We all complain about business travel. The complaints are consistent: we are treated like cattle, it’s bad for one’s health, the seats are too small, the food is inedible, upgrades are never available, we get nickel-and-dimed with extra charges, the flights are delayed and, it is expensive. Worse, the conditions around business travel seem to be getting worse, not better. We business travelers know that we make up a huge percentage of airline revenue and we complain, but we are now reconciled to a dismal experience.
The perils of business travel are now so legion that LinkedIn just had an entire series on bad business trips – it was not a contest I wanted to win. Business travel can be a source of stories, adventures and new friends, but the misery side of the experience is more likely.
Nonetheless, like cattle going to the hay, we willingly trudge into line behind Group #2 in the boarding area to hop onto those planes, hoping that there is room for our carryon bag. Why do we do this, often willingly? In a day of conference calls, sophisticated video conferences, and other technologies that should eliminate business travel, it is as predominant as ever. Is it to collect Frequent Flyer Miles? Sometimes, but the experience is a lot of torture for few miles. Is it for the joy of completing expense reports? Probably not.
So why do is business travel still such a big part of corporate life? Other than the reality that sometimes the boss makes you, there are three simple reasons why we continue to travel:
1. The Hero Factor – Entering into business travel can be like going into battle and we are going to win the battle. We are going to speed through the TSA lines, get some work done on the plane, close the deal, and return triumphant. We are not martyrs; we are the super people that brave the elements and the gate agents for the good of the Company. We will return with the bounty.
2. The We Want to Get Away Factor – No; it’s not about getting away from the spouse and the kids, although for some that may be a reason for volunteering for business travel. We may want to get away from the office because we need to get things done. Sometimes, airplane time is the only time to be productive and think and set goals. Travel can be a break from the routine and it can sometimes be rejuvenating.
3. And, Sometimes You JUST HAVE TO GO – The demanding client who wants to shake your hand before the deal is done still exists. The photo opportunity with the boss is still important. Making the final pitch can only be done in person, video won’t do. There are lots of times when we still just have to show up.
The airlines know that business travel is not going away. In spite of the technology, business travel is increasing. Airlines know too that a business traveler may book a flight the day before we travel. In so doing we spend three times as much for the same ticket that Aunt Mabel bought six months ago. So all airlines say they are trying and some are making life a little better for the business traveler.
So much disruption is happening in so many “mature” industries. Let’s hope that disruption can happen in the airline business and make life a little better for the intrepid business travelers.