In the annals of Extreme Business Travelers there is Story Musgrave — and then there is everyone else.
In his 29-year NASA career, Astronaut Musgrave, 60, has logged 18 million space miles, 4 million miles as a jet pilot, and 900,000 miles on commercial flights. An inspiration to any business traveler, Musgrave says, "I maintain myself as a mobile workstation. I've added some velcro to my clothing so I can attach my book, my notepads, and my pens. It's like wearing a desk."
Musgrave is an extreme member of an extreme group — businesspeople who log between 300,000 and 1 million miles of flight each year.
"We're a breed apart," says Linda Novey-White, 55, a consultant who travels 250 days per year. Novey-White cracked the frequent flyer fraternity "back in the '70s when I was the only woman on the plane with a briefcase."
Gary Hamel, 41, is an international strategy consultant who "literally has gone years without stopping for more than three consecutive days in the same time zone." Last year just going to work for Hamel required 35 round trips between his home in California and his teaching post at the London Business School.
Extreme travelers think nothing of the discomforts and dangers that inevitably occur. Bill Ackerman, 29, who until recently was on the road 100% of his time as an executive manager for General Electric's corporate audit staff, is a master of "great escapes." He recounts: "I had to catch a flight in Sao Paulo, but the main roads between Campinas and Sao Paulo were flooded. I spent four hours in a car on back roads, missed my flight, but got on the phone to my travel agent from the back seat of a cab in Sao Paulo, and caught the next flight out."
For Musgrave, aborted launches and midflight shuttle engine losses are just part of a day's work. "It's an accepted part of the business. You have to be very stoic about it," he says matter-of-factly. "I always have work, so I just keep working. Productivity is the thing."
For those yet to achieve extreme status, these more experienced hands have tips and tactics that transcend the conventional wisdom posted in airline magazines.
And remember, failure is not an option.
"The center seat of a commercial airline is very similar to a space flight," says Story Musgrave. With some attention to logistics and a measure of discipline, "you can still be productive with limited space. It's all about managing objects to create a traveling work system — like a window cleaner on a skyscraper or a technical mountain climber."
It's Unanimous: never check. If you lack the discipline to fold up your necessities into the regulation two bags, extremists recommend asking a fellow passenger to carry on your extra bag, or hiding the offending article behind a larger bag or under a coat.
It's Also Unanimous: never unpack. Novey-White buys two of everything — one for home and one for travel — and keeps a suitcase packed and ready to go at all times. Musgrave packs as if for a camping trip — taking only what he needs and "choreographing" items according to their anticipated use. His tip: "Systematize where you put things so you don't have to spend time hunting for them."
In First Class: Harvey Mackay, 63, author of Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, who travels an average of 375,000 miles per year from his home base in Minneapolis, always sits in 3A. Why? "Row one has no leg room and too much noise from the kitchen. Row four doesn't recline and you can hear the babies crying [in the bulkhead]. And it's a window seat, to see the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets."
In the Back of the Bus: Ackerman recommends cajoling gate agents for the exit row seats that they normally hold until the last minute — and that surpass first class in leg room.
For the truly seat-obsessed, Carlson Publishing puts out an annual collection of seating charts for 16 domestic and 40 international carriers (310-493-4877; $39.95 for the world edition).
During delays, ask airlines to "240" you. According to Rule 240, they must pick up additional expenses to get you on a competitor's next flight. And during baggage delays, airlines must reimburse you for toiletries and clothing. Again, just ask.
If you see no way out by plane, don't hang around the airport. Rent a car and drive to your destination, another airport, or a train station. Car rental agents have mileage information for every car on their screens; ask for the car with the least mileage.
(From Travel Skills Group founder Christopher McGinnis, author of 202 Tips Even the Best Business Travelers May Not Know (Irwin Professional Publishing, 800-634-3966).
Flight time is work time. Says Musgrave, "Time in space is so valuable that I tend to do things there that you can only do in space." While his work may differ from yours, the challenge of focusing on tasks in flight is the same. Musgrave's solution? Checklists. "Loads of them." Determine a realistic agenda and stick to it.
Productivity Agenda 1:
Gary Hamel makes a point never to talk to his seat companions during flights — even when they happen to be Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Instead, he dons his $79 Noise Buster — active-noise-canceling headphones from Noise Cancellation Technologies (800-278-3526) — and digs into the carefully calibrated bag of reading his secretary has set aside for him.
Productivity Agenda 2:
Harvey Mackay makes a point always to talk to his seat companion. Sometimes he waits until 20 minutes before the plane lands to introduce himself to his neighbors, saving most of the flight to get his work done.
Productivity Power Tools:
Musgrave manages eight or nine ThinkPad and Grid notebooks on the space shuttle to coordinate mechanical operations, access data, and send e-mail. Novey-White only takes one laptop, but routinely writes 50% of her reports on the road.
Air Health & Sickness
Advice on mitigating the effects of mileage on body and soul ranges from good old common sense — drink buckets of water but no alcohol, eat and sleep according to the destination time zone, wear comfortable shoes — to New Age remedies — potions of deer antlers, ginseng, and beetle dung; aromatherapy and acupressure — to Dr. Feelgood — take a few valium before and a melatonin after flights.
Drink, Yes. Water, No
The right liquid, says one extreme traveler, is champagne!
Swallow half a bottle of the bubbly stuff when you board. The benefits: a pleasant doze plus the chemistry of carbonation.
Sleep. Ackerman reads until "bleary-eyed" during the first hour of the flight (he suggests the in-flight magazine) and then falls off into a restful sleep.
Light. Astronauts use bright lights to signal day and red goggles to signal night to their bodies.
The Purpose. The true goal of travel, of course, is not simply getting there. The deeper endeavor, says Hamel, is "becoming a citizen of the world." In Musgrave's case, citizenship extends to the entire universe. "Travel is at the top of the list of things that expand the mind," he says. "The best aspects of space are similar to touring down here: it broadens your horizons and takes away your own perspective to give you a different vantage point."
A version of this article appeared in the June/July 1996 issue of Fast Company magazine.