Business Travel


Those are the words you never want to hear from your child while you’re on a business trip – they conjure up visions of vet visits, broken treasures, missed commitment for a school event, natural disasters, burglaries, and other calamities that are too horrible to put in writing.

I was one week into a two week business trip to Hong Kong several years ago when I heard that phrase.

Alexei was about 8 years old at the time, and I thought I had everything taken care of at home before I left.  Meals were cooked and frozen for use while I was gone.  Baseball carpool was arranged for practice and games.   BFF and Mother-in-law were on standby in case Vlad couldn’t pick up Alexei from school,  or if he needed an evening sitter for a business event.   Alexei’s school was notified of emergency call change since I would be in Asia.   Doctor and vet phone numbers posted on the refrigerator so my engineer husband could see them easily if needed.

What on earth could go wrong?

“Dad sent me to school in damp pants!”

I almost fell out of my desk chair.  The visual that created had me laughing hysterically.  My staff were looking into my office wondering what was going on.  I had to find out the story.   The details that followed were priceless.

Alexei’s school had a uniform requirement that I loved and he hated.  It was strict and there were only certain things he could wear and not get sent to the Principal’s office.    Vlad had to do laundry the night before since Alexei had playground dirt on every piece of uniform clothing we had.

Since the only time Vlad even knows we have a washer and dryer is when one or the other is malfunctioning, he was a bit stymied by having to use two large pieces of Equipment Designed for Females (his term, not mine) before going to bed, but he gave it his best shot.   I have to hand it to him – he got the washer going and put the clothes in the dryer before heading up to sleep.

The problem came the next morning when Alexei went down to the laundry room before breakfast to get his clothes.  Vlad had set the dryer on “Air” rather than one of the heat-based drying settings.   Every piece of clothing Alexei pulled out was wet.  Since time was short, and Alexei had to get to school and Vlad had to get to work,  Alexei got to wear wet uniform pants to school and sit in them all morning until they dried.   Vlad said Alexei couldn’t wait to get home that evening to call me and tell me the story.

“You have to teach me how to do laundry, Mom.   Dad can’t be trusted to do it right”.   8 years old, but very wise.

Vlad hasn’t done a load of laundry himself since that day in 1998, and I’m still wondering if he planned it that way.

It’s dejà vu all over again.

A little over a year ago I was anxiously watching another volcano erupt and eventually disrupt my vacation plans.   Now I’m watching yet another volcano do the same thing, and my first thought was “glad I’m not traveling”, and my second thought was “how selfish!”.  I know some of my friends and readers are planning trips, and my disinterest is not particularly charitable.

I’ve learned that prior planning can make these kinds of natural disasters irksome, but not catastrophic for travelers.  Here are some tips to help keep the anxiety at a minimum.  If you’re looking for what to do if they cancel your flight, click here or scroll down to the previous entry.

1. Trip Insurance – If you’re booking a flight to or from Europe or Argentina/Chile, or within Europe or Latin America, it’s best to spend the extra for insurance.  READ the policy thoroughly to make sure ‘acts of God’ such as volcano eruptions are not excluded.  If they are, look at another carrier.    If insurance is not an option, contact the airline to find out what they will do if your flight is cancelled due to ash cloud problems.  Most will allow you to rebook with no change fees, but not all are so nice.   Best to double check ahead of time.

2. Hotel bookings – try to stay away from the hotels and booking services that require you to pay in full up front.  There are many lovely boutique hotels that you can book without having to pay in full weeks in advance.  Look carefully at their cancellation policies, and call or email them if it’s not on their website.  Many are run by caring individuals that will give you a break if you’re stuck because of the ash cloud.

3. Alternate destinations.  If you’re traveling to Europe or the Southern Cone of Latin America and it looks like you may have issues getting to your primary destination, have a backup plan switching your flight to another city or nearby country and then take a train, boat or rent a car to get you where you need to go.  If you’re coming to the US from Europe, Argentina or Chile, try taking a train to a country or area not likely to be affected and fly out from there.  Once you get to the US, you can take a flight easily from any airport to anywhere you wish to go, and there are pretty inexpensive fares available to most destinations.  Don’t be afraid to get creative.  If you’d like to see how I got around the 2010 ash cloud and got home after my flight was cancelled, click this link.

4. Pack clothes that can stand a few extra days.  If you do get stuck, you don’t want to have a suitcase full of clothes that are dirty and can’t be worn.   Pack a shirt and underthings that can be washed in a hotel sink and hung up to dry overnight.  You’ll be glad you did!

