When I was conducting my own personal census of the most productive places on the planet to work, airports did not quite ascend to the top of the list. In fact, they didn't make the list at all. For one thing, layovers usually aren't long enough to get work done.
But let's assume for a moment you are at the airport and have no choice — your flight's not going anywhere anytime soon. You're grounded. But you've got work to do. What to do? And, more important, where to do it?
(1) The Business Lounge Is Your Friend. First place to check is your airport's lounge. Many now offer one-day passes to their business lounges. Different airlines have different clubs and policies, but many provide access for a nominal fee. It really pays to do your research, for a club means access to a business center equipped with desks, dataports, computers, wireless hot spots, even old-fashioned faxes. In other word, all of the communications goodies.
(2) Beware Closing Time. If you're a club member, you may be able to bring a guest. A caveat: Check on club hours, because some begin closing their doors at 8 PM,, depending upon the airport. (Don't forget to score whatever snacks, etc., you need from terminal shops or restaurants before they shut.)
(3) Kiosks In a Pinch. If you don't gain access to an airline club, the other options are not nearly so attractive or convenient but can still get the job done. An Internet kiosk is one such alternative. They are certainly not as comfortable or spacious, however, and sometimes they are not inexpensive. Moreover, kiosks are not as secure as the relaxed confines of a business center. For one, you cannot wander from your laptop to grab a coffee as you can in an airline club. And if you’re really lucky, you might be stuck in an airport that has its own Wi-Fi — some are even free — just make dead certain that you are logging into a secure network.
(4) Share the Power. Beyond the club and the kiosk, there is a large gap in service for dedicated laptoppers. What it boils down to is a competition for electrical outlets. Although many airports have retrofitted certain areas with power strips and even plug-in stations, airport gate areas were never designed with the road warrior in mind. The closer to your gate, the less likely you'll be to find an electrical outlet unfilled by someone's power cord. Consider bringing a compact surge suppressor, power strip, or extension cord to share that electric moment.
(5) Look Beyond Your Gate. If you don't need to camp at your gate, explore relocating to one of the less busy eateries in the terminal, where you're more likely to find an open electrical outlet. In fact, when a peaceful, low-traffic locale is at a premium, expand your horizons and scout out another gate or terminal.
(6) Backstop Your Battery. An extra laptop or cellphone battery can be an invaluable accessory for those times when you can't locate a convenient or available outlet. By the same token, a USB flash drive comes in handy when you find a business center and just want print a document without having to restart your laptop.
(7) Life Without a Laptop. Some road warriors find they can get by with only an iPhone, iPad, notebook, Android, BlackBerry, etc., and a flash drive. The tradeoff is weight and bulk for online access and the security of having your office in your shoulder bag. Of course, when you venture into public with your laptop you have to concern yourself with the security of the device itself as well as what's on the device's screen. Roving eyes can gaze on company data, which is all the more reason to invest in a top-flight privacy filter.
(8) Practice Safe Napping. Just remember — if you're going to take a nap, your feet belong atop the laptop bag. When you arise from your snooze in a place where you've been working for a while, make very sure to survey your temporary work zone before moving on. That's because, inside the terminal's warm confines it is surprisingly easy to forget a coat or hat.
(9) Bring Busy Work. But let's say you're traveling the non-laptop route. Road warriors have downtime. Lots of it. Airports are perfect for cram sessions to do all of the administrative stuff you've been putting off — maybe it's your expense reports or budget, updating an address book, or catching up on business reading. Or power-off the devices and daydream or meditate to recharge your personal batteries. It just requires time and a chair.
(10) The Walls Have Ears. You'll need a bit more than that for a good phone call. You'll need quiet. A place where you won't be overheard. An island of sanity where you can get away from the annoying ambient gate chatter might be the airport lounge or even a spot near the ATM. Just a word of caution about scheduling cellphone conference calls in an airport: You may find yourself interrupted by loudspeaker gate announcements at the most inconvenient time. Make sure you know where your mute button is so you can mitigate the disruption.
(11) Keep Your Cell at the Ready. Your cellphone is invaluable when that announcement is about your flight cancellation. Prompt action to ring or ping the airline or your travel agent and book a new flight actually can prevent you from getting stuck at the airport in the first place. But if marooned you find yourself, be nice to the gate agent. You never know when a standby seat or upgrade will pop up.
(12) Make Lemonade Out of Lemons. Final thought: Getting cancelled presents an unequalled opportunity for conversation with fellow business travelers on your flight. Many a valued business relationship has been struck up in the air. You just never know who you'll meet. So carry extra business cards. Never underestimate the power of networking on your airport island.
Road Warrior • Miami • Madrid • www.amadeus.com • Twitter: @tentofortysix