I was recently on a long haul flight for work that was delayed six hours after the first plane suffered a “cleaning issue”, that I won’t go into for the sake of the squeamish; and the second plane clapped out on the taxiway. Once under way, the onboard crew couldn’t provide a full service due to being out of hours and requiring longer breaks than usual, so in general, it was all a bit rubbish.
I was travelling with a (literally) merry band of industry colleagues and so there were times when the delay was amusing - even entertaining - and others when it really wasn’t, as we stood in the gate area for almost 2 hours and pondered whether we were going to a conference that day, or in fact, going home.
We got there safely and that’s all that really matters, but it got me thinking about a few things. Firstly, you can travel as smartly and as comfortably as you like (our group were seasoned experts and spread across all cabins and all suffered equally), but large areas of the traveller experience are ultimately outside of our control. Secondly, the only currency that we really have is time, and how we spend it. So, whether a delay like this subtracts personal or business time; it is a real cost, and much more significant than money.
This was a sharp reminder to me that we should always prioritise the needs and wellbeing of the traveller in our thinking, wherever we sit in the business travel value chain. Those who don’t travel much with work tend to think that regular travellers are very fortunate and privileged to whizz around the world, seeing new places and probably being luxuriously over-fed and watered. Let’s not kid anyone, some of it is like that, and if travel gets into your blood, it can become an essential part of a fulfilled life. However, by definition road warriors will also frequently endure the kind of disruption we experienced. It takes its toll. Maybe you miss the chance to FaceTime the kids from the hotel. Maybe you’ll get less sleep before that important meeting with your client or boss in the morning.
Delays of this magnitude are eligible to be financially compensated and, due to tightened regulations, many hundreds of pounds will be due to each of the 350 souls on our flight. Given that the business traveller’s ticket was paid for by their company, this will generally not benefit those individuals. Some airlines do offer miles as an additional gesture and this is of course welcome.
I don’t imagine the technology will exist in my lifetime to actually give me back my six hours and, depending on your temperament, you may react to a day like this in different ways. I ended up feeling more for the crew than my own situation, as they were also tired and having to manage hundreds of disgruntled and frustrated flyers through no fault of their own.
Cabin crew are often purveyors of calm, aren’t they? One told me recently that their partner asked them why they slept so well and worried so little when travelling as a passenger. She replied that it was because she knew more than most, that she had no control whatsoever over the next few hours, and so she felt a sense of utter peace.
“Accept what is and adapt”, as a wise man once taught me.