Facing late flights, lost luggage, overbooked flights and tedious security procedures, the weary business travelers plod on. And while they may not like the experience, they are likely to spend the same amount of time or more in the air over the next year.
In a global survey of 240 senior executives and managers we at NFI Research conducted, 87 percent said they have no plans to reduce their travel schedules over the next 12 months. Thirty-five percent said they would travel more, and 6 percent said they would travel significantly more. Only 13 percent said they plan to travel less over the next year, which leads to the issue of the annoyances they face in the air.
"In the last few years, travel has become a major pain for business," observed one survey respondent. "Most planes are fully loaded or overbooked. Business travelers are in the minority compared to vacation and nonbusiness travelers. Airlines have cut out food and most service and their personnel have a lousy customer service attitude because of the cutbacks in the industry. Many flights are delayed and the hassle of getting to and from locations makes the whole deal highly stressful." Getting annoyed is now part of the trip.
The trouble with delays
The number one annoyance to business travelers is delayed flights. "The last flight I took was delayed over four hours, with no air conditioning at the terminal (it was more than 100 degrees outside), fire alarms firing and lights flashing," said one survey respondent. "I left to go back home four hours after I arrived. I felt like I was in a third-world country. And I paid for this treatment."
Said another: "It is the lying to passengers every 15 minutes about when a delayed flight is really going to leave that bothers me most."
Once the traveler adds the turn-around time for plane preparation and boarding, he can fairly accurately predict the likely departure time no matter what is said by the departure gate agent.
In fact, most of the leading annoyances in air travel have to do with time. In addition to delayed flights, they include late departures, canceled flights and late arrivals. "We are no longer flying to places within a four-hour drive. It's not worth the aggravation and risk of delay," said one respondent.
If you have to fly, here's a solution: Identify the departure gate, then check the schedule to see what time the plane is arriving. Because not all airline computer systems link arrivals with departures, a departure screen may show a flight departing on time, while the arrival screen shows that the scheduled airplane for that flight is, say, an hour late.
The flying experience
The annoyances go beyond the timing of flights, however. Travelers complain about everything from the events leading up to the flight to the on-board experience.
For example, half of business travelers are bothered by cramped airline seating and almost as many by problems with boarding flights and baggage claim.
"I fly a lot," said one respondent. "All the things that annoy me would be forgiven if once I was on the plane the attendants acted as if they liked their jobs and cared about customers."
Another respondent cited his gripe with "the amount of space I have and the guy in front of me bent on crushing my laptop." Yet another complained of dirty airplanes, surly flight attendants and "small, devilish children [who] kick the seat behind me."
It's not all bad
The good news is that some aspects of air travel are not annoying. They just happen to have nothing to do with the flying experience. Most travelers say they're happy enough with online ticketing, car services, the length of taxi lines and dealing with airline ticketing personnel.
Concluded one respondent: "To me, the root problem is overbooking, and it's compounded by lean-and-mean staffing throughout the system."
Chuck Martin is a best-selling business author whose latest book, SMARTS (Are We Hardwired for Success?), was just published by AMACOM/American Management Association. He lectures around the world and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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