Last week I was at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to participate in the policy board meeting for the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC). With a plane change in Dallas at DFW, it's about seven hours from Raleigh-Durham (RDU) to Oakland (OAK).
I always fly economy class, but I have been flying long enough and was lucky enough to get an American Airlines frequent flyer upgrade for the flight, which meant I had enough room to work with my laptop and do paperwork. Sadly, I'm closing in on two million lifetime miles on American, with no end in sight.
There were two really interesting things about the trip: the NERSC meeting's discussion about software for multicore processors and a fascinating dinner conversation with Pier Oddone, Director of Fermilab, about the search for the Higgs boson and the competition between Fermilab and CERN. However, more surprising was the reappearance of silverware and hot towels on the American flights. Just when I'd grown accustomed to eating with a plastic knife, the airlines are reintroducing amenities to lure business customers.
I've always thought it cruel and unusual punishment that airlines give free travel (or at least frequent flyer miles, not actually the same as free travel) to their most frequent flyers. The truth is that most of us who travel frequently most relish staying home. I only use frequent flyer miles for travel upgrades, which, if I am lucky enough to upgrade, allows me enough elbow room to work with my laptop and do paperwork on transcontinental trips, rather than wasting time sleeping or reading a bad novel while in coach.
Contrary to many perceptions, business travel is rarely about four and five star hotels and restaurants, with leisure time to visit the world's great cities. Usually, it's airport bagels for breakfast and no dinner or, if you are lucky, late night room service. If you are not so lucky, the inexpensive business hotel has no room service or all the restaurants closed before you arrived at 1am. All of this is mixed with jet lag and meetings that start early and end late. (Don't get me started about "guaranteed" hotel rooms that aren't there when the hotel is overbooked and you arrive in the wee hours of the morning. Yield management isn't much consolation when you are tired.)
So, if you see a business traveler with the standard equipment of black rollerboard and laptop computer bag, trudging grimly through the airport, look for the thousand yard stare. It's a tip off that they are tired, hungry and just want to sleep in their own bed.