04 Jun The Doubtful Future of Business Travel
The Doubtful Future of Business Travel
The Extinction of the Frequent Flyer Species May Be at Hand!
As a long time, business-driven frequent flyer, I’ve racked up more than four million miles since my first business trip, in 1983, from Denver to Oklahoma City. The flying, the rental cars, the hotels, new restaurants, and, of course, the clients…. It was fun, at first. All that travel was a fulfillment of my dream, as a college student in the late 60s and early 70s, to become so skillful in my chosen career as an architect, that clients would gladly pay my airfare so that I could fly-in and solve their special problems — It was a good lesson in “be careful what you wish for”! Four million miles and 37 years later, an older, more road-weary version of myself was gearing up, in January 2020 for another year of more than 100 business flight segments. When my March 11 flight from Indianapolis landed in Orlando, I was on pace for another year of 100 K flight miles.
Today, June 3, 2020, marks 12 full weeks since I’ve been in an airplane, now known pandemically, as a “germ-tube”. I’ve not missed the travel. It had become a necessary evil, an ordeal of demeaning and exhausting experiences essential to enable me to do the work that I have come to love and depend on for, not only a salary but the personal fulfillment and the joy that came from designing great buildings for demanding clients.
The adjustment has been relatively easy. For the past 12 weeks, staying home and limiting transportation needs to drive-able distances has been a no-sweat proposition. Like everyone else who has adapted to the “stay-at-home” – “safer-at-home” realities, I’ve been using web-based tools like GoToMeeting, Zoom, WebEx and Skype as the replacement apps for what jet airplanes used to deliver — collaborative meeting rooms dedicated to informed decision making by geographically dispersed teams of talent—whether the scale of separation is measured in city blocks or time zones.
I was first introduced to screen sharing in 2008. We used the GoToMeeting service to unsuccessfully introduce ourselves to a client prospect in Cincinnati. Since then we would settle for a GoToMeeting, when and only when unavoidable circumstances prevented a face-to-face gathering. As we have all seen during the national pandemic shutdown, screen-sharing has become the new normal. Finding that in-room A/V screens employ basically the same technology as long-distance screen sharing, the adjustment to remote screen sharing has been readily made. It had been years since I’ve had to travel with checked baggage of bulky presentation boards and trays full of Kodak slides. We needed only to tuck a flash drive into a pocket.
For most of what we do as architects, I do not see things changing back to the old ways once this pandemic has run its course. Yes, there still may be a need for architects to fly to distant locations at the onset of a project in order to walk a difficult site or assess, in person, an old building slated for adaptive re-use. Like weddings, graduations and funerals, groundbreakings and grand openings may still be an occasion for clients, architects and their engineering/construction colleagues to physically gather and raise a glass in celebration of accomplishment…. But maybe not. We’ll see soon enough. Meanwhile, I’m going to enjoy the respite in endless travel, but I do plan to hang on to my frequent flier miles. If the airlines can find a way to stay in business, I may use them to fly loved ones in for visits to my happy, stay-at-home location!