Friday, January 28, 2011

Buiness Travelers: Should You Travel by Business or Economy on Airlines?

Have you been caught in this gap between the company you work for and suppliers like airlines as a business traveler this year as the need for business travel increases for in-person meetings? 

This gap I am speaking about is the challenge where companies are trying to keep expenses flat while businesses in the travel industry are being creative to add to their profits.  I am sharing this story written by Jim Wickenden, a frequent international business traveler.  

Jim Wickenden is a business development manager for a Silicon Valley software company and consultancy. A writer and historian, he travels extensively on business and for pleasure with a keen eye on the humanity, or lack of it at times, as he passes through.

Traveling Economy, Jim Wickenden

Since the financial meltdown, most companies are looking to cut business travel at the same time as the airlines are looking to make the most of their lucrative element of their travel customers. The result is that the airlines want to charge $9,000 for a flight from San Francisco to Tokyo and the employers look to send their salesmen and project managers by economy.

If you travel internationally for business, until recently you pretty much had two choices of aircraft, the 777 or the grand old dame, the 747.  The configurations for both in business class are being upgraded to the nice flat beds that offer real relaxation for the cursed red eye schedule.  In the past, business seating was little more than a hard Laz-Y-Boy that prodded and poked.  If you were above 5’10”, then the paucity of leg room forced your feet to grind against the foot “rest.”

Now, here is the rub, finally, I hear you say. Do you fly premium economy, save $7,500, and try to sleep in something akin to your grandmother’s rocking chair or do you use your precious air miles, pay a nominal fee, and get upgraded?

This traveler says, it all depends, and it takes no effort on your part. When Becky, the travel agent, is arranging the flights for you, ask what type of aircraft is being used for that particular flight. And then ask Becky if the new beds are installed in that particular aircraft. Becky certainly should know, if not ask her to find out for you. 

Ahh, if only it was that easy, but not quite.
Photo of inside a 777 taken by Carib, on Flickr, Creative Commons
The other part of the equation to consider is what the seat configuration is in economy. The new business class in the 777 has compelled the economy configuration to change from the intimate 2-5-2, which is great for business companions and romantic, snuggly honeymooners; but lousy for the poor schmuck traveling solo on the middle of the row of five. He is surrounded by Squawk and Whinge families and their offspring from Fidgetville. Now airlines have gone to the more equitable, but less ideal 3-3-3.

Another thing to consider is the new economy seats are hellish. They dip and tip; and a gap appears where nature never intended.   Again the lankier among us may feel they are being boxed and shipped by UPS instead of United. He probably will have to suffer that socially agonizing task of asking the slumbering galumph, who just had to have the isle seat, to shift his carcass in order to take the doctor prescribed stretch and bathroom break.

Like many things in this world, it’s a game of inches, and yes, size does matter. I bet the corporate CFO doesn’t see it that way ...and ask yourself, would you personally cover the difference in fares to get there at exactly the same time as the plebeians in economy? 

Personally I wouldn’t…however I would spend $500 getting my back straightened, my lumbar muscles massaged, and enjoy that upgraded hotel room with extra deep tub in my Tokyo high-rise; and laugh all the way to the soon to be submitted expense report.

* * *

Thanks, Jim, for this story.  What choice would YOU make?  Is one loss of business revenue another's gain?

Please, always, share your surprises, comments. We are anxious to hear from you~The Fun Tour Guru

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