WHAT I LEANRED ON THE ROAD THIS YEAR
By Joe Brancatelli
December 26, 2013 --For all of the bumps, bruises and indignities of business travel, I believe a life on the road is a success if you learned at least one lesson during the previous year.
For each of the previous six years that I have sat in Seat 2B--first for Portfolio and now here at BizJournals.com--I've been able to write an end-of-the-year column offering up a few lessons learned. Thankfully, year seven is no different. I did learn stuff on the road in 2013.
None of it will fatten my frequent-travel program bankroll or make me a better person. But that may be asking too much. It's enough to say that a lesson learned is its own reward.
Where 'dwell time' is not hell My eyes roll whenever airport executives talk about redesigning terminals and concourses to account for the extra "dwell time" that business fliers spend at his or her facility. I have zero interest in dwelling at any airport. I don't want to shop. I don't want to dine. And I sure as hell don't want to spend an overnight. Like most of us, I want to get into and out of airports as fast as possible. There are a million places I'd prefer to "dwell" other than an airport.
But I learned this year that Singapore's Changi Airport really does get the dwelling thing right. Instead of hustling through the place as I normally do, I carved out some time during a recent visit to tour the oft-honored, much-imitated airport. And no matter how blase you are about business travel, Changi will make you to smile.
Its newly renovated Terminal 1 has a rooftop pool. Terminal 2 has two gardens, one devoted to orchids, the other to sunflowers. Terminal 3 has a free movie theater, koi pond and astounding "butterfly garden" where you wander through tropical plants in the company of a rabble of butterflies. The terminals offer hundreds of retail shops, an apparently endless array of dining outlets and dozens of places to surf the Net, recharge your electronics, watch television or simply relax in a comfy chair. All three terminals are connected by walkways and a fast train. Each has a transit hotel where guestrooms can be rented in 6-hour blocks. And if you have a long layover between flights, the airport sponsors free bus tours of Singapore.
Life after the chain gang When a hotel leaves a lodging chain, it usually drops off our radar, too. After all, one of the perks of being loyal to a chain's gang of properties is the points we pile up for future free stays.
But this year I learned there's life after the chain gang for a least a few iconic hotels. Case in point: The Langham, a 148-year-old London landmark that has done nicely since parting ways with Hilton about a decade ago. "Many guests moved on because they wanted points from a chain," admits Duncan Palmer, the hotel's managing director. "But about 20 percent of our guests have stayed since the Hilton days. They cherish the personal service and attention."
Freed from Hilton's mass-market sensibilities, The Langham has reclaimed its super-deluxe credentials and now competes with other London lodging landmarks such as the Dorchester and Claridges. The room count has been reduced (to 380 from 420), bathrooms have been upgraded and enlarged and the once-flummoxing flow of the public spaces has been simplified. The hotel has partnered with London's acclaimed Roux Brothers for a new restaurant and "club floor" accommodations are being planned.
Ironically, The Langham has also become the eponymous flagship of a new chain being crafted by the hotel's Hong Kong owners. There are now nearly two dozen hotels around the world bearing the Langham name and dozens more in the development pipeline.
Doing it the TSA way The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has just produced a video telling kids how to deal with airport security. Overlook the Big Brother-y overtones and you have to admit the cartoon is better than any explanation the agency has given us.
Case in point: It's more than two years since the TSA launched the PreCheck bypass program and we're just now learning how the agency chooses us for speedy clearance.
As you know, qualifying for PreCheck doesn't guarantee we get to use the bypass lanes. But a new TSA graphic explains that being part of Global Entry gives us a better chance than if we're approved for PreCheck via our airline elite status. And a new TSA blog post explains the many ways that airlines or the government bureaucracy itself can mangle our data and deny us a shot at expedited screening.
Ross Feinstein, the agency's top spokesperson, adds a tip for travelers who buy tickets from third-party travel agencies. "I recommend calling your airline directly and asking them to verify your 'secure flight' information" in the reservation. Sometimes, he explains, travel agencies garble the transmission of the TSA-mandated sequence of exact name, known traveler number, gender and date of birth.
Another suggestion from Feinstein: Some airline kiosks can't embed your PreCheck selection and bar code onto paper boarding passes. "I recommend frequent fliers use mobile apps, mobile boarding passes and/or online check-in." he says.
Heart and humor aren't dead I long ago gave up hope that airlines can or would do fun stuff as a way to win friends and influence passengers. After all, these are the guys who brought you change fees so high that they often exceed the value of the ticket you're trying to alter. They are the folks who needed to be regulated to ensure that they didn't hold us hostage on an aircraft. And they are the industry that told the Supreme Court earlier this month that states could not legally "superimpose a duty of good faith and fair dealing" on them.
But then WestJet, the Canadian carrier, comes along and plays Santa to an unsuspecting planeload of customers And JetBlue Airways trawls Craigslist to offer free holiday flights home. Sure, the videos are social-media wizardry specifically designed to go viral. But so what? It's good to learn that some folks at some airlines still have heart and humor.
And it gives me hope, no matter how ephemeral, for 2014.