Before the COVID cloud descended, I was fortunate in my chosen career to travel and see the world from a business class seat, but like so many now, not anymore. This does however give me the opportunity to share, just for fun really, some peculiar observations I’ve made over the years with the corporate traveller; regarded as the life support of airport retail and a dying breed now, no thanks to the pandemic.
Clearly the Zoom platform is the new normal of 1-2-1 human business interactions across the globe and the unimaginable cemetery of airlines. I guess inadvertently, we’ve found something Sir David Attenborough can for once be chipper about, with the dramatic reduction in ozone depleting, cancerous, aircraft contrails, so that’s a little good news from all this bad and who knows even Greta Thunberg might relax a tad.
In retrospect though this unplanned sabbatical from corporate travel for me is quite a blessing, as I no longer have to endure ‘Mr Corporate’ on the move, which is baffling at the best of times.
I consider myself a relatively humble traveller, who knows what to wear, what to take, where to sit on the silver bird (with no fuss), for the all-important swift strategic exit, to beat the immigration queue debacle on arrival. I know my gate and don’t rely on airport staff lazily for anything, and i’m always conscious of what time to leave the business lounge leaving plenty of time for the marathon to the gate. My personal KPI to aviation etiquette success, 35,000 feet up, is when I believe the crew almost don’t know I’m there. A far cry from many passengers I have witnessed, who believe they deserve the attentive service of a five star hotel guest relations manager, at all times.
My fine-tuned departure diligence and commitment to my fellow passengers thankfully never made me the subject of the Captain’s weary announcement, that we’re just finishing up the paperwork, which in reality, translates to, we’re still waiting for some selfish bastard traveller, who believes it’s OK to still be sipping champagne in the lounge. Shamelessly, and almost like he’s been inconvenienced, he eventually saunters on-board the aircraft for the inevitable walk of shame down the aisle, his air of nonchalance that 500 fellow passengers including the crew are now delayed, knowing full well we should have already pushed back and we’ve now missed our slot, beggars belief.
I’M COOLER ONLINE
What I could never get to grips with on these frequent trips is the regularity of corporate travellers who believe ‘my laptop is in front of me, which mandates its use’ behaviour. Personally I think laptops should be banned from airports. They hold up security checks, they break if the person in front of you reclines without warning (in cattle class) and it seems the world’s businessmen are incapable of sitting down at an airport for a moment, without flicking open the computer and pulling a serious face, while pretending that the machine is actually doing something. It isn’t.
The alpha males fortunate enough to locate an electrical socket, which is coveted, strictly guarded and comes at a premium in the business lounge, usually flex a muddle of about five different cables and devices as invariably none will have any charge, and settle in to assimilate productivity with short-lived red-eye eagerness. They then spend the first five minutes waiting for it to stop making chiming noises on start up and the next twenty discovering it won’t connect to the lounge Wi-Fi, something to this day I have never succeeded with in any airport. I would put money on what I call the existence of the airport Wi-Fi hogger, who lurks in dark café corners, downloading the Star Wars trilogy in glorious HD for free, effectively blocking the bitstreamy pipe thingy for everyone else. The alternative then is to login through your hotspot, but frustratingly this requires you to dig deep for a password you can never remember and by the time its emailed to an account you don’t have access to either, they have called your flight and its time to go.
I think instead of pretending to be international mover and shakers, who cannot be out of touch for a moment, leave the damn thing at home, speed up security checks and spend more time thinking about stuff or reading The Economist. This will make you a better, cleverer person and more people will want to do business with you, not a dinner party bore who believes his MacBook Air with high resolution, 14 inch retina display and four million pixels makes him look svelte and important.
IT’S A COVER UP
The other phenomena of the businessman on the move in airports, is the mobile phone. I started to notice several corporate types holding the handset with one hand and using the other hand to shield their mouths, huh? This is absurd; I mean how many people do you know that can actually lip-read? You really can have a normal conversation you know, because hate to say it, the reality is we’re genuinely not interested in what your saying. You might think you look like an arms dealer who’s negotiating with Kim Jong-un about the next consignment of solid state rocket-man fuel or the market price for plutonium rods, but we know you aren’t because your called Steve from Swindon and your crumpled egg stained suit is from Zara.
MEN IN BLACK
Which brings me to the next travel savvy recommendation. Don’t wear suits when you travel, it only means you have to carry a suit carrier. I did this once (never again), when I was shallow and stupid, worrying more about the creases in my Paul Smith trousers than what I had to sell. The carrier was the size of a house, with so many pockets, it created what I call ‘pocket-paranoia’, similar to what you experience with ski-suits, and almost cost me an extra airline ticket based on volumetric mass alone. My advice, adopt the ‘in the know’ travel convenience of a timeless polo shirt and chino’s, but never, ever, tuck your polo shirt in, as this will make you look like an American and if that isn’t bad enough, it might then find you in the concourse retail area perusing and contemplating fanny packs, the beginning of the end for most of us.
Furthermore when you are in the business lounge at 6 a.m. do not drink vast quantities of alcohol and pile your plate up high and mix croissants, curry and fruit like an apostle at The Last Supper, because it’s free. I witnessed this show of gluttony all the time, often while in the queue for the Clooney capsule coffee machine. Interestingly Dubai Airport business lounge was the worst, its like a Calcutta railway station in rush hour. Every man and his dog is in there and the capacious concourse a floor below almost looks empty because of it. This free dining for all concept and generosity from Emirates (not known for their freebies) creates an almost supermarket style, free shopping, trolley dash atmosphere around the various buffet stations, that one must skilfully now navigate or get trampled on. Lets also be honest here, your about to be served an hour into your flight with reconstituted eggs anyway so this poor eatery etiquette just reaffirms everyone’s suspicion, that you’re a business lounge virgin and only here as a ‘poverty guest’, on the back of your colleagues platinum airline loyalty card.
WORK IT OUT AND GET OUT
Finally, if you’re staying in an international hotel try not to go to the gym. I’ve stayed in fabulous cities all over the world rammed with art, culture, bars and many quirky restaurants with the option to truly eat and mix like a local. And yet my hotel’s gym was crammed with Anthony’s lifting things up and putting them down in the same place again. What an earth are you all doing? Get out of your shorts and immerse in some culture. You are blessed with a job that lets you travel, so don’t waste your time in the gym locker room, talking credit swaps, putting your suit in a silly trouser press that never works and lifting up stuff that’s just too heavy.
It seems ever since the 1990’s a bizarre code of conduct for businessmen exists often resulting in a decimated stock market and the prospect of many years of economic austerity and doldrums to right the wrongs. I put this down to the people that should have been oiling the wheels of commerce being in the gym or trying to impress colleagues with their MacBook Air, that never ever connects to airport Wi-Fi, as its probably too thin to even pick up a signal.
My ‘Mr Businessman’ travel tip conclusion then with all these observations is, wear a polo shirt and chinos, read The Economist, talk normally on the phone and make stuff people actually want to buy. Alternatively you could just Zoominar and make the world a cleaner better place.