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How to best describe business travel: ‘A non-fiction, live action Lord of the Flies at 30,000 feet’

February 18, 2020
By Todd Humber

Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Photo: Getty Images

For the hardscrabble veterans of business travel, there is little pleasure to be found in the skies.

While jetsetting on the company dime sounds fun to the uninitiated, the reality is red eyes, middle seats, time away from family, motionless security lines and countless delays and cancellations.

Oh, and that person you saw in the terminal hacking up a lung? Inevitably, he’ll be playing the role of the guy next to you in seat 22D. Pro-tip: Pack lots of Purell.

“But you get to visit all these exciting locales,” they say.


Sure. But your scenery is limited to that hotel room with the corporate rate and the industrial confines of the convention centre. Which, if you’re into bland architecture, stale air and poured concrete well, then, jackpot.

Not to mention the entire reason you’re there is to land the Johnson account. But Johnson doesn’t want to talk business, so you have to spend 99 per cent of your time feigning disinterest in it.

Don’t push that button

You can’t even recline your seat on the plane for a little extra space to make that connecting flight feel somewhat less calamitous. Wendi Williams, a teacher from Virginia Beach, found out the hard way that the person sitting behind you never takes kindly to having your seat smash their knees or dislodge whatever items they’ve managed to cobble onto the tray table.

Williams tweeted footage she filmed of a man repeatedly punching the back of her seat on a flight from New Orleans to Charlotte, North Carolina. According to CNN, she reclined her seat and was told — “with attitude” — to sit back up so he could eat from his tray table.

When he was done, she said, she reclined again. And he just started hammering away. Repeatedly. I’ll give him his due: He was committed to the non-stop fist bumping of the seat.

The jury is split on who was in the wrong. An unscientific survey of comments shows plenty of people lambasting the woman for reclining and just as many critical of the non-stop seat puncher.

What we have here, my friends, is a good old-fashioned etiquette war. In one corner, people point out the seat reclines for a reason and it’s one tiny way to make the cramped quarters of modern airliners semi-palatable. In the other, well — it’s the same argument. But from the “don’t get into my space to make yours better” point of view.

Delta CEO weighs in

The spat in question happened on American Airlines, but the CEO of Delta was pulled into the argument in an interview on CNBC. Ed Bastian was clearly caught off guard, and he gave a rambling — and confusing — answer.

“I think customers have the right to recline. We’ve been testing reduced recline. But I think that the proper thing to do is, if you’re going to recline into somebody that you ask if it’s OK first.”

He then added that he, personally, doesn’t follow this advice — he never says anything before putting his seat back. Then he later said he never reclined. Mind you, he also probably only ever flies first class — an elusive and somewhat mythical section of the plane for nearly all travelers. In other words, it’s up to y’all in coach to sort this out for yourselves.

This is business travel in 2020 — a non-fiction, live action Lord of the Flies played out at 30,000 feet.

The only solace? The lobby bar awaiting you at the destination — which will inevitably be packed, despite the $14 pints, $18 wine and $24 bourbon. Pull up a chair, my friend, and stretch those legs out. We’re all in this together.

Now let’s talk about the Johnson account.


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