Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Life on the Road: Drama at the Gate

If you travel enough, you know that something, no matter how small, will always go wrong. You’ll forget a toothbrush, your deodorant, or get lost, lose your hotel key, there is always a proverbial wrinkle. That’s life on the road.

This trip, I left my PC charger with a client that was a two-hour drive away. Quick, dash to the store to get a replacement before my next meeting, all recoverable. Still, all in all, not bad yet.

I start the next morning at 5 A.M., board my 7:35 A.M. flight on time, land in Phoenix to catch my connecting flight too early for a gate so we’re stuck on the plane. Here we go and it’s a Friday, all bad travel omens.

We finally get to the gate a half hour late, so I dash from the farthest of the A gates over three piers to the B gates only to hear that my connecting flight has been delayed by an hour. Great! I get to work off the calories I never ingested, because there’s now no food in First Class (so much for those upgrades). I buy the lesser of many evils, a small pasta salad. I lack the courage or stamina to be adventurous with airport cuisine.

I try to find a seat at my gate or any nearby gate. The place is packed with summer travelers. I squeeze into an open seat and investigate my salad. After 3 bites I realize I’ll have ptomaine poisoning if I eat it. Better to go hungry. That’s okay. I don’t need the calories anyway and I should be back on the West Coast in time to treat myself to a nice, long, albeit very late lunch.

I still have an hour to kill, so of course I’m trying to get work done. But the distractions are many as there’s nothing better than people watching at the airport.

Squeezing in across from me is a woman with 2 small children, a stroller, a car seat and all the other odds and ends that she can carry on. Her father is in tow; her mother is in line to board the plane. She is in a panic trying to feed her little kids and one of them is refusing to get on the plane during early boarding, giving the woman’s parents a collective heart attack because the flight is boarding and she won’t get on. (She’s even stressing me out.)

A few seats down from her sits another couple, one of whom can’t seem to keep his hands off the other. The one being petted is bright red and sitting rigidly, facing forward with a cup of coffee between her hands as she tries to disappear. Eventually, the male is distracted by the woman throwing pizza at her kids.

The gate agent makes the last call for boarding for this lady’s flight, causing her family to put an end to the negotiation. She collars the oldest kid and heads toward the plane. She’s still eating pizza as she drags the stroller, car seat, and soda toward the jetway. Meanwhile, her 2-year-old is still playing around on the seats, telling anyone who will listen that she’s not about to get on that plane.

By this time, nearly everyone is watching the show, unable or unwilling to change the channel. Even the eager petter and his girlfriend are tuned in. Finally, the kid starts running away from the gate even as the agent uses the public address system to warn the family that the plane will leave them behind.

By the time the kid reaches the next gate in the terminal, the mother has given chase, with stroller, car seat, kid’s sibling and pizza in tow. The mother commences to yell: “ “Gracelyn – Gracelyn you come here – GRACELYN!………”

The kid doesn’t even slow down enough to look back.

The gate agents are stunned. The other travelers have forgotten all about their own annoying delays and can’t turn away from the drama. I’m fairly certain I was a witness to the pilot for a new reality show. That had to be scripted!

Finally, the lady puts down the pizza long enough to grab the kid, scoop up the car seat and the stroller and get to the jetway just as the gate agent closes the door.

The entertainment over, I’m finally able to board my own plane. I’m glad to be getting back home early enough for a Friday evening. I’m home for 4th of July holiday and then off again the following week to the East Coast for another round.

I wonder what ever happened with the lady, her 2 kids, stroller, car seat and pizza? So thankfully, we weren’t on the same flight.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Return to a Life on the Road

With so much emphasis on social media, Webex and email, I believe we’re losing one of the most important components in business: really knowing our customers. In our virtual selling environment, we sometimes forget who the real person is on the other end of the conversation.

Over the next 6 months, Ernst sales team members will have plane tickets in hand and a goal of regaining that old school skill of maintaining relationships face-to-face. I’m the vice president of sales for Ernst and this was my idea, so I’m leading charge. This sounded great in the boardroom, but after years of trying to minimize travel across our enterprise, I now find myself suddenly in that ever so glamorous quandary of being on the road again.

This really shouldn’t be that different from normal life for me, because I normally clock in a hefty amount of annual travel, but the idea of a campaign seems to add that psychological weight to the anxiety of knowing that it’s life again on crowded planes, airports, hotels, juggling business/family and all the potential calamities that go along with it.

My first trip was to Minnesota, St Cloud and Minneapolis. It was a long week but thankfully a really easy one. I hope to be so lucky every time I board a plane. Outbound found summer-crowded airports that actually moved fast, beautiful weather, those lucky first class upgrades on flights and schedules that weren’t impossible.

This was my first visit to St. Cloud, a quaint, fun college town, very walkable; almost like taking a trip back in time with its renovated, traditional, small town Main Street and the Mississippi River running right through the city.

After that, it was off to downtown Minneapolis for good food and high hopes for a break in the summer humidity. Good business, good people, all-in-all it was a successful trip; easy enough to make me fret the next cab to the airport.

Photo: Top, Minneapolis at sunrise; Bottom, St. Cloud street scene. Photos by Jan Clark.