The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

The rage of the business traveler: Give us 'high touch' service

A sign informs travelers about Millimeter Wave Detection technology used in full body scanners at Midway Airport in Chicago, Illinois.
A sign informs travelers about Millimeter Wave Detection technology used in full body scanners at Midway Airport in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson/Getty Images

In this economy, if you have a job, you should probably be happy. But if you have a job and you have to travel for it, that happiness might be under extreme stress. This is from the LA Times:

A survey released last week found that business executives rank rude hotel staff, intrusive security procedures and "steerage-like treatment" on crowded commercial planes as the worst parts of traveling for business.

Asked to pick the things they hate most about travel, 86% of executives said airport security screenings, 76% chose tiny, dirty commercial planes and 74% said impersonal treatment by hotel staff, according to the survey of about 3,000 business executives by Vitesse Worldwide, an executive travel firm in Connecticut.

"What comes through loud and clear is that an executive traveler isn't asking for high-priced service as much as high touch," said Shawn Abaspor, chief executive of Vitesse Worldwide.

Let's break it down:

  • Airport security screenings suck. Well, yes. But so does being blown up in flight or having your plane hijacked and flown into a building. Dealing with security actually isn't that hard, and business travelers, by virtue of their "Up In the Air" levels of experience, ought to be good at it. Arrive early. Use advance check-in. Tumi sells a briefcase that can ease a laptop's passage through security scanners. Wear slip-on shoes. I used to travel half a dozen times per year "on business," and I got to the point, with quite limited practice, where I could get through security in ten minutes.
  • Commerical planes are filthy. Jeez, a bunch of germaphobes in that survey! What airlines are they flying on? You sometimes find gum wrappers in the seat pocket, but out-and-out grossness seems rare.
  • Hotel staff are snooty. I've had one bad hotel experience in...I don't know, the past 15 years? And even then the hotel went out of its way to accommodate me. Is my experience somehow distorted and unique? I doubt it.

What's actually being revealed here is that executives who travel frequently...don't like being executives who travel frequently! To be sure, business travel is a far bigger hassle now than it used to be. My father was a frequent traveler in the 1970s and '80s who left the house 20 minutes before a trip and still had time for a martini before strolling onto the plane. Security consisted of emptying the loose change from his pockets.

The flight itself involved a pack of Merits, a cocktail and a meal, maybe some light reading. The planes may have been cleaner but they were filled with smoke. However, you didn't have to ask for blankets or pillows. Which were made of fabrics found in nature.

The entire thing was scheduled and booked by a secretary or central travel office. Your work was to open the envelope, rememer to bring your lighter, and be sure to pick up a few things for the kids at the airport gift shop before the return flight.

Now, of course, you do all the work yourself, spend two hours waiting in line for security, have to pay $5 for a small box of crackers, and pass the flight sweating over a PowerPoint presentation while a disorienting array of entertainment flickers on screens all around you. The gift shop is a mall. And those are on the flights that get airborne, not the ones that sit on the tarmac for hours while the pilot pleads for help and your fellow travelers softy weep as they fight dehydration, watch the batteries die on their iPhones, and stare out the windows into lonely blackness and indifferent snow.

You arrive at the hotel surly and exhausted. Florence Nightingale couldn't make you feel welcome. 

And ultimately, you may very well be meeting with clients who detest you and would love to outsource whatever you do, rather than take you out for surf 'n turf and Cuban cigars and regal, expense-accounted fun.

Business travel. It used to be a perq. Now it's a burden. And a chance to complain about people who make far less money than you do but never have to go anywhere to get paid.

"High touch?" Not sure what that means, but I'm not sure I'd want to touch any of those 3,000 executives surveyed with a ten-foot-pole.

Follow Matthew DeBord and the DeBord Report on Twitter.

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