Category: Business travel

Flying into bad weather is asking for trouble (weather waiver)

Here is a reader submitted story and some advice on rescheduling business trips to avoid bad weather.

On a business trip from Tampa to NYC. Here was my day:

1 pm flight delayed a half hour leaving Tampa to JFK. No big deal.

Flight makes it to JFK airspace on schedule! Hooray! Pilot tells us we have to enter a holding pattern, but they prepared for this and have plenty of fuel.

90 minutes of holding, we begin our approach. Pilot suddenly makes an announcement that JFK has an equipment failure and we need to go back into holding pattern. Our plane no longer has enough fuel, we are diverted to Albany.

We refuel in Albany and push back, but then receive word that JFK is on a ground halt due to weather. Three hour delay in Albany.

We finally board the plane and push back again, but apparently Albany is a very understaffed airport and there is only one crew to de-ice the plane. It takes an additional 2 hours to prep the plane.

At this point, the pilot informs us they have been shift timed out and flight to JFK is cancelled.

As I type, Delta is coordinating buses to take us on a 3 hour trip to JFK. This is the stuff of travel nightmares.

These days, if airlines post a weather waiver for my cities and dates I just assume my flights will be monumentally mucked up. If at all possible I’ll try to move around to avoid the weather. FAR 117 (pilot duty time restrictions) and extended ground delay rules have forced airlines to be much more proactive with their response to foul weather. So we see more cancellations before and during storms but, arguably, faster/better service recovery on the other side.

It didn’t use to be this way… time was you almost had to wait around for your flight to be canceled before you could do anything with your ticket. Now, I can change, cancel and refund travel days in advance of a big storm without even having to talk to an agent.

Moral of the story… if my flight is predicted to fall inside a winter storm (or weather waiver) I’ll try to get out early, wait out the storm at my origin, or bag the trip entirely. Trying to go in the midst of it is asking for trouble.

10 Tips for the China Business Traveler

1. Read books. If you’re going to go to China for business with any regularity, you’ve got to read about it, and that means moving beyond websites and The Wall Street Journal. The best book for businesspeople is Tim Clissold’s Mr. China. However, business books about China are often the most shallow and sensationalistic China books available, so be careful when searching for one. Books that tell you about Chinese culture and the Chinese mindset are often more valuable to businesspeople than books about doing business. Read narratives – first-hand accounts –

not how-to books.

2. Don’t speak Chinese. Westerners often try to memorize a few phrases thinking they’ll make a good impression. But although you might learn how to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you,’ it’s unlikely you’ll say them correctly because Chinese is tonal. Imagine a non-musician visiting Paul McCartney and thinking a good way to impress him is to play few bars of “Yesterday.” Don’t go there. Unless you’re serious about learning Mandarin, speak in plain, non-idiomatic English.

3. Address people by their working title. It’s not Mr. Chen; it’s Vice-president Chen.

4. Don’t bow, pat on the back, or hug. The Chinese do not bow and they consider a pat on the shoulder or back condescending, though most are probably aware back-patting is just a harmless, touchy-feely, Western bad habit. Public displays of affection are still rare in China and hugging could be taken to mean all kinds of things. Don’t waste money on books about Chinese social etiquette. Just exercise decorum and common sense.

5. There is business card etiquette. When someone gives you a business card, hold it in front of you at chest level with both hands and read it, smilingly, out loud. “Assistant Manager Jim Zhang. Dunhua Heavy Equipment. Very good. Thank you very much.” Then stick the card in your front pocket. Bring plenty of your own business cards.

6. Remember: what is said is not always what is meant. If the take-home message in Confucius’ Analects is “obey” then in Sun Tzu’s Art of War it is “deceive.” It’s difficult to know what’s true and what isn’t in the Chinese world. There is a lack of forthrightness that drives many Westerners crazy. Be cautious and if you think there’s funny business, ask questions. Try to deal with someone you can trust.

7. Think like they do. It’s easy to say, but difficult to do. Many long-term expatriates develop an alter ego, a Chinese identity complete with Chinese name. They learn to handle things the Chinese way when dealing with Chinese people and they revert to handling things the Western way when dealing with Westerners. It takes years to learn how to do this, how to shift back and forth between the two worlds, but if you read and are observant, you should gain some understanding about the all-important mindset, something you should strive toward.

