Over the years I’ve done a fair bit of business travel. Some people think I have actually traveled a lot. Not true. I’ve met people who routinely spend over 200 nights a year in hotels. They travel a lot. That isn’t me. I travel a fair bit. Or I used to anyway. Now I hardly travel at all. In the last year I’ve been to Jordan twice, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and a few times to Washington D.C., and that’s it. Hardly anything at all.
When I used to travel a fair bit, I had a system all worked out. I kept a special travel case all packed with a tooth brush, razor, power adapters, fingernail clippers and such; the really important stuff. This was just for travel, and heaven help the person who borrowed something and didn’t put it back. I kept a special voodoo doll to deal with offenders. At least until security stopped letting people board planes carrying pins. My system made packing much easier. I didn’t need to worry about all those little details – I knew where things were if I needed them. And I traveled enough to keep everything current. But lately I’ve been getting out of practice. I’ve even started raiding my own travel stash. So packing for trips is a lot more stressful than it used to be.
All of which brings me to my latest trip. I was driving to the airport, lamenting my lost packing skills. I was running late, a consequence of too much time spent packing. Not “we have a problem” late, but getting close. And then, when I handed my passport to the agent, she muttered “we have a problem…”. These are not words I like to hear. Ever. But over the years I’ve learned a few important rules about travel. The most important one is:
1. When there is a problem, the first thing to ask yourself is “whose problem is this?” If it isn’t your problem, don’t worry about it. Leave it to the experts.
I was on time (just), I had my boarding pass, and I was at the correct airport. These are all mistakes I have learned, from painful experience, that it is best to avoid. I offered a hesitant “yes?” A moment of silence, clicking keys, and then “we’re overbooked…”.
At this point, some travelers get upset. I’ve never understood this. Like being rude to the person holding your fate in their hands is really going to help? Which brings us to the second rule.
2. Check your attitude along with the rest of the baggage you won’t need until your final destination. But be sure to keep your sense of humor in carry on, or better yet, in your shirt pocket. It will come in handy.
I was going to Washington D.C., but I was flying into BWI – Baltimore Washington International. It isn’t the most convenient Washington airport. In fact, it’s probably the least convenient. But it is the cheapest. Fortunately I realized the agent was ruling out flights to the other, more convenient, Washington airports. She looked relieved when I offered to “accept” flights to Washington National airport. I didn’t mention that I actually preferred it. But then she hit another “snag”. That flight didn’t leave for another seven hours, and she didn’t want me hanging around the airport all day. I smiled, and assured her it would be just fine. And that’s how I found myself headed back home on a beautiful sunny August morning, where I spent most of the day working. Late that afternoon I returned to the airport to catch the flight I’d wanted to take all along. You see, I’d actually tried to book the direct flight into National in the first place, but it was three times the price. I had reluctantly booked the flight to BWI instead, in spite of a five hour layover in Philadelphia.
But wait, it gets better. The White House is on the flight path into Washington National, so when the wind is from the south, planes are forced to approach from the west, executing a sharp right turn just before landing. I’ve always thought this offers the absolutely best views of Washington, but only if you have a window seat on the left side of the plane. Guess where I was seated.
At the end of the day, my brush with an overbooked flight gave me the direct flight I wanted, but couldn’t afford, an extra day at home, and a perfect view of Washington as we landed. The only sacrifice was missing a five hour layover in Philadelphia airport. So next time you travel, remember to ask yourself “whose problem is this?”