Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Achieving Balance,
Short Term & Long Term


All very frequent flyers seek balance to cope in flight. We each practice our personalized ways and means to avoid going stark raving mad inside the aluminum tubes called airplanes. We have to!

I long ago realized that it was too much to hope for actual enjoyment when flying. These days I strive for equanimity, and mostly I am able to strike a balance between the extremes of bedevilment and delight during flights. The health and well-being of my spirit depend upon achieving that balance.

For instance, during the past week I was held captive on 10 flights, yet I managed to survive the experiences and to hit my target sang-froid pretty well. Friends have asked how I do it. Here are my tips:

· Upgrade if at all possible – There’s nothing really first class about domestic first class any more, but it’s NOT COACH, and that’s an important distinction. The escape from the crowding in the rear cabin will almost certainly contribute mightily to your composure. I know it does mine. Pay for it with miles or money; just do it.

· Get an aisle seat as far forward as possible if in coach or on RJs – Some prefer windows, but I find access to the aisle is good for my karma, and being close to the front gives me the illusion that the plane is less crowded than it really is.

· If you must sit in a middle or window seat, shoot for the bulkhead or exit row­ – If the aisle seats are gone, ask for an exit row or bulkhead seat, both of which have more room (exit) or privacy (bulkhead) and help to cope with being hemmed in.

· Wear cheap industrial throw-away ear plugs through the entire flight – This has multiple advantages: It telegraphs to my seatmates that I prefer to keep my own counsel; it reduces the ear-splitting volumes of the incessant airplane PA announcements; and it muffles the hubbub of surrounding passengers blabbing their life stories to perfect strangers. Some prefer noise-reducing headphones, and in fact I own a pair or two, but they take up valuable room and must be turned off for climb-out and final approach. Throw-away earplugs are just as effective, take up no space, and can be used throughout the flight. And because they are so cheap, it doesn’t matter if you lose or break them. I always keep several pairs in my briefcase.

· Effect a meditative mood – I’ve never taken a meditation course nor studied Buddhism, but over time I have somehow honed a way to envelop myself in a contemplative shell. I don’t claim that my homegrown technique is a revelation or anything special; nonetheless, I find it highly effective at conserving my inner strength and energy. With a little practice you will, too.

· Always have reading material & forget about using your laptop – Once cocooned inside my meditative bubble, I find airplane time ideal for studying my work documents, reflecting and thinking about what to do and how to do it, and for catching up on professional and personal reading materials. Some of my best thinking and planning, in fact, have been done aboard airplanes. Many folks like to power up the old laptop, but I find it is often impractical due to lack of space, except when I snag an upgrade. (Laptops used aboard airplanes are not very private, either, something to consider when working with sensitive company material.)

· Keep your body comfortable – My experience is that many airplanes become too cold during flight. Being cold is stressful. As soon as I board I always grab a blanket if one is available, and I take one with me for the many flights where blankets are no longer provided (I bought a small blanket on an America Eagle flight for $5; it folds compactly into a side pocket of my carry-on bag). I also take a light jacket with me in the warmer seasons (and a heavy one in winter), and I keep my jacket in my lap instead of placing it in the overhead compartment. Airplane cabins usually get chilly as they climb to cruise altitude and before the seat belt sign goes off. Having the coat handy is important to maintaining body and mind harmony.

Seems like a lot to remember? Well, it’s second-nature to me now, as I am certain it must be for hundreds of thousands of veteran frequent flyers like me.


The techniques I described work well. Truth is, though, that my days of constant travel are numbered. I recently turned 59 years old; I have been traveling by air to work most every week as a consultant since I was 30—and I was flying often on business even BEFORE I became a consultant.

Where once there was enthusiastic commitment to such constant travel, now there is resignation and ambivalence. I intend to quit this crazy work pattern in the next year and to become more like the normal earth-bound everyman who values hearth and home over hostelry and airport hell.

Sure, maybe I HAVE become something of an expert business traveler, and it’s true that I have often been quoted on many topics relating to business travel in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. But it’s almost always as a victim of poor travel experiences of some sort. What’s the value of that press coverage? Well, all those articles and $3.75 (plus tax) will buy me a small cup of java at Starbucks.

I don’t crave publicity, but I’d prefer any mention of me in the media to be made in conjunction with winning a Nobel prize or rescuing a cat from a tree rather than for being victimized for the 489th time by the airlines.

The point of this exposition is to put down in words the contradictions of my lifestyle that plague me—fact is, that was one reason of creating this blog. Yes, I have developed effective coping skills to achieve a certain balance when traveling, but why do it at all? Yes, I enjoy my clients immensely and the multi-faceted challenges of working with them, but not if it means spending every week away from home. Yes, it pays well, and I am skilled at it, but my kids, both under ten, are growing up WITHOUT me 71% of every week!

Soon, therefore, I will leave the consulting world behind for the first time in 29 years to seek a career in the Research Triangle area. Soon I will cast aside the medals of travel that I once bragged about: Executive Platinum, Presidents’ Circle, Diamond Level, and the like. I will become just another schmuck who flies infrequently and boards in Zone 6, and I will be content.

And in so doing I will achieve a far greater balance in my life than the one I started writing about above.


Next week I intend to write about a topic that makes me very happy: The magnificent Kruger National Park in South Africa. Now that Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe is off limits, the Kruger is one of only two places left in Africa where you can do a civilized self-drive photo safari with your family on a reasonable budget (the other is Etosha National Park in Namibia, but Etosha is much smaller and more remote).

Our family went back to the Kruger for two weeks of nonstop game viewing in late March and early April. This was our third Kruger vacation with kids (I have been many times before our children were born), and we had another glorious experience!

If you are interested, I will tell you all about it next week, and I’ll tell you how to book it yourself. It’s safe, surprisingly easy, and affordable. Please let me know if you are interested in knowing more by writing me at (put KRUGER in the subject line).


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