The pandemic has been tough on all travellers, but there’s one group on which it has been particularly cruel – still, don’t feel too sorry for them…
There are many tribes in travel, so let’s distinguish between just two of them. First, there are business travellers. Let’s assume that’s you. Second, there are others who look like you, but aren’t. They are frequent travellers, too – maybe even more frequent than you – but they travel not because they have to but because they want to. Many of them aren’t actually business travellers, but instead they make it their business to travel. So who are they? And why has the Covid-19 crisis been so tough on them?
Well, to identify them at their most glamorous, think of the George Clooney film Up in The Air. It’s not quite accurate, because the Clooney character had to travel because of his job, but the relish he took in being an expert traveller, and the importance and benefits he felt he derived from his status (in every sense) – well, that’s a definite characteristic of this group. Let’s call them Points Addicts, although the points are more of a symptom than a cause.
For eight long months and counting, they have been grounded, abandoned and unloved, regular travel a faint silhouette at the far end of an empty airport terminal. In the recent past, these addicts burnished their social media profiles with the customary photo of their glass of Bolly fizzing away in BA’s Concorde Room at Heathrow T5. By the summer, they were forced to post pictures of their Eat Out to Help Out family meals at Pizza Express. And it’s hard to concentrate on loved ones when your Premier Platinum Elite Ambassador Club status with your airline of choice is looking increasingly precarious.
Back down to Earth
In the past, remedies to a hiatus in travel were easy to come by. A simple “tier point run” and your gold card could be retained. (For those who don’t know what a tier point run is, it is an intense series of flights taken for the sole purpose of getting or retaining airline frequent flyer status.)
Since this is currently not possible, and the addicts’ status levels have been left hanging in the balance with frequent flyer miles collecting dust, they could only take to social media, blogs and forums to lobby for its extension. Luckily for them, valued clients of the airlines (ie, you, the business travellers) were in a similar position, although at that point you were probably preoccupied with saving your companies or working out how to manage a team suddenly reliant on remote working.
Once their status was secured, it was back on to social media to feel wistful for the nights in January when they would stay up until the early hours to grab those early-bird first class Avios seats to Cape Town over New Year, followed by a rush to grab seat 1K – because, let’s face it, any other seat just doesn’t cut the mustard.
It’s not the same, though, when you can’t feign exhaustion at having to endure the fourth transatlantic “hop” this month. And how can you spark the envy of fellow subscribers to a points blog without boasting of securing a discounted business class ticket from London to Dubai, earning double Avios by ticketing it in Belarus and flying via Phoenix? Instead, they are left booking and then rebooking tickets, since no fees are being levied as the airlines scramble to hold on to any cash that customers are prepared to give them.
But it’s not the same as travelling, these endless computer games on airline websites. So here are five tips to help them cope during this traumatic time:
- Remember that business travel is a means to an end and not an end in itself.
- Essential business travel should be just that. Aviation isn’t environmentally friendly, “the pond” is not a pond and airliners burn 30,000 gallons of fuel to cross it, so fly when you really need to – either for work or a well-earned holiday – not just to retain status.
- No one is defined by their frequent flyer programme status and, if they are, it’s not in the way they think.
- If you are the sort of person who is “impressed” by travel, then recognise that really impressive travellers don’t have any status at all – they have their own jets.
- Your grounding is at least freeing up seats for former airline staff standby passengers like me!
Richard Tams is an airline consultant and executive coach