Thursday, June 11, 2015

You too were once a business traveller virgin.....remember?

 Petrified.  My first business trip and that's how I felt.  I would have been about 22. Not excited, not anxious, but down right petrified.  I had to go to Wellington from Auckland.  OMG.  I had to actually drive, by myself to the airport, find the actual airport and then god forbid, I had to actually find a car-park at the airport (have you seen how crazy that place is?).  I then actually had to park, and do it in such a way that it was possible to pull the suitcase out of the backseat without damaging the cars next too me who parked too close (or was it me who parked to close?). 
Just thinking about that experience many years ago makes my heart race a few beats. I can look back and laugh now after almost filling a whole passport with entry stamps (those were the years).  I was even a sad person who used to COUNT my flights, when I got to 100 in under a year, it no longer seamed like a fun game!  I was so proud when Air New Zealand graduated me and took my Jade Airports card, to a Silver, then within months, up to Gold, and Finally the Nirvana of flying- to Gold Elite.  I even got free papers and seats at the front of the plane.  Year later, I had another proud moment, when I was demoted to a Jade Airpoints card again.  It meant I once again had my life back.  Thank you Air New Zealand!
My nightmare actually started in the car-park for my first ever business trip all those years ago... After working out how to find the airport, I was then confronted with working out in 30 seconds, with a queue of cars behind me, what parking options I should be taking.  Do I take a ticket and pay now?  How does all of this work?  I then realise that I'm actually not close enough to take a ticket and now cannot reverse back.  OMG.  Embarrassment.  Now I look like a real amateur. Open the door, get OUT of the car and pull the ticket OUT of the parking machine so I can get into the car park (Yes, I'm sure we've all been one of those morons at one point in our lives!).  Phew! To make matters worse, no one told me the airport was like some mini-city in itself with no street names and 2 lane roads! 
In my panic to work out how to get the closest park and make sure I was still actually in the car-park, I simply turned without looking, right into the front of a rather new looking BMW.  Hmmm.  I guess you can imagine that at 22, I did not have a BMW, in fact I don't think at the time I could even afford a BMW badge, let alone the real thing!  Now I was in a pickle.  I got out and apologised.  Thankfully the damage was not bad.  We exchanged numbers and I was constantly looking at my watch, heart racing that I would miss my first business flight.  What would my boss say?
I nursed my now damaged car into a car-park and realised the damage was not too bad.Still shaking, I embarked on the next part of the mission.  I had successfully completed Step One: Find The Airport.  I had not so successfully completed Step 2: Park the Car
Step Three: Remove Luggage from Car and Get Across Car Park   No one told me that there was also a knack to actually CARRYING everything from one end of the car park to the terminal, which from memory seamed like it was 2km away.  I also have this very vague memory at the time of borrowing a suitcase off my family which did not have wheels at the time.  Definitely a very rookie mistake. The laptop I had at the time, by itself would also definitely have exceeded the current in-flight baggage limit, and that's without the case or the power supply.  So now you can picture me, planning for every  eventuality.  Umbrella- check.  Warm Coat- Check.  Suitcase- Check.  Laptop - Check. Stacks of business papers- Check.  Book to read- Check. Sky-high- High-Heel Shoes - Check.  Killer Business Suit with tight Pencil Skirt - Check.
After staggering across the car park trying to look as elegant as one can with 25+ kg of luggage tottering across the great car-park abyss that is Auckland Airport Car-Park, I finally make it across the car-park to the terminal, even if it was not done in such an elegant way.  Step Three: Partially successful.
Step Four- Checking in.  All I had to do now was work out how to check in, then work out where the gate is (actually to be totally truthful I could not actually work out what a gate was at the time- it is an odd name don't you think?), and then I actually had get on the plane. 
