I was one of the 559,420 people screened by the TSA on Tuesday as I embarked on my first business travel since early March. Here’s why I loved every second of it and what was a different, weird, and surprising. Plus, I am ready to do more.
Like most business travelers I’ve been grounded since early March thanks to the pandemic that’s gutted our economy. As someone who traveled at least three times a month before that the sudden stop of all travel has been disorienting for me, then frustrating.
I was getting really antsy to get out and see my customers and my employees. Tired of Zoom calls. Tired of sitting in my same office chair looking at the same four walls for months. I suspect I am not alone.
My company, like most other firms, has slowed travel right now. But, we are slowly opening back up a bit and our sales team is definitely on the road now (I am not a sales guy anymore so my team wasn’t traveling much). We needed to do a dive and catch with a couple of distressed customers so we rallied a leadership team and booked our travel.
Bear in mind this is just one trip so hardly a sample size, but I think it highlights a few interesting points about traveling right now. Enjoy the observations.
- I am out of practice traveling. Forgot to pack in time so when my day got ahead of me with meetings I found myself scrambling to throw everything in my Knack Pack and running about 20 minutes behind. Fortunately, not a lot of traffic on the road and Ontario Airport is so easy.
- Ontario Airport is still so easy to get in and out of. Why wouldn’t it be, right – especially with less traffic? But, my home airport still has it’s spartan charm and I am not ashamed to admit I missed it.
- I brought 3 new things with me that I normally don’t travel with: a face mask, hand sanitizer, and disposable wipes. The rest was pretty standard.
- I should have brought more hand sanitizer. Went through mine pretty quickly.
- Speaking of doing things differently, here’s a few things I did different:
- Sat in a window seat (never do that) to improve my social distancing
- Wiped the heck out of my hotel room and rental car
- Used a lot of hand sanitizer…a lot
- Skipped any snack or beverage service
- Was hyper aware (not intentionally, mind you) of all the “stuff” you touch when traveling. Sheesh. Probably paranoia, but it was a little unsettling. Over time, I just gave into it and focused on not touching my face, socially distancing, and washing my hands.
- Southwest Airlines is still Southwest. Love those guys. Singing gate agents, quirky flight attendants, reasonable prices, efficient boarding, etc. They’ve still got their sizzle and while I haven’t flown any other airlines in this COVID-19 era, it’s easy to see why Southwest not only will survive this pandemic and financial disaster but may actually thrive.
- Southwest is also taking their mask policy pretty seriously. No vented masks and no bandannas. And they enforced it. The FA also politely reminded a passenger to make sure it covered their nose. I also saw a passenger who didn’t have a mask in the boarding area. When he finally boarded he had a Southwest freebie mask on.
- Wearing a mask on a plane is not that big of a deal – at least not for a 50 minute flight. For a 4 hour flight, it would have sucked. Wearing a mask with a beard sucks. Same with glasses. Ugh! But, not the end of the world, in the grand scheme of things.
- Social distancing on a plane is impossible – especially during boarding. By definition, this is not surprising. But, in an era where folks are hyper aware of “touching” things and being near people, it’s not even worth trying to socially distance. It can’t be done. I chose a window seat (which I normally hate) to avoid 64 other passengers passing me as they boarded. It also may not matter.
- For the most part, everyone was playing along. In the airport, rental car shuttle, on the plane, etc, most people were cooperating. Wearing a mask. Attempting to socially distance. There were exceptions, but they were just that. Exceptions.
- The Hilton Garden Inn Tucson Airport is still a crap hole. Extra cleaning measures notwithstanding, it is still a bit of a dump.
- Social norms / niceties are all screwed up. Do we shake hands? Bump fists? Head nods? From the customer to my fellow colleagues we were all a little awkward. A few of us bumped fists. With one batch of customers, it was greetings only – no touching. With another group of customers it was firm handshakes (and no masks…). No one really knew what to do. Maybe we need some new societal guidance (like a cheesy PSA or something).
- Speaking of customers, what’s the policy when the customers aren’t wearing masks? One customer we visited was fully masked, taking temperatures, etc. The other customer (a more rural customer if that helps) not so much. Not a mask in sight. Do we offend them if we wear them and they don’t? Do we hold our ground? Is it each employee’s decision? Feels like a perfect thing for a company policy to deal with. Our group was mixed. Some of us kept our masks on. Some mirrored the customer (a common sales tactic).
- Lots of rental cars. With one exception, the gang of employees we had on this trip all had separate rental cars. No one seemed interested in saving costs at the risk of spending time in a car with a colleague who we have no idea if they are healthy or not.
- The ONT airport was a ghost town, but the PHX airport was pretty busy. At least at the Southwest gates it was pretty full. Our flight had ever seat full (excluding middle seats). There was a mix of business travelers (less than I expected) a lot of students / young people, and families presumably traveling for leisure or personal reasons. Oddly, there was a relatively higher number of folks that were presumably over 60 years of age.
- To a person, our entire crew was not only glad to be out on the road, but downright giddy about it. And customers were thrilled to see us. Absolutely thrilled.
- Business Travel isn’t dead. Despite the death toll for business travel, there is something different about a face to face meeting with a customer and/or colleague. Looking these customers in the eye, on their turf mattered to them. It mattered to the strategy we were trying to implement. We’ve been on Zoom calls with them for weeks…but this was different. Arguably, we moved the ball more in a one our meetings then we’d done in weeks via virtual meetings. Business travel may be smaller in the future. It may take a different shape, but there is simply no replacement for face to face meetings. Sorry. It’s true.
My first business trip was weird. No doubt about that. But it was also probably my favorite business trip. Seriously, after spending so much time cooped up at home, it was incredible to get back out. To see customers. To see colleagues. To see something different than my home office. The social interaction, the different scenery, etc. It meant more than I expected it to.
Overall, I felt relatively safe, definitely a little paranoid, but absolutely ready to do it again.
How about you? Have you traveled recently? What was your experience like/ What was different for you? Did you feel safe? Drop us a comment or tweet us! We want to hear about it.
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