8. Stay away from the baijiu and be careful of the boys’ night out.Baijiu (literally: white liquor) is rice wine and it is powerful, paint-stripping stuff with the clean and refreshing taste of gasoline. You’re probably going to be wined and dined, and although that could happen at an upscale hotel with a Western menu, it’s most likely to occur at a Chinese restaurant with too many courses and too much booze. Have a glass, but then switch to something lighter. Terrible things happen with baijiu. Ambulances get called, consulates get telephoned…. Baijiu is bad news. In East Asia, business is often a boys’ club and business deals and negotiations are sometimes marked by a visit to dubious karaoke or some other questionable establishment. This is a bizarre ritual you don’t want to partake in. Businessmen bond with each other in seedy settings, but they also collect dirt on each other, ammunition – blackmail – to be used down the road if necessary. Don’t compromise yourself. After a dinner and drinks, go back to your hotel or at least to a place where the word ‘massage’ isn’t a euphemism.

9. Be careful what you say. Obviously, the last thing you want to do is offend someone. The problem is, in China, you could offend someone simply by raising a subject, cracking a joke, or relaying an anecdote. Don’t talk politics and don’t say anything that can be construed as denigrating. Your chain-smoking taxi driver couldn’t read the Chinese address you handed him and mistook a sidewalk for the highway? Consider it a war story you can trade with another Westerner.

10. Don’t project, set aside preconceptions, and observe. Neophytes are often shocked to discover much of what they’ve heard about China is wrong. The reason might be because they got their information from Westerners who never took the time to really think about China and obliterate a few of its associated misconceptions. One misconception is the idea that guanxi (connections) is an ultra-important component of Chinese culture. But it isn’t. Rather, guanxi is an important part of any culture, especially in the developing world. But it can seem more important in China because Chinese people like to talk openly about advancement and making money, and to advance and make money it helps to know people. You hear the word guanxi a lot, hence its alleged magnitude. Connections is a simple idea blown up into a behemoth one.

Overemphasizing and exaggeration are responsible for the notion that China and everything about it is mystical or inscrutable, but very little about China is mystical or inscrutable. Anyone can figure it out – by reading, observing, and thinking. You don’t have to become an old China hand to do business with the Chinese, but it helps to arm yourself with knowledge.

Troy Parfitt is the author of Why China Will Never Rule the World.

Business travel: Anyone ever work in Nigeria? Lagos, Abuja, River States?

Reader question: I know there are folks on this board from all walks in life and was looking for any advice, thoughts, stories…

I can’t get into details except to say I will likely be in Nigeria on and off for quite a while. A buddy said to carry a gun but I don’t think carrying is an option right now because it could get complicated due to corporate but I will probably look into it. I will be in and out of country a lot.

Answer 1: I have a good friend from college who worked there as a petroleum engineer. This was in the mid to late 1990s. He said that Lagos was incredibly dangerous. The company secretary had to carry. She ended up having to shoot a guy that was trying to carjack and kidnap her. Really like the Wild West. I also heard you have to bribe everyone to get anywhere in certain locations.

Answer 2: Big lessons from everyone I know: stay close to security, it’s not safe on your own. Don’t end up dead over having fun, and honestly there’s not much to be had. HIV is rampant and understanding of the disease in country is about as low as it gets. If you need to bribe someone stay away from them. The money you pay is nothing compared to what they think they’ll get for your sorry butt in ransom.

The traffic in Lagos is legendary — also let your driver get you places. I know personally of a few traffic run ins that ended in guns.

There are big percentages of folks in country that hate you off the plane because you represent the oil subsidies they are currently not getting. Imagine occupy Wall Street with hungry people with assult rifles. That’s been happening daily for half a year.

Bottom line, make your money do your job, let the company protect you and get home.

Answer 3: I’m from Nigeria, but I grew up in New York. I usually go every 4 or 5 years. I did a summer internship at an archtectural firm in Nigeria also. Those areas you mentioned are the main Cities including Ibadan, with Abuja being the capital. There’s a lot to see and do there.

Nigeria Is a Beautiful Country. You just have to know where to go. And just for the record, AIDS isn’t as big of an issue there as some other countries in Africa. The people in general are very educated and informed.

The biggest issues right now in the country is the Muslim fundamentalist in the Northern region of the country; and the corruption particularly in the government. That’s why if you do go there on a vacation or business it very important that you go with someone you can trust who knows the country and the best places to stay.

Is it safe to travel to Sao Paulo Brazil?

Reader question: I am going to Sao Paulo for work in May for two weeks and I was wondering if anyone here has ever been there? Let me know your good and bad experiences. Thanks.

While searching this blog I was surprised to see an old Brazil travel plan from 2005. I had also forgotten about this one that’s more recent.