5. Have a fully charged mobile phone that works in the country you’re traveling to.  Most local phones will not function outside your home country.   Contact your carrier before you leave to see what needs to be done to make your phone work in your destination country.   A SIM card is usually all that is required.   If that option is too expensive, consider renting a phone when you reach your destination.   That way if you need to rebook a flight, or find another hotel in a hurry, you won’t be looking for an internet cafe.  You can also notify the car service, hotel, friends or family if you are late arriving.

6. Have the airline’s non-800 number written down in an easily accessible place.  If you have to change your flight, the 800 number that is on your ticket, or on their website is not accessible from mobile phones or many landlines in Europe or Latin America.   Don’t rely on the ticket counter at the airport to give you the correct phone number.

7. If you DO get stuck, stay calm.   Turn on that charged mobile, pull out the non-800 number for your carrier and start booking yourself another flight, and a hotel if you can’t leave until the next day.   Pack a few extra videos or toys for the kids along with an extra book or two to keep you interested while you’re stuck in the airport.

Best of luck to everyone traveling during this summer.   I hope the Travel Gods are kind to you.  If not, remember the best way to foil them is to be prepared with alternate plans!

After working within the airline systems on innumerable countries, with flight cancellations, re-booking and so on, I observed positive and negative behavior amongst my fellow passengers. I got first hand knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. Here are some tips for anyone looking to be prepared for the Wrath of the Travel Gods. I hope these are helpful.

1. Before you leave, get NON-800 number contact information from your airline carrier. The 800 numbers they hand out for US-based carriers do not work from mobile phones, and finding a landline in an airport is impossible.

2. When you check in, ask the desk agent what the procedure at that airport will be in the event of a cancellation due to weather or other Acts of the Travel Gods. Take notes – it’s different at each airport, and you want to know ahead of time to avoid the panic when the cancellation is announced.

3. When cancellation is announced, stay calm and don’t lose your temper. The ground staff for the airline are doing the very best they can, and in many cases, they are operating under strict guidelines. Don’t push them. They can’t clear the weather or cause a broken airplane to move, and they are not responsible for their airline’s policies. Start working on your own Plan B.  If you’d like to see how I got around the 2010 ash cloud and got home after my flight was cancelled, click this link.

4. If you are flying economy, you’re on your own for rescheduling. In some cases there will be no ground staff at the airport who can reschedule you, and if there are, the lines will be very long. Make sure you have a fully charged mobile phone with you, and call as soon as you can. If the line is busy, keep trying until you get in. Stay patient. The agent who finally answers your call will be able to re-route you. It may not be for a day or two, but they will get you on another flight. If you are flying in business or first class, go to the desk in the lounge and ask them for rerouting possibilities.

5. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Look into flying back overseas from a different country, or to a different country.  If Southern Europe is affected, try to reroute through Germany or England. If Northern Europe is affected, look into Madrid or Rome.  If you’re traveling to the US, try a train to a country not affected and fly to the US from there.   Don’t be afraid to fly to another city in the US if that is all that is available.  Flights within the US are plentiful and there are inexpensive fares usually available online.   If you’re in India, look to Singapore or Hong Kong.    If there is no connecting flight available and you’re traveling to a destination on the same land mass, look into high-speed or regular train option.

6. Be aware the airline may not offer you a hotel voucher, and if not, do not argue, do not get angry. There is nothing you can do about it. Quickly get on the internet and book a hotel before the other travelers do.

7. Don’t demand an upgrade in flying class as a result of a cancellation. You won’t get it by being demanding and argumentative. In most cases, there will not be any seats in the other classes available. There are a lot more seats in the economy section than in anywhere else – you’ll have a better chance of getting out flying in the cheap seats than waiting for an upgrade.

8. Try to calm down the passengers around you. The airline ground staff will bless you for it. You might even get an unexpected reward.

9. Finally, smile at the agent or ground staff and tell them how well you think they are holding up and handling this situation. They have an impossible job, with people yelling at them all the time, trying to make stranded, stressed-out people happy. In most cases, they get no thanks at all before moving on to the next upset passenger. Hearing a nice word from you will help lighten their burden. The grateful smile you get back will be the nicest thing that happens to you all day.

The above was learned first hand last year when my flight home was cancelled due to ash cloud issues. Yes, I did try to calm down the other passengers in my group. Yes, I was nice and patient and smiled. I told them I thought they were doing an excellent job in these trying circumstances, and in one case told a fellow passenger to get off the lounge staff’s back.

My reward – when I got my ticket re-booked on another airline, it was for First Class.

Remember the Golden Rule. It works.

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