I’m mad at myself right now. You see as I write this i’m all crunched in an middle airline seat on my way to Chicago to pick up the new car I bought online. Hope it’s not a lemon. Sadly i’m not going to be able to partake in Deep Dish pizza as I land at 9am local time and my goal is to be on my way back to North Carolina by 10. I would consider it a huge win if I can sleep in my own bed tonight. But back to being mad at myself.
I’m mad because I usually like to put in headphones to block out the sound of the plane and listen to podcasts. I’ve talked about some really good ones in my blog and there are some not as good, but at least I know the host is trying. ;) I’ve even loaded a bunch of tv shows and movies onto this laptop.. but again, I forgot the headphones so that means I’ll just have video and if I turn up the audio I’ll annoy the people next to me, assuming I can turn it up enough to hear anything at all. Thankfully I do have the laptop so I can at least try to get some writing done, that’s a good thing, right? And considering where I am and what i’m doing the subject that comes to mind is air travel. That’s a big subject, so I think i’m going to write a bit about one segment of it. The realities of Airports and the professional class.
Airports are one of the world’s gathering place of the professional class. Production techs at the local chemical manufacturing company or the manager of the local Carrabba’s tend not to have to hop flights every week. It’s usually the professional individual contributor who’s got to catch a flight here for a meeting at the home office. Or maybe it’s the professional sales rep who’s got to go to training somewhere, or possibly meet customers at a convention or tradeshow. Professionals travel, and we travel even more now that we have greater scope with limited layers of middle management.
Even when the professionals in question are not working it’s easy to spot them. Young professional couples have a certain look to them. This makes sense, if you’re traveling a bunch for work, it’s easy to bring your significant other on a trip and turn it into a mini-vacation than for the two of you to go. Even if the trip wasn’t appended to a work event, it’s existence may be because of the buildup of frequent flyer miles and this just shows in the people sitting in the waiting areas. These weekends away are very popular because it’s pretty much the only way you can get away as the typical PTO allotted by the company generally gets sucked up by family commitments. It’s my understanding that parts of the world get six to eight weeks paid leave a year, more than enough for family commitments and a real break from work. That’s not how it is in America. In America vacations are highly structured and generally last exactly one week. If you’re a single couple, then you can use that time to go to a destination vacation but the longer breaks get sucked up into the aforementioned trip back to the heart home for Christmas or Thanksgiving.
If you are part of the professional class that’s further along in life will have a family to travel with. You can see them as they hit the airport in a frenzied cacophony of activity focused on squeezing in as much as they can for that week if they are fortunate enough to travel to a destination. More than likely it’s not a fun destination, it is parents taking ‘the grans’ back to their parents who still live at the heart home. The kids walk along dragging their branded and garishly colored travel bags beside them. If the family is sedentary then the kids are either throwing a fit or zoned into a tablet. The adults universally have that stressed look on their face. Welcome to the family of the Professional Individual Contributor on a trip.
Business travel or personal travel, it’s obvious it’s the professional class. You can see it in the way people dress. It’s the logo shirts, the mall clothing, the professional attire on the business traveler. You can see it in the technology people use. Lots and lots of iDevices. iPhones, iPads, and even Microsoft Surface products. Very little $29 android straight talk phones here. I hate to say it but it’s very true in that you can see it in the physical appearance. Teeth that have seen dentists, body styles that more often than not are slimmer and more fit on average than you find in the local Walmart. This ain’t the “They Took ar’ Jobs!” crowd.
Ok, so people who have some income beyond minimum wage travel more regularly than others. People who have large geographical areas of responsibility travel. People who have expense accounts travel. That’s to be expected because air travel is expensive, right? The thing is that if we can see it, those that design and manage the airport environments see it too, and they have structured the products and services to best take advantage of a captive audience. The airport becomes a minefield of convenience.
You can see it in the products and services available at the stores. Luggage, suits, bistro’s, Overpriced children’s toys, magazines and book shops. Heck, even the vending machines sell electronics. I can put in my debit card (I don’t do credit) and pull out a $400 pair of Bose noise canceling headphones that the computer screen tells me is on sale. These concessions at the airport are very different than the vending machines you’d find at the local greyhound station. In every instance, they exist to meet a need. Forgot your earbuds that you buy for $10 on amazon, here is a pair for $30. Kid’s acting up? No problem, buy a toy for $40. Spilled something on your shirt before the big meeting, we have one, it’s only $79.
You can see it in how the airlines segment the on-boarding practice and pricing. Scan your card and be presented with a screen filled with great options to add to your ticket price. Want a seat with legroom? $25. Want to check a bag, $25. How about priority boarding? $20, and don’t forget the first class upgrade: $100. We can debate the business practice of the airline industry all day and night, but the point is it’s all targeted on making your life easier, and if you want it easier, you have to pay.
I think that’s where the real problem lies. You’re a professional. You work hard and in theory have earned enough to ‘hop a flight’ to do the things you want or need to do. But it’s never as easy as hopping a flight. Even putting aside the challenges with the TSA, airline reliability, and the actual airline products vis-a-vie the way we are all sardines in tubular cans, we are all being targeted. We still must be on our guard. We can’t relax even if the entire point of the trip is to relax. It’s always harder than we expect it to be. Each time we allow ourselves to let loose, to partake in the convenience like upgrading to more legroom, buying that pair of headphones, or getting the kids that toy to keep them quiet we are setting ourselves back from the bigger goals in our life, even if it’s for a little bit. The good part is as professionals we tend to be realists. We tend to plan and understand that when there is travel there will nearly always be the stress of travel and for the most part we are prepared to accept it and not let it bother us… much.
Still, we can’t partake in these types of conveniences too much. If you do, then you may become the person who has the nice car, and the nice vacation photos and a cruddy house or the credit card collectors calling 24/7 or showing up at that cruddy house unannounced. Yes, I’ve seen that happen to people you would never expect it to happen with. Convenience options that come at a price exists everywhere, but there is something different about it being in an airport because it’s such a difficult environment even when things are working well. Then again If it was a relaxing environment their wouldn’t be the need to sell those noise canceling headphones.
I’m so stressed just thinking about all of this I need a vacation. But now that I reflect a little more on what I just discussed, maybe I just need a staycation. I’ll let mom deal with the airport this year if she wants to see her grans.