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Monday, December 01, 2008

Business Travel

I remember when I was young (and naive), just getting out of school. I imagined the business world in so many ways that it's not. I read business magazines, I read books. I listened to lectures at college. I talked to all the people I knew. It seemed exciting to imagine myself living "a jet-set life." You know, that's the life where the savvy business executive is always on a plane, dashing here and there for important meetings. I imagined I'd see the world, rack up the frequent flyer miles (okay, so they didn't actually have them back then), and be known as a world travel. It was the glamorous life of business travel that I had in mind. Unfortunately, reality is something quite different.

I'm sitting here aboard United Airlines flight # 7734. It's been stuck on the Dallas runway for hours. Apparently the snow storm in Chicago is messing up the whole country's flight system. The plane is on an active runway, so we're not allowed to get off of course. We've been trapped here for hours. No food. No water. Some have been allowed to get out of their seats for lavatory breaks. I am in a window seat. Ironically, it is not beside a window, but a wall. There are windows beside the seats in front of and behind me!

I stood in line for a seat assignment at the airport. It wasn't surrendered to me until the very last minute when the flight was boarding. You see, I'm not a regular flyer of United Airlines. I guess they wanted to make sure none of their valued customers wanted this windowless window seat before they gave it to me. How did I get on a United Airlines flight? Well that's another travel story in itself.

On my way to the airport this morning, I remembered that I hadn't gotten a seat assignment on the American Airlines flight when I booked it last Friday. So I called the airline to get one. The automated voice-response attendant informed me that there was no reservation. I distinctly knew I had received an e-mail confirmation from American Express Travel (which my company requires me to use). So I waited for a live attendant, who informed me that the reservation had been cancelled by American Express and the flight was now sold out. She told me to call American Express. I did. They said they showed me booked on three different flights, but since it was duplicate bookings, they had cancelled them all. I actually hadn't booked on more than one flight, and had an e-mail from them confirming that flight. It was not one of the three!

So American Express, taking no responsibility for this giant snafu, re-booked me on a United Airlines flight. Then they informed me the hotel reservation had somehow been double booked. I remember that American Express did that to me earlier in the year, and failed to cancel the double booking. The hotel listed me as a "no show" and billed my credit card anyway. My company wouldn't reimburse me since I hadn't actually stayed and American Express wouldn't cover the charge because I couldn't prove it actually was their fault. Then today, American Express notified me that they had mis-booked (whatever that means) my return flight tomorrow. I ended up on a later flight.

Sadly, my experiences today aren't really that remarkable. Travel horror stories abound in America. Start to tell one in a group, and someone will surely "one up" you with an even worse horror story of their own. And I've known plenty. About the only virtue I see in business travel today is that it tests my patience and my ability to forgive. I am frequently tempted to blow my lid and arrogantly demand what I selfishly think I deserve. And then I remember to "turn the other cheek." I remember that the people are humans who require forgiveness --- just like I do.

Now, which business school do you suppose will teach these truths to their up and coming students?

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