I decided to use the "sheep philosophy" to check in.  All I should do was just follow everyone else.  Truthfully I remember feeling more like a possum in the headlights (but just wearing beautiful shoes).  Wow. The queues were long.  No electronic check-in back then!  I got up a rhythm after a while.  Put bag down, put sewing machine (opps- laptop) down, rest coat and umbrella on suitcase. Put handbag on top of suitcase.  Once you'd just finished that.  You'd then instantly repeat the exercise in reverse and move 2 paces forward. Then again, put bag down, put  laptop) down, rest coat and umbrella on suitcase. Put handbag on top of suitcase. After repeating the exercise 57 times, I also learnt how annoyed I would get with the person a few people in front of me not paying attention who would leave at least an 8 pace gap between them and the person in front, delaying the methodical rhythm the rest of the 140 of us had.  By this stage, I'd also worked out that I no longer needed to go to the gym that evening as my upper body work-out had concluded by the time I reached the check in counter.  Surprisingly, this step went smoothly and I was able to watch my suitcase disappear into the distance and be handed my boarding pass.  I remember how important I felt to see my name nicely printed on the boarding pass, until I saw with horror that boarding was in 15 minutes.  OMG.  What is a 'gate' and how do I find it in 10 minutes? Step Three: Moderate Success
Step Four- Finding The Gate.  I'm just pleased that I was quite a fit person back then, as by this stage I was near sprinting through the airport looking for any sign with the word 'Gate' on it.  I also never realised that wearing a pencil skirt is not a good thing to wear when moving at a fast pace with a laptop, handbag, umbrella and coat in tow.  So I found the sign that had my gate number on it.  I then had another odd experience.  For some reason, there was yet another journey.  The sign that said 'Gate x' was not actually the gate, and it was yet another 2km trek like the air-port car-park.  Cardio workout now completed, I arrived at what looked like a badly furnished waiting room.  Why can they not just call a gate a 'Waiting Lounge' - isn't that what it really is?  Looking at my watch I remember thinking at the time that it felt like I had been going for hours.  I looked at my watch- I think it was something like 6.45am.  OMG.  My day had not even started yet!!!
Too add to the terrifying feeling that I had at least another 12 hours ahead of me or more, I now had a panic on as I wasn't 100 percent sure I was actually in the right place.  I remember manoeuvring close to someone to try and take a peak at their boarding pass to make sure I was actually in the right place for the right flight.  Yes, I had actually worked it out.  A short 45 minutes later had me in a further panic that I had actually missed my flight.  I was then to find out that routine fibbing on a boarding pass about your boarding time is actually quite a standard thing and the fact they had printed on my boarding pass that I was boarding in 15 minutes was merely to ensure that I had an early morning cardio work-out and they were simply looking after my health. Finally the flight was called.  'Its now time to board flight xxx to Wellington'.  Step Four: Accomplished, just.
Step 5 - Surviving the Boarding Stampede.  What happened next was something that I recall being between a beautiful dance and a civilised stampede.  It was almost like being at school ' first one to the front of the line gets a gold star?'.  At this point I realised that there is actually a technique to this process, and I did not know it.  Apparently you need to be strategically positioned.  Preferably near the gate entrance and always in standing position.  You always need your laptop bag handle facing up for a quick pick-up and you must never have anything else in your hand other than your boarding pass.  Yet another Rookie error for me.  I swear in the time it took me to search my handbag for my boarding pass, pick up my umbrella, coat and laptop, the whole 'waiting longue' was in the queue except me, the pace was like a silent stampede.  Did I blink?  Wow.  I was clearly a virgin traveller.  I would have to take more notice on my return flight! Step Five: Success- narrowly avoided mass crushing.
Step 6 - Boarding the Plane
Finally boarding the plane, I discovered I was actually dyslexic, which was apparently a new discovery. Somehow when I looked at the seat numbers, I could not understand the little pictures- If I had a 'D' on my boarding pass- did that mean I was nearest the window or nearest the aisle?  Did the numbers mean I sat in front of the number or behind as they seamed to be off centre?  OMG.  I also realised that the smaller the number the better dressed people seamed to be and the more relaxed these people were.  Odd at the time to realise this.  My number seamed to be large, which also meant I would be right down the back of the plane.  I had a mind jog back to the check-in queue.  More stop - start.  Some people seamed to take forever to get into their seat.  How hard is it to simply put your bag in the locker and sit in your seat?  Apparently its not that easy so I found out, especially in a tight pencil skirt and a full baggage locker as you are almost the last person on the plane.  I remember thinking - by process of elimination, there is only a middle seat and a window seat left, I must be in the window seat as the other 2 letters are used.  At least I conquered my seat numbering dyslexia, even if was by process of elimination.  Step Six: Fail- personal space confrontation with unknown passengers.
Step 6 - Making Baggage Lockers Look Simple
When I realised there was hardly any room in the baggage locker I was a little puzzled with what to do.  I looked at my oversized laptop and coat and umