The True Cost and ROI of Business Travel
In sports, athletes who perform at peak ability are often said to be “in the zone.” All else is shut out and their minds and bodies are as one, permitting total concentration.
When I read that a British Air flight crew had been sleep-deprived because of the noise in a New Delhi hotel—with the result that they delayed their flight to London—it set the wheels of my mind whirling.
For a flight crew to be “in the zone” for a 12-hour journey, it cannot be tired. Yes, giant jets have autopilot, but it could be disastrous if both pilot and co-pilot passed out at the same time from extreme fatigue.
For example, according to CNN, “In the August 27 Comair crash in Lexington, Kentucky, the lone air-traffic controller was working on just two hours of sleep, according to the NTSB.”
All of us have our own zones in which we do excellent work and feel good about what we do.
Travel can roundly screw up a person’s zone.
What should a company spend in order to ensure that the rep making a big sales presentation or investigating a multimillion dollar corporate fraud is in the zone after a 4,000- or 8,000-mile flight?
Mandating travel on the cheap probably is not a good idea.
You don’t realize how dangerous figure skating is until you see it live. When she competes, a figure skater must be in the zone. Speed and precision are everything. The slightest miscue can put her on her butt, cause injury and cost her a medal.
I used to watch figure skating on television (and once in a while at an arena). In the early 1990s, Tonya Harding showed up for either the world championships or the Olympics—I forget which—the day before she was scheduled to compete. Her coach, Diane Rawlinson, told the commentators that Harding was training well in her home arena and it was decided to keep her there until close to the competition. I remember thinking that Rawlinson was nuts. I once heard that the ideal schedule for getting completely over jet lag is one day for every time zone crossed (east or west), and Harding would be flying for over 10 hours from Portland, Ore. to Europe.
Harding—who was the first U.S. woman to land a triple axel in competition and a very athletic skater—wound up skittering all over the ice, missing jumps and failing to medal.
Clearly, she was not in the zone and I am sure that jet lag did her in.
Two Issues: How Do You Fly and Where Do You Stay?
A former client, the late Victor “I-liked-the-shaver-so-much-that-I-bought-the-company” Kiam of Remington Products, always flew coach. “The back of the plane arrives at the same time as the front of the plane,” he was quoted as saying.
At the other extreme is Warren Buffett, the world’s second richest man, who leads a very simple life in Omaha, Neb., with one exception: He always flies in private jets. (It helps that NetJets is a member of his Berkshire-Hathaway family of companies.) As a result, he does not have to get to the airport two hours early, wait in check-in lines, spend anxious time going through security and then wait for an hour or more to board.
On arrival, Buffett does not spend time in a passport line or suffering the angst of wondering where his baggage is.
Flying private jets allows Warrant Buffett to get back into the zone faster than ordinary stiffs like me.
A number of high-rolling execs agree. Around the corner from my row house is Philadelphia’s premiere caterer to private jets, Chef’s Market. Yesterday on my 5:30 a.m. dog walk, I counted seven Chef’s Market delivery vans parked on the street and saw 10 people through the plate glass window furiously preparing food.
Can Business- or First Class Help Prevent the Demons of Fatigue and Jet Lag?
I checked first-class tickets on British Air for a round-trip to Heathrow next week and the cost is $13,294, “excluding taxes, fees and charges.” If I book a flight on US Air first class, the round-trip cost to Gatwick is $7,358 per person—versus $418 for economy class.
Peggy and I have cashed in frequent flier miles and been upgraded to first class on a US Air flight to Europe. It’s about a seven-hour flight. The seat is fancier, the food is fancier. But if you pay full price—roughly an extra $6,000—what you are really buying is the opportunity to lie supine for roughly three hours—or about $1,000 per hour each way for a lie-down.
And we still had to be at the airport 2-1/2 hours early and deal with crowds and lines at both ends of the trip.
To paraphrase Victor Kiam, you get the same jet lag in the back of plane as you do in the front.
Oh yes, first class does make you feel important, knowing that you paid full price while all around you are hoi polloi frequent fliers who paid economy and upgraded using miles.
Will first-class travel get an employee back into “the zone” quicker?
I would say the chances are marginal at best.
What is the ROI (return on investment) on first class?
I would say zip. It’s a moneymaker for the airline and a money-loser for the company or the individual.
The Importance of a Decent Hotel
When traveling alone, I used to stay in what Victor Kiam called “cheapsy-weepsy” hotels (unless a client was paying). Now with this twice-a-week e-zine, I must take my laptop and it is imperative that I have high-speed Internet access in my room wherever I stay. No longer can I stay in low-end hotels that have one Internet machine in the lobby and a line waiting to get on it.
Peggy and I went to London last December and stayed at the Hilton Trafalgar Square—a most un-Hilton-like boutique hostelry across from the National Gallery that we got with Peggy’s Hilton points. The lobby is a huge noisy bar with a loud DJ in residence.
When assigned a room, Peggy asked if it was quiet and the answer was “Uh ... No.” We would hear the bar goings-on. We walked to Covent Garden for a light lunch and returned two hours later to a spacious and quiet room.
The reason for mentioning the noisy bar at the Trafalgar is that the British Air Crew were stuck in a noisy hotel in New Delhi, and did not dare fly when they were sleep-deprived.
In that scenario, neither British Air (which put them up in a noisy—and presumably cheap—hotel), nor crew, nor passengers were winners.
In short, employees forced to travel on long, cheapsy-weepsy business trips will most likely not get into their zone when it comes time to represent the company, and sales can be lost and mistakes can be made.