All That's Wrong With Business Travel

Posted on May 26, 2015 by - Also by this author

The Beverly Hilton front desk 60 years ago. Not much has changed with check-in and check-out times.
The Beverly Hilton front desk 60 years ago. Not much has changed with check-in and check-out times.

I’m returning from an extended break from this blog that spanned our recent LCT Leadership Summit in Miami Beach on May 16-19 and a more restful Memorial Day weekend. The Summit, in my humble opinion, reaffirms LCT as the industry think tank leader and guide to the industry’s future. We hit all the big topics that affect everyone: TNCs, app technology, driverless cars and Millennial generation trends. Those who attended came away with first-rate information.

The advanced ideas of the Summit, however, contrasted sharply with my business travel experiences, underscoring how oh-so-20th Century much of the world still runs.

Airlines
Take airlines, for example. Once again, here we are in the most advanced period of human existence, and yet air travel resembles cattle cars in the sky. Can these airlines ever get it right? Cramped seats, stuffed overhead bins, restroom shortages on planes, high user fees. . . what dysfunctional group of business visionaries thought of this model?

Could some entrepreneur please create a business-class-only or economy-plus-only airline and just charge an extra $100 to $150 per round-trip? You’d have many takers.

Because the airlines squeeze in seats and charge fees for bags, people try to drag more onboard, thereby creating overhead bin shortages. Airlines then must offer free last-minute bag checks on crowded flights. Due to a shortage of restrooms, as in two for an entire coach cabin, the lines back up along the last three to four rows of seats. Memo: Don’t reserve seats in the last few rows. There’s also the smell. . .

While I mercifully had a “choice” seat near the front of the cabin but still lacked the extra legroom, I did figure out a way to hit back on the bag fee just before a recent non-stop flight. As expected, the gate attendant made the usual call for volunteers to offer up their bags for free bag check. Since it was a non-stop flight, I didn’t have to worry about bags getting lost via a connecting flight. I already had checked one bag for $25 and had two carry-ons with me.

So I took out a back pack from one of my carry-ons, put in some essentials, and then checked the largest carry-on bag for free at the gate. That meant I had two checked bags, and two smaller carry-ons, allowing me more legroom since I still put one in the overhead bin. Given that a second checked bag cost $60, I saved some money. So here’s the lesson: Bring two of the largest possible carry-on bags, with the means to “birth” a third one. When they call for free checked bags, check in your largest carry-on for free, and then still bring your two smaller carry-ons onto the plane, with one overhead and one by your feet.

My point is the airlines need competition, and thankfully, they are starting to get it as reported at LCTMag.com, here and here. Look for these concepts to take off and get cheaper, thereby giving people options beyond commercial air service. The most hopeful prediction from our Summit was the possibility that rapid driverless cars likely will decimate the regional airlines someday. It’ll be faster, cheaper and more comfortable to go from Los Angeles to San Francisco or Las Vegas or Phoenix door-to-door in a driverless car cabin than on a skinny regional jet.

Hotels
It amazes me that in the year 2015, four- and five-star hotels generally haven’t adopted the 24-7 service mentality of limousine companies. The late check-out policies are ridiculous. If your customers are asking for them, then there is a pressing demand, so the market should supply it. The traditional 4 p.m. to 11 a.m. next day hotel stays are relics of the past, given the growth of international travel and visitors from other time zones, and the growing conference-driven needs for hotel room check-ins and outs at all times of the day. As always, I needed a hotel check out at 2 p.m. because I was busy with the Summit until then. But I was told I could only have it at 12:30 p.m. Checking out late costs a $100 per hour fine. Haven’t hotels heard of 24/7 housekeeping? Or charging a reasonable hourly rate beyond check-out time? Or just being flexible for the sake of future customer loyalty and appreciation? Could Ritz-Carlton learn from Denny's, please?

Here again, as the case with the airlines, the solution lies in competition. Airbnb certainly has no rigid time constraints about check-ins and check-outs. It’s up to provider and guest. The hotel chains that figure this out will remain competitive in an app-driven, on-demand, and logically minded customer service world. Calling Hampton Inn: “Hello, I will be arriving at 11 a.m. on Monday and need to check out at 3 p.m. on Wednesday. Glad you can handle that. Where's my ding-dang cookie?”

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