Air Travel Tips

November 10, 2006
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If you meet a woman in an airport wearing shoes one size too big, holding an airport map in one hand and a water bottle in the other, it could be Alticor's Ania Waszkiewicz.

Waszkiewicz is a senior advisor in corporate communications for the Ada-based company. She travels several times a year on business to Europe and Asia, and also returns to her native Poland to visit friends and family.

During long flights, Waszkiewicz said, she's discovered that her feet tend to swell. So she bought one pair of too-big shoes that she reserves strictly for air travel.

If her itinerary takes her to an airport she doesn't know, she'll go online and print out a map to make sure she doesn't get waylaid on her way to a connecting gate or ground transportation.

And "drinking plenty of water" helps with jet lag, Waszkiewicz added.

Alticor is one example of a big local company that sends its employees packing for business travel, but dozens of West Michigan companies of all sizes require their workers to travel, both throughout the U.S. and around the globe. In Census 2000, KentCounty residents listed work locations in dozens of states and countries, including China and New Zealand

Being on the road requires a set of personal and practical skills that no business school can teach. The Business Journal talked to Grand Rapids-based business travelers to find out what they've learned after logging thousands of miles.

Carlson Wagonlit Travel in Holland provides travel services to small and mid-size companies across the country, said public relations specialist Vickie Meeuwsen. Among Meeuwsen's suggestions:

  • Arrive more than 30 minutes before your scheduled flight (longer for international flights) to avoid having the airline give away your seat to a stand-by passenger. Fewer scheduled flights mean planes usually are flying at capacity.
  • When you are packing, put your liquid toiletries in a clear, re-closable plastic bag in an easily accessible location in your carry-on for ease at security points.
  • Ask for a hotel room with Internet access when you are making a reservation. Otherwise, there is no assurance your room will have it.
  • Use the express parking lot at the GeraldR.FordInternationalAirport in KentCounty. Shuttle vans run frequently and get you to the terminal in minutes.

Herman Miller's Cal Lubbers said business travel is a game of minutes. As director of dealer network operations, Lubbers travels throughout the U.S. 20 to 25 times per year for the Zeeland office furniture maker. He said he's always looking for ways to cut down on waiting time so that he can get out of the airport and down to business.

"The education of the traveler is as big an issue as anything," Lubbers said.

"A lot of peeves come from waiting in airports, and a lot of the waits have to do with people not knowing the rules. People are coming with things in their luggage that shouldn't be there, they're not prepared at the front to pass through screening points as they are supposed to be. I just think it's important for one to plan ahead a little bit."

John Fynewever, senior vice president and director of operations for Irwin Seating, said waiting time at airports is the necessary nemesis of business travelers.

"You might as well plan on it," said Fynewever, who travels mostly overseas. "I plan to have something to do. I have paperwork with me, projects with me, or I'm reading a book. You will have the time, and there's not a whole lot you're going to do to change that."

Fynewever, who counts Barcelona, Spain, as his favorite business trip, and Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia, as the best international airport, said lost luggage is "extremely frustrating. … It got to the point that I almost quit checking bags. I got luggage I could take with me as a carry-on and tried to learn to take not too many things with me. I'm traveling to Asia at the end of the month and I probably will not check a bag."

Steve Tuzzolino also works at Irwin Seating, but his travels are within the U.S. as distributor sales manager for the education market in a 14-state area.  He said a good travel agent "is worth their weight in gold," saving time and money by worrying about next week's trip while the business person is taking care of this week's business.

Tuzzolino said he spends 75 to 100 nights a year in hotels, and his top criteria is cleanliness. "You can get a nice hotel in a place like Opelika, Alabama, for $39 or $49 a night, and you can get a terrible room in Atlanta for $300 a night," he said. "Cleanliness, courtesy, helpfulness, proximity: If you have those things, sometimes it doesn't matter how much you pay."

Warner Norcross & Judd litigator Janet Ramsey said she relies on hotels to supply hair dryers, shampoo and other personal care items so that she doesn't have to pack them. "Certain chains do a good job in providing personal care products, so I try to use them so I don't have to carry half my medicine cabinet," she said.

Ramsey said one night in an Atlanta hotel with 300 high school band students convinced her to use ear plugs on a regular basis.

With cases in New Jersey, Georgia, Minnesota and Illinois and a profession awash in paperwork, Ramsey, an associate, said she'll often have FedEx deliver files to her destination ahead of time so that she can pack light and keep baggage to a minimum, preferably a carry-on.

On business trips, time must be managed, not just in using it well but in adjusting to a new time zone.

In addition to drinking lots of water, Waszkiewicz said she tries to immediately do as the locals do. "When I arrive in the market, whether in the morning or afternoon of their time, I try to adjust immediately to the time change. I try not to take naps and to survive until the evening, and go to bed at the right time in the time zone."

Another frequent traveler for Irwin Seating, John Eichinger, vice president, international, changes his watch to his destination's time as soon as he gets on the plane.

"I try to get my eating schedule and my sleeping schedule in synch with where I'm going, even while I'm on the plane," said Eichinger, whose job requires about 60 percent travel, mostly to plants in Spain, Brazil and China. "When I get to my destination, I try to spend as much time as I can in daylight, because it just helps you speed the process of adjusting your body to the new time zones."

Eichinger said he makes use of downtime while waiting at airports by keeping his briefcase filled with work, as well as the necessary technology — laptop computer, two cell phones, and a bag of wires, plugs and connectors to make sure he can stay connected anywhere in the world. Of course, he prefers wireless.

Here are some Web sites for business travelers, recommended by Carlson Wagonlit's Meeuwsen:

www.btnonline.com (Business Travel News Online)

www.state.gov/travelandbusiness (U.S. Department of State)

href="www.flightstats.com/go/Home/home.do

www.buzzle.com (click on Travel & Tourism, then Business & Executive Travel and Business Travel Etiquette)

news.airwise.com/index.html (AirWise News)

www.businesstraveller.com

www.mytravelrights.com (ConsumerTravelRightsCenter).    

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