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On the Complexity of Business Travel

Spend a few minutes thinking about the complexity of business travel. The average business person goes on a seemingly straightforward business trip every few months, and many people hit the road and the runway every few weeks. If you look beyond the superficiality of the routine, you’ll discover a decision tree reminiscent of an old ivy vine.

Consider what goes into planning a business trip. Keep in mind the competing priorities and multiple variables confounded with the uncontrollable and unknown. Remember the fact that while the business traveler is in transit, the rest of her world is chugging along as if she were back at the office or backyard. Also, consider the stress.

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Expert participants in a WorldBank travel health symposium repeatedly noted that the impact of travel-related stress was grossly understudied by academia — and practically ignored by business. Business travel is one of the most complex and underappreciated job responsibilities. Companies will spend tens of thousands of dollars on ergonomically designed office furniture and workplace training while giving a traveling leader a ticket, an expense form, and a pat on the back.

The key to reducing complexity is increasing information. While reviewing all of the factors involved in a typical business trip is beyond the scope of this edition of Transit Authority, the following example will shed light on some of the critical junctures in the decision tree mentioned above. So let’s unwind the ivy and examine the requisite components of a business trip — a two-day trip from San Diego to Chicago booked one week in advance.

Mapping Your Flight Path

You have a choice of about 40 different flights into either O’Hare or Midway, ranging in price from $160 to $1,000 on eight different carriers. You will want to consider the standard questions of price, arrival and departure times, and direct or indirect flights. You may want to consider frequent flyer miles, although given their reduced value (as well as increased restrictions, higher qualifying standards, and lower cash cost of airfares), this is less important than in the past. Also, consider the airline’s policies and fees on ticket changes, baggage charges, standby, and upgrades. For example, change fees can range up to $100.

For every six flights, one will arrive late. Before you book, check the flight’s on-time performance. This information is available through your travel agent and at the Bureau of Transportation Statistics Web site. Check the on-time arrival and departure statistics of the airport, by time of day, courtesy of the Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division‘s air travel consumer reports. No matter which airport you choose you’ll find that on-time performance declines as the day wears on.

Regional airports may be preferable to the enormous international airports. For example, Midway, a fly in the ear of the elephantine O’Hare, is closer to Chicago, is served by several low-fare carriers, is easy to access, and has high-quality shops, services, and restaurants.

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Airports of Call

Odds are, you will spend at least a few hours at the airport. In the past decade, airports across the country have spent billions of dollars expanding and upgrading services. Your can spend your time more effectively and pleasantly if you are aware of what is offered, preferably before you find yourself stuck there for several hours.

Airports increasingly offer services such as business centers, Wi-Fi, health club access, massage/spas, and higher-quality shopping and dining options. Most airport Web sites do a reasonably good job of listing restaurants and services. O’Hare has the standard food courts and fast food fare, but you will also find Wolfgang Puck restaurants in terminals 1 and 2 and a full-service restaurant in terminal 2. The O’Hare Hilton Hotel has a health club and a business center available to travelers as well as three restaurants. You will find the majority of Midway’s retailers and some great restaurants in its central food court and marketplace.

Ground Links

Avoid frustration by knowing the drive times from the airport to your destination before hand. Also be aware of rush hours for your particular city. In Chicago, the drive time from O’Hare to downtown is about 30 minutes but can extend to 50-plus minutes during the rush hours of 6-9 a.m. and 4-7 p.m. A trip from Midway takes about 20 minutes and 40 minutes during rush hours.

Don’t shy away from public transportation. It can often save you time and money. In Chicago if you are heading downtown during rush hour from O’Hare, your best bet is to take the CTA train (the El). The travel time is about 45 minutes and costs $1.50 as compared to about $35 for an hour-long cab ride.

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You may find car rental operators conveniently located at the airport or decide that the shuttle bus trip isn’t worth the hassle and choose to rent in town at what is often a lower cost. At O’Hare, rental locations are a two-mile shuttle bus ride from the airport; while at Midway you walk over to the second level of the parking garage.

Additionally, if you are heading to a large city, it is helpful to have some perspective on the realities of driving, walking, and parking in that particular city. In Chicago, your best bets for getting around within the city are to take a cab, ride the El, or walk. Available parking is confined to expensive lots or garages for the most part. Cabs are common, but if you are having difficulty look for a cab stand.

Lodging

While there are a dozen or so major hotel companies, there are about 80 hotel brands. Hotels, like consumer products, have jumped on the brand and line extension bandwagon. Holiday Inn, for example, offers Holiday Inn Hotels, Holiday Inn Express, and Holiday Inn Select. Look for properties that specifically target business travelers with amenities such as business-class rooms and high-speed Internet access.

About the Business Travel Almanac: Praised and recommended by the New York Times , the Business Travel Almanac is a must-have tool for any serious business traveler.

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