The High Life

Up in the air: Road Warrior gives thanks — along with gripes — about the life of a frequent flier

Up in the air: Road Warrior on the highs and lows of non-stop travel

Being a frequent flier has its ups and downs. Tumi/Facebook

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the most traveled day of the year. Planes, trains and automobiles are filled to capacity and there is not a ticket to be had. Since I will be spending the holiday with my family at home, it seems like the perfect time to offer my 30,000 foot perspective of business travel in 2015. 

Lest you doubt my sky cred, let’s look at the numbers: I have logged 165,000 miles this year, just on United. And that was only as of October 31 and did not include my vacation to Bali and my visits to our firm’s London office. A flight from New York to San Francisco is exactly 3,848 miles. Make that trip every other week and you are well on your way to unlimited free drink coupons.

And you will need them.

1) The highest Frequent Flier status takes some of the pain out of travel

United awards its top one percent of revenue generators by awarding them their highly coveted Global Services status. I must admit it is pretty nifty to be able to board the plane before anyone else and being driven to your connecting flight across the tarmac via Mercedes. You are also guaranteed your meal choice though one may not view that as a perk but more a choice of poisons. Once I even received a hand-written note from the pilot during my flight telling me he was proud to have “one of United’s most important customers aboard.”

For a Leo, who likes appreciation, it was a nice touch.  

2) But not all

Not even Global Services can make up for the operational missteps of a poorly run airline. Most of us who fly United (and the beloved Continental) have been more than patient as the new United tried to get off the ground. Even Russian crash machine Aeroflot had Wi-Fi before United.

I am not one of these fliers who complain when weather causes a flight delay. Who wants to take off in a tornado? But I can count on 25 percent of my flights having mechanical issues.

It is not just the mechanical issues but United’s inability to respond to those issues, re-book and get passengers on their way. On last month’s trip to New York, my 7 am flight did not leave until 4 pm and United was unable to re-route me on one of its other hourly flights. I am almost ready to change horses. Stay tuned for my 2016 road warrior report. 

3) Some hotels are getting it right

I guess someone read my column where I complained about all that was wrong in the hotel world. Recently I have noticed that the hotels I frequent are offering free Wi-Fi and some have even removed the dreaded and smelly shower curtain. My partner who doesn’t mind the curtains but hates the lack of plugs and bathtubs appreciates that some hotels now offer bedside lamps that have outlets.

4) But not totally

The mini bar continues to disappear only to be replaced by an empty refrigerator. Maybe I notice it more this time of year because it is big enough to hold a turkey and the makings of a Thanksgiving dinner. If only the refrigerator actually cooled… what a great time my business colleagues and I could have!  “Come to my room for some hors d’ouevres that I will whip up myself."

5) And finally….a few more gripes before the gratitude

I am amazed at how people who travel as much as I do, forget basic plane etiquette — the routine, if you will. Most of us road warriors have long since obtained TSA clearance which requires that we only remove our pocket items and metal from our pockets before walking through security. But every single Monday morning, the line comes to a screeching halt as some idiot struggles to untie his shoes, remove his laptop from the bag, pull out his baggie full of toiletries, and remove his belt despite TSA personnel telling him he does not need to do that.

The offender responds, “Don’t want to hold anyone up,” when he is doing just that. And to top it off, now that this offender is almost naked, the one thing he has forgotten is his freaking car keys with the 22-caliber bullet key chain, which not only sets off the security alarm but makes those who follow in danger of missing their flight.

Guys and gals, if you have TSA clearance, don’t act like you have never flown before.

My second gripe is the first class passenger in the aisle seat who sets up camp for the duration of the flight, never considering that I, sitting at the window, might want to use the restroom on our six-hour flight. On a recent trip to New York, my seat mate had set up a mobile office in the sky with a 25-pound lap top, papers galore, a three-course lunch, Starbucks coffee, headphones and a blanket. The only thing missing was a desktop lamp and printer!

I tried to postpone my restroom trip, hoping to avoid the dreaded sigh and “OK, I’ll let you out.” And in the 45 seconds that I was gone, he set up his “office” again so that upon my return, I had to wait until he disassembled it, and yes he sighed the second time as well.

Did he think I was never coming back? 

Despite having a love hate relationship with travel, I am the luckiest guy on the planet to be able to work with clients who have become friends and friends who have become clients. I get to meet people who have made a difference in the world. And adding to my bounty of gratitude is an extraordinary life partner, my son, extended family, business partner and work colleagues.

Count me grateful.  


As managing director of The Alexander Group, an executive search firm with offices in Houston, San Francisco, San Diego, New York, London and Park City, John C. Lamar is a real road warrior.