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.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Short Stories

This week I will make my first trip to the Raleigh/Durham International Airport since arriving home on a plane January 3rd. I am flying to New Orleans for the weekend to visit old friends, to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary, and to scatter the ashes of another old friend who died too young. Bill Parry loved New Orleans, and some of his remains will, well, remain there.

The interval between flights, about ten weeks, is the longest I can recall since I began consulting back in the seventies. While this marks another milestone for me in gradually transitioning off the road, I expect to do more consulting--and hence more traveling--when the economy picks up. Meantime, I have the time to marvel at some of the small ironies of travel.

For instance, when I planned this week's trip, I used Delta SkyMiles, and I had no trouble at all getting free seats. But I was originally going alone. About 45 days ago I began trying to find seats for my wife and two kids so they could join me in New Orleans. After all, the airlines are bombarding me with email offers for cheap flying. Please! they plead. Please fly with us! We are practically giving the seats away!

But of course not to every destination, and rarely when you really want to go. Certainly not to New Orleans this weekend, even weeks in advance. I looked at Southwest first: nothing cheap there. It would have cost me over $300 round trip each. It didn't make sense to spend over $900 for a short 2-day weekend.

Searches on Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia, and Hotwire, as well as on many individual airline websites, yielded no better fares. Even though Mardi Gras is well and truly behind us, there's no cheap way to get to NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) for the weekend.

Ditto for rental cars in the Crescent City this weekend. I finally snagged an AAA discount with Avis, but the weekend rates there are still high.

Is it just me, or have rental cars rates skyrocketed even as air fares and hotel rates have come down to earth? Because I could not find reasonable rates for upcoming trips to the Twin Cities, to Billings, to Jackson Hole, or to Denver, either. I worked hard looking every which way for rental cars in those places, and I was agnostic about the brand. Still no luck, and since the little guys were as expensive as the others, I eventually reserved cars with Hertz and Avis.

I had a similar experience looking for cheap air fares to the same cities: MSP, BIL, JAC, and DEN. Even Southwest was expensive to Denver, at least by comparison to last summer's trip there with my family. After AA announced a big sale last week, I finally settled on $210 (per person) round trip tickets RDU/DEN in August for my family of four. But the rental car for two weeks will cost more than the air fare!

We will drive again from Denver to Montana through Wyoming to spend almost two weeks with my wife's parents in the astonishingly beautiful Beartooth Mountains close to Absorakee. Because of our afternoon arrival in Denver, the trip by car to Montana requires an overnight stay, and we have already found that hotels en route are cheaper than last summer. But not the rental car.

And to close this week, I want to relay two recent travel stories sent to me by friends who are still on the road. The first one took place in rural Kansas and speaks for itself as my pal describes his hotel in an email to me:

"Made it here to [name withheld to protect the innocent], KS--there are few words that can describe this place. This is the high end hotel of the town (I could have stayed at the $23/nite place down the block). It is the first hotel room that I ever had that was limited to having 2 light bulbs (2 60 watters)--so reading is not an option.

"My cell phone does not get any reception, so I can't call home--hopefully [my wife] will notice that I am gone. I just had my supper at the town's high end restaurant (a Pizza Hut)--it may be the only fare in town.

"In the morning I have drive about 17 miles to another town where the plant is--I was told that this would take about 40 minutes. Not due to heavy traffic volume but I have to drive on back roads where the road signs are not posted--it will be an opportunity to see how well the GPS works that I got X-Mas.

"Have a great evening--am using the computer to help illuminate the room."

A couple of days later (last night) I got a call from another friend who'd flown the night before to St. John, Nova Scotia from Chicago. Due to arrive at 9:30 PM, his plane touched down at 2:30 AM. He had a breakfast meeting at 5:30 AM with a project team and went nonstop until 10:00 PM that night. Needless to say, he was brain dead. He asked at one point, "Why do we do this to ourselves?"

Well, exactly, and coincidentally the same night I got this email from another friend and former consulting colleague answering my own similar question:

"Retirement [from consulting] is the answer.....I've been away from "it all" for over a year now and do not miss it one bit. None of it! Especially because the quality of road life went down so far so fast. Road living like we had in Newark or even Des Moines disappeared long ago....replaced by minimal per diems and crap hotels.

"Call me some time....but, not when I'm with my grandson. Nothing is more important than my time with him."

While his point of view has appeal to me in my situation, "retirement from consulting" is currently an oxymoron since the consulting industry is not even fogging a mirror in this economy. Many consultants aren't working. Here are some current stats on the professional services industry (a big part of which is consulting):

Business Professional Services is seeing its

worse contraction since 1950:

* Job loss in February = 180,000

* Total job loss since December 2007 =

1.1 million or -5.9% of payroll

* Total job loss since October 2008 = 570,000

I suggested to one colleague that if things get any worse we should organize a new firm to be named with a tip of the hat to the Great Depression:

Pencil Cup Consultants, LLC.


Blogger Che Grovera said...

You are spot on about rental car prices! I've been traveling to Boston regularly for the last few months, and I've simply stopped looking at Hertz -- their rates start at $70/day (and then there are Boston's outrageous surcharges that add about $100 to the average weekly rental). Airfares are also hit-or-miss lately, but I can pretty much plan on being gouged if I can't buy at least seven days in advance. I've deferred or cancelled several trips already because the spot market on airfare was so ridiculous, so the airfare pricing gurus still don't seem to have learned enough lessons yet from this economy.

3/16/2009 4:26 PM  

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