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For Air Commuters, It’s All About the Connections

For Air Commuters, It’s All About the Connections

Whether you’ve already put in 1,000 air segments between home and work or are merely considering a job or assignment that will put you on that path, you know commuting by plane isn’t an easy way of life.

Perhaps on a weekly basis, you have to make your way across a few states or the entire country in an age when air travel plans are brittle, because airlines are stretched to their logistical limits. At the same time, if you have a family, you need to find a routine that allows you to walk in the front door of your home without the dog growling as if you were a burglar.

So here are some hard-earned lessons and effective habits gleaned from two air commuters for whom 6 a.m. is more likely a boarding time than wake-up time.

Case Study #1: The Classic Air Commuter

For Bill Bowman, CEO of US Inspect, the weekly air commute runs like clockwork -- 98 percent of the time.

A taxi picks up Bowman from his Boston-area home at 5 a.m.; his plane pushes back from the gate at Logan Airport at 6 a.m.; he arrives at Dulles Airport in Virginia at 7:30 a.m., picks up a rental car and usually arrives at his office in Chantilly at about 8:15 a.m., earlier than many of his staff.

“I have nine kids and five grandchildren, so moving to Virginia is not an option,” says Bowman, whose company does home inspections. “Sunday night we have the whole family to our house, so I sleep on the plane Monday morning.

During the week, Bowman’s commute is brief. He always stays at the same hotel, located just five minutes from his office.

Bowman then returns home to Boston late Thursday, when air travel can be “a lot hairier” because of flight delays that tend to build up during the day. Still, with his laptop aboard, Bowman makes the flight productive, and he’s generally home for supper.

On Friday, taking advantage of the solitude of his home office, the chief executive does “a lot of reading and thinking and strategy stuff.”

Case Study #2: The Itinerant Consultant

There are other air commuters who incorporate a regular weekly trip into a more complex business travel schedule.

Dr. John Ferry, senior vice president with The Hunter Group, a healthcare consulting firm, has an extended engagement with a client in Dayton, requiring a weekly trip from his home in Providence, Rhode Island.

Ferry begins his week with two air segments: a very early Monday flight from Providence to Cleveland and a connecting flight to Dayton. Typically, he works with the Dayton client through Tuesday or Wednesday, and then travels to meet with other clients for shorter periods through the rest of the week, touching base with home and family between client visits, when possible.

It’s no surprise Ferry logs about 200 air segments and as many as 150,000 miles annually.

The variability in client visits makes Ferry’s schedule unpredictable and more vulnerable to the vicissitudes of weather, airline mishaps and missed connections. Seeking to return home recently, he “missed a connection in Cleveland, ran to the next terminal to get a plane to Boston and missed it by three minutes, then missed a plane to Hartford [Connecticut] and ended up hopping a plane to Manchester, New Hampshire,” where he rented a car and drove to Providence.

The steady engagement in Dayton has had the counterintuitive effect of tipping Ferry’s work-life balance in an undesirable direction. “When I’m in one place three days a week, there’s less wear and tear on me. But it has reduced the opportunities to root myself to home again,” he says.

Given the work-life priorities of Generations X and Y, air commuting is likely to be a fact of life for many professionals and their employers for years to come. “Many young people just don’t want to relocate, and we in management just have to get used to it,” Bowman says.

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