
Sitting on a plane in Newark, New Jersey, we taxied out to the runway for takeoff. After several other aircraft took off, we took our position on the runway and were just waiting for the confirmation from the tower for takeoff. When it seemed to be taking longer than usual, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that something was wrong. Sure enough, the pilot came on and told us the flight had been cancelled. I ended up staying in Newark until the next night to catch my flight home. There wasn’t anything I could do about it but it was still extremely frustrating.
Which brings me to a serious pet peeve I have. Living in Canada, I have to fly either Air Canada (AC) or Westjet (WJ). AC is a larger airline and therefore offers a lot more connections and flights than WJ. But when it comes to customer service, you always hear people complain about AC. Lost luggage, crappy cancellation or delay service, and countless other complaints always seem to surface with AC but rarely with WJ and so the assumption is that AC is a horrible airline. It bothers me to no end to hear people complain about AC, or any airline for that matter, when they don’t realize that there are so many passengers out there who do just fine. How many passengers does AC fly in the course of a single day? And of those passengers, how many of them have their luggage lost, or have a cancelled or delayed flight? The percentage will always be small because of pure volume. Yet you never hear people talk about that. You only hear people complain.
Try and remember that just because one person had a bad experience, or maybe even multiple bad experiences, it does not necessarily mean the airline is crap. You might be dealing with bad luck, or someone who just likes to complain. Take it all in context as there is always more than one side to a story.
So with all of that being said, I cannot stress enough that when it comes to traveling, you need to be very mindful of what you need to do, where you need to be, and how your actions will affect others around you. Try to be as quick and courteous as you can, and also try to remember that when things go wrong, it could be far worse.