By Katie Beddingfield
Feb. 14, 2013
Follow people’s business travel rants on social media, or listen in at a cocktail party, and you can pick up stories that would give Stephen King a fright, or create scenes for a modern-day sequel to the classic movie comedy, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”
How can you sidestep the pitfalls of business travel-and do whatever is possible to keep those horror stories at bay? Following these seven travel tips can work wonders to increase your chances of having only business success stories to tweet about on your upcoming trips.
1. Keep an eye on connections
Whether you book yourself, or through a travel management company, be sure to allow for a minimum connection time that gives you a comfortable cushion. While a small window of under an hour for changing flights seems efficient, it can be the catalyst for the catastrophe of missed connections and meetings.
Consider Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, for instance. The airlines will say 35 minutes between flights represents a “legal” connection. But that’s a stretch. Maybe you’re not the fastest airport sprinter. Common practice for airlines and travel companies might not work for you, so specify a minimum connection time for flight bookings.
2. Watch out for the weather
While no one can predict weather far in advance-and some might argue that no one can predict the weather at all-generally known patterns can predictably affect your travel plans.
Why schedule a flight through Chicago’s O’Hare airport in the middle of winter, if you could just as easily be routed through Dallas? The same can be said in the summer, when avoiding stops in the cities with the highest likelihood of thunderstorms is advisable, if possible.
Another way travel interruptions due to severe weather can often be avoided is by booking flights early in the day. Especially in summertime, strong storms tend to develop in the afternoon hours.
3. Be ready to proactively change plans
Keep an eye on huge weather systems developing that might impact your travel. A recent case-in-point is Superstorm Sandy, which hit the East Coast in October 2012. Travelers who crossed their fingers until the morning of the storm hoping flights would go as scheduled were the ones who probably did not arrive at their destination until two or three days later. Other travelers saw that airlines were offering to waive all change fees two to four days in advance of the storm, and jumped at the opportunity. Why play a game of Russian roulette with a monster weather system?
4. Organize your trip on a mobile App
TripCase and TripIt are two mobile itinerary organizers that can consolidate all your travel arrangements in one application, and they can be downloaded for free. Staying well organized keeps you on track when you travel, with airline, hotel and car rental information at your fingertips-as well as a map from the airport to your destination. These apps can alert you to flight and gate changes, and are almost indispensible for road warriors who have trouble remembering what city they have landed in, and certainly have trouble tracking the myriad of details once they arrive.
5. Sail through security lines
Two U.S. government programs offer expedited screening. Caveat: not all airports participate in the domestic version. With TSA Pre-ÂÂ, eligible participants use dedicated lanes for faster screening. With Global Entry, participants proceed to kiosks at 25 international airports to expedite travel. Prescreening is required for both. Learn more at TSA.gov for the domestic version and GlobalEntry.gov for the international one.
6. Pack smart and plan ahead
This sounds basic, but that’s the beauty of it. Planes today are more full than ever. Schedules have been cut. If you want to carry on luggage, it might pay to invest in the fee (anywhere from $10 to $40) that will give you early boarding privileges and first crack at the overhead bin. If your carry-on luggage is overstuffed, it should be checked. Trying to force it into an overhead bin will just delay the inevitable. Airlines sometimes offer perks for pre-purchases of checked luggage, so a second bag might be free in advance, but cost significantly at the gate. Also, know the “checked bag policy” of your carrier - and whether your elite frequent flier status means bag fees are waived altogether. Southwest Airlines does not charge for the first two bags, so there is no point in playing the game-which some travelers do-of bringing an overlarge piece of luggage to the gate, knowing it will be checked for free by airport personnel.
7. Stay healthy
How often do you hear, “I always get sick after flying,” with a follow-up discussion about re-circulated cabin air? Airlines have vastly upgraded their air filtering systems, so it isn’t the germs in the overhead blowers that are the most likely culprits. (Granted, the same can’t be said of your seatmates’ sneezes.) Instead, studies show it’s the tray tables and lavatory door handles that are the breeding ground for germs. Experts advise avoiding the bathroom if possible. If not, always wash hands and use a paper towel to touch the door handle on the way out. Clean off your tray table with an anti-bacterial wipe.
Better to be safe than sick. Better to create a Plan B before travel than to have to come up with one mid-trip. Following these pointers should make your 2013 business trips as smooth and uneventful as possible.
Katie Beddingfield is regional sales director, West Coast, for Omega World Travel, one of the top 10 global travel management and meetings and incentives companies. Omega, based in Fairfax, Va., has 100 offices worldwide and is celebrating its 40th year in business.