Business Travel, a bane of Product Management

Business travel, the term invokes jealousy in some people (you get to go to Europe AGAIN?), but reality is far less glamorous, a product management bane

The Dude is finishing up a three week business sojourn, and feels compelled to talk about the state of business travel. Product Managers need to get in front of customers. The promise of video conferencing, voice/video communications, and lately tele-presence to eliminate the need of getting physically in front of customers is a promise that still fails to deliver. There is still no replacement for the face to face, small audience meetings with actual customers and end users.

Of course, this means that you have to get on an airplane, eat bad food, schlepping to the far corners of the world. This post is to talk about some of the pains experienced.

Airlines. They all suck. I have flown so many different ones that they all blend together. Unless you have status, and can upgrade, all the airlines have pretty much merged into the same lousy service. US Domestic is the worst. Food is now a purchasable item, and that is OK, but they usually have high salt, unhealthy snack packs. They never seem to have enough salads or sandwiches, so that you pretty much are relegated to starving. Internationally, they do feed you, but the quality of the meals in coach (excuse me, “economy” class) is abysmal.

Travel agents. I have NEVER had a travel agent that I liked. Like airlines, they all suck. The one we use now is one I used about 12 years ago. Had I known that we used them, I would not have taken this job. They claim to get the best fares, but even a quick travelocity or expedia search will show lower fares. Even worse, they seem to have colluded with airlines to create a class that can’t be upgraded. Even if you are an elite member of the Frequent Flier program, and have system wide upgrades, these seats can’t be upgraded. WTF is up with that?

I have also had a travel agent book me through Tokyo, changing airlines, to get to Busan, Korea. Of course, I couldn’t check in in advance for the second flight, and had to go through immigration in Japan, collect my bag, RUN to the check in counter, and go through passport control to catch the flight to Busan. All in 45 minutes. His response? “The computer said it was an allowed connection”. I don’t care what the farking computer tells you, it is insane to think that you can do that in 45 minutes. So many more stories to tell.

Hotels. How come all business hotels in the US seem to have the exact same price? $149.95 (+/- a small delta) seems to be the price point. Usually including internet and about half the time, a skimpy continental breakfast. If you have to stay in an upscale hotel, expect to spend more, AND lay out $$$ for the internet. Internationally, it is worse. Internet is almost never free, but a breakfast is usually included. And in Europe, a non-smoking room is just a room that hasn’t been smoked in for a week or so. Gross. And what is it with the pillow/shower curtain? If they want me to enjoy the room and sleep better, do something about the damn AC unit that sounds like a Boeing 747 powering up for a take-off.

Local newspapers. I wonder what the paid circulation of USA Today is. If you remove the free copies from hotels (that you pay for in your daily rate), I bet their total circulation is about 14 copies. Overseas, I particularly enjoy reading the very tightly controlled Singapore or Chinese English language papers.

Cabs. How come the US cab drivers cringe when you want to pay with a credit card. I just don’t carry $200 in cash, and I like having a real receipt for my expenses. Overseas, they ALL take cards without grumbling. Also, how come some cities’ cab service is insanely overpriced. I visited Livorna in Michigan, and the cab from the airport, about a 10 minute drive, was $90.00. But in Boston, you can get around quite economically via cab. Go figure.

Miscellaneous items:

I stopped drinking on flights. Well, if I use miles to upgrade to business class, I will have a glass of port after dinner, but other than that, nothing. No beer, no wine, no liquor. Flying is hard enough, you get dehydrated regardless, and drinking alcohol takes it to a new level for me. I can’t get the attendants to serve enough water.

I never turn on the TV in a hotel room. I am either sleeping, working, or reading. I don’t watch local or international news at home, so it is not a stretch for me. When I travel, I work. Seems weird, but one of my colleagues I was traveling with recently changed rooms twice to get a functional TV. I only change rooms if I get lousy internet.

I never rent cars when I am traveling internationally. I could probably drive in Europe, but I prefer not to. Cabs, trains, and public transit seem to work well everywhere outside the US. I just spent a week in India, and I am certain that I could NEVER learn to drive there.

Business travel is a necessary evil of the life of a Product Manager. That doesn’t mean we have to enjoy it.

2018 Update

The cost of business hotels seems to be $180 +/-, and finally they stopped tossing the ubquitous USA Today at the hotel door.

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