I was able to speak with 4 people, two who went there on business, one who knows someone who went there on business, and one who lives there. Interestingly it’s the guy who has never been there who has the most negative opinion (although one guy who has been there seems pretty down on it as well:

1: I was there in February for 3 days, my company has an ongoing project. I found it very industrial and nice. I was told to keep my phone and laptop out of sight but I enjoyed the restaurants and the people in the hotel were very friendly.

2: Sao Paulo is pretty industrialized, lots and lots of traffic. My company hired us a driver and pretty much told us not to go out that it can be very dangerous. I only went out with the folks from Brazil that I was with. As for the dangerous part, our driver would not allow us to use or even display or phones/laptops etc. in the car. Guys on motorcycles drive past and will look in windows, smash them, and rob you of all your equipment. Everything had to remain in the trunk.

3. My buddy is down there a decent amount for work and is terrified every time he has to go down there. Be very very cautious. Its 80x worse than Rio. His company’s policy doesnt let them bring down laptops because of two stabbings over them.

4: A resident of São Paulo here 🙂

I’m from São Paulo and the violence – it’s not even close from what happens in Rio. Of course, we have problems with violence but it’s not an outlaw city where criminals reign. lol

It’s a big city, the biggest in Brazil. There are some problems with traffic and public transportation but nothing out of the acceptable, much like the Los Angeles traffic.

Since you’re coming in autumn, the rain season is over so the traffic is much better than would be in summer.

Like I said it’s a big city so there are many options for entertainment, restaurants, sports and other things. In your free time you probably will not stay with nothing to do.

By the way, about 2.5 years ago I mentioned a friend of mine and I were talking about a business where we would offer tours to Brazil. People want to see Carnaval but they just don’t know if they’ll be safe. Plus we want to show people the less touristy carnavals outside of Rio. I’ve never even been to Brazil – My friend is the expert and the one with connections so it’s up to him to design the product (while I would help market it). He did tell me recently that he’s working on getting a few tours up and running…

Traveling for work – how do you make it fun?

This is my second time in Yong In for work. The first time, I came up with a question about rural or urban vacations.

This time it’s a question about traveling for work in general: how do you make it fun?

I know I’m supposed to be working and shouldn’t be trying too hard to have fun but then again you only live once and should enjoy as much of life as you can, right?

Yet here I am with work to do, and no friends, family, or pets to distract me. I had a little fun when I arrived because I had time to go to the gym and get in a quick workout. The gym here isn’t great, but it does have a punching bag and this is only the second time in my life I’ve fooled with one of those.

I suppose I could go for a walk, but I am in the country so while trees are nice and everything I don’t know if that will make this 3 day trip really fun….

Business travel changes as companies try to cut expenses

Interesting New York Times article here on how the economy has changed the corporate idea of business travel. Fewer trips and cheaper trips are hurting companies like Continental:

It blamed the downgrades, as well as travelers’ decisions to forgo trips altogether, for its loss of $136 million during the first three months of 2009. Overall passenger revenue for the quarter fell 18.8 percent, compared with the first quarter of 2008.

Apparently hotels like Red Lion are now attracting some business travelers. I have never tried a Red Lion but I like that they are pet friendly.

It makes this old question seem pretty obvious now.

What happens when airlines reduce capacity?

I don’t have too much to say about this article but I did think it was a fairly interesting look at which airports could be affected when airlines reduce capacity in the fall as well as how that might impact business flyers.

Getting away from work

As usual Forbes talks about some vacations most of us can’t afford. They mention something about a 1-week vacation for $21,000. I think that’s about 3-5 months worth of vacation for me…

Anyway, I enjoyed reading about places with little cell service:

Gobi Desert

Alaskan wilderness



Rocky Mountains

Of course even in these places you have to be careful since parts of each do have service…

How are the foreign transaction fees on your credit card?

I just noticed that mine are pretty steep (I use an MBNA turned Bank of America NCL cruise rewards card) – a $600 charge = an $18 foreign transaction fee. A $9 charge is more like 25 cents. Is that normal?

Corporations trying to reduce travel expenses

I liked this article but let me warn you that it’s not the type I usually recommend. It discusses business travel from the corporate point of view, how Mike Hall has lowered costs for Johnson Controls travel program. He has:

reduced the number of preferred suppliers

driven down costs through integrated reporting tools

delivered online booking solutions on a market-specific basis to efficiently manage the corporation’s 20,000 travelers.

Sounds like a tough job but if he’s saving the company millions of dollars I’d think he has more job security than most of us…