Frequent fliers share business travel mishaps, tips for better odds on the road

COURTESY: PAULA BARRAN - Barran Liebman partner Paula Barran. Don't fly with a head cold.

Oh, the woes that arise in the places people must go and the fickle fates of the sometimes not-so-friendly skies. Some prominent Portlanders recently described some of their misadventures and offered advice on how to better ensure a successful business trip.

Paula Barran

Barran was headed to Montreal for a conference presentation and was looking forward to the trip. "The weather was good, the flight was on time, no turbulence, nobody obnoxious sitting next to me," said the founding partner of law firm Barran Liebman.

However, she had gotten on the flight with a head cold and, by the time she landed, Barran could hear nothing — including questions from customs and immigration officials or anything the hotel clerk said. The problem worsened overnight and persisted throughout her 90-minute presentation. It was so bad that she had to accept questions from the attendees in writing.

The seasoned traveler may not have a solution for hearing problems caused by head colds, although she would recommend leaving earlier and taking a train to Montreal since it's a nice trip.

"But for other problems, I swear by having a good travel agent. There was that time with the catastrophic flight cancellation, and instead of standing in line behind 45 people who got there before me, I had that travel agent who said the magic words: 'I just booked you on the last seat to Seattle — you can get the shuttle from there,'" Barran said.

COURTESY: TOM ROBBINS - When business travel serves you lemons, take side trips, says principal at Yost Grube Hall Architecture Tom Robbins

Thomas Robbins

Robbins, AIA, LEED BD+C, often travels internationally for projects in his role as a principal at Yost Grube Hall Architecture. His business trips have carried him to Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Burma (Myanmar), Australia, Angola, Gabon, the UK and Canada.

"I think that everyone likely has a similar story. You have been traveling over 20 hours, you are tired, and you find yourself wedged in a seat between two individuals who have an overpowering amount of perfume or cologne on, which is making you nauseous. You can't get out of your seat due to turbulence, the armrests have been taken over, and the one-hour flight seems to take forever," he said.

Robbins recalled another flight out of Gabon that was scheduled to leave well after midnight. The terminal, which he described as small and very humid, was full of French oil workers returning from their shifts and chugging beers in celebration. His flight had mechanical issues so Robbins found a cool spot on the tile floor to try to sleep.

"The terminal was very full, so finding a spot to stretch out was a gift. Of course, after sleeping briefly, I awoke to a beer-fueled, loud disagreement occurring around me between two tough-looking oil workers. I abandoned my floor space before I got crushed, as the two tackled one another in a 'friendly tussle.' The flight eventually left early the next morning, but it was a long night," he said.

Robbins' advice for fellow business travelers is to take advantage of what may seem to be a problem, such as a canceled or missed flight and long layovers. These can provide opportunities to explore and experience the local culture.

"If you find yourself with a weekend on your hands, make sure you do a quick side trip," he said. "Travel as light as possible and never check baggage, but always make room for shorts, good walking shoes and a sketch book to capture where you've been."

COURTESY: GREG GOODMAN - Greg Goodman, co-president of Downtown Development Group, says don't check baggage and work your frequent flyer status to take advantage of protective perks.

Greg Goodman

The co-president of Downtown Development Group said he is grateful not to have experienced many snafus on the road. Like Robbins, Goodman advised against checking bags. Other tips from Goodman include avoiding the middle seat when possible, upgrading to MVP status because it allows people to cancel coach tickets without additional fees, and signing up for programs that expedite the security screening process.

COURTESY: AIA - Architect Robert Hoffman says chill out and expect the unexpected.

Robert Hoffman

Hoffman, AIA, executive vice president and CEO of AIA Oregon and Portland's Center for Architecture, recalled traveling to Washington, D.C., for a conference in the spring of 2010. The visit took place during a record snowstorm along the East Coast, which cancelled flights indefinitely and marked the first time he heard the term "Snowpocolypse."

The Oregon delegation attending the conference had the choice of either going to the airport and sleeping on the floor in the hope that a plane home would eventually depart. Or, they could negotiate an extended stay in their hotel. Hoffman said the hotel's management kindly agreed to reduce the rate for the stranded guests.

"Unfortunately, there was nowhere to go because nothing was open due to the several feet of snow that covered everything. It was a ghost town, so we waited in post-conference purgatory. The 'glamor' of business travel was long gone, and the hotel was starting to run out of compelling food choices," he said.

Ultimately, Hoffman decided to take a flight to Portland through Detroit and Denver that left from the Baltimore airport. This required a cab ride that normally took about 45 minutes along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Hoffman and a colleague decided to catch a cab at 3 a.m. to attempt the trek.

"What we experienced may have been the most terrifying cab ride I would ever experience. Our driver proceeded to attempt a new land speed record from D.C. to Baltimore, despite the snow and practically whiteout conditions," he said. "We were driving an estimated 55-60 miles per hour, swerving from the right to left on a two-lane highway while our skilled but distracted cabby engaged in an endless and energetic phone call with what sounded like a relative in a very distant country. It was almost as if he was determined to demonstrate how much he either didn't care about any of the lives in the car, or that his skill was so great as to render the effects of the weather a complete non-factor."

Hoffman noted that they arrived at the airport at sunrise intact but shaken — and with a greater appreciation for the little things in life. His advice for fellow business travelers is to always plan for the unexpected and remember that larger forces of nature, or mankind, may be at play.

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