Monday, June 04, 2007

The Lemmings

Over at Richard Charkin's blog (he runs Macmillan's the British publisher) there's mention of him flying over the weekend from the USA, he was at Book Expo, to Chennai (that's Madras to most people) in India. Apparently it took him thirty hours to get there from New York and he urges people to avoid Emirates like the plague. Of course it's futile to avoid any particular airline, there's always a possibility of things going wrong and in an increasingly daft world where there's more and more travel the chances of something going wrong are on the increase.

I know something about this having worked in the airline business for twenty years. Jumping on and off aircraft may be fun for some but I got to the point where I hated it. In four years with Continental Airlines I flew across the Atlantic ninety six times – in each direction! One of the problems with the business is that airline seats do not really cost the company money when they send employees off on business trips. People fly around the world at the drop of a hat for meetings or whatever and this situation is often exacerbated because airlines, through relationships with hotels get very big discounts for their staff that are travelling on business. Reciprocal arrangements with other airlines means that staff can often travel on other carriers for free as. This ‘conspiracy’ causes airline employees to behave like lemmings flying constantly in search of meetings to attend.

One day my boss called me from Houston and said,
“We shall have our international division meeting this quarter in Guam.” Now I knew where it was and my heart sank. For those of you who don’t its an island in the middle of the Western Pacific Ocean and it’s a bloody long way from anywhere – except of course the next Pacific island. To get there from London it was a flight to Los Angeles, another to Honolulu and then a seven and a half hour flight to Guam. Naturally I did as requested and made my way there for the meeting, which was planned to last for just a day. I arrived the evening before the meeting and at the following day’s get together I spoke, in total, for ten and a half minutes! The day after the meeting I left Guam and flew home. I was scheduled to stop off in New York on the way back because a very close friend was getting married. I missed his wedding because of various delays en route and it was at that point that I thought – this is madness. Life’s too short to be travelling the world like this.

A few weeks later having returned to London from a day trip to Houston I got off the plane at Gatwick around 9 a.m. and then went to the office had a quick shower and then drove to Peterborough for a meeting a Thomas Cook’s head office. Driving back around the M.25 I thought, that’s it, I really have had it. I called Frank Lorenzo the Chairman of Continental from my car phone.
“Frank, I’m going to leave.”
“Where are you going? Is it PanAm, have they offered you a job?” said a surprised Frank Lorenzo
“No, I’m just leaving. I want to have a life of my own.”


ken from glos said...

Before I could afford long haul holidays I used to envy all you jet setters going all over the place!

I dont any more of course because i find long haul hard work and jet lag tiring.

My main long haul is a month in The maldives.I wont go for two weeks!!Last year the ten and a half hour flight home took twelve and a half hours!!Hard work!

r morris said...

My brother John worked in the airline industry for fifteen years, for American Airlines, starting as a ramp attendant and baggage loader and working his way up to director of safety operations (it was his voice people heard on the PA telling how to fasten a seat belt, etc). Part of his job as an exec was to travel to all the airports and check for safety violations, and to document every single accident, no matter how trivial.

He often traveled many hours each way for a meeting or inspection that lasted around one hour. He, too, got sick of traveling, though he did get to go to some historic places from time to time. Occasionally, he made three trips in one week. He might go to Cleveland, LA and then Puerto Rico, for example.

After fifteen years of service, he was laid off post 9-11. American gave him half hour from time of notification to gather all his stuff into a box and turn in his badge. Standard procedure.

The airline biz is no picnic. And yes, the employees are shuttled around like lemmings to attend out-of-the-way conferences because the top brass doesn't have to pay a thing for the lemming's travel. Any time a conference is in a place like Guam, you can bet it was not done for the convenience of the attendees.

Richard Havers said...

Rob, it's more a case of 'we can, so we will'.

Ian Appleby said...

"A day trip to Houston"? Good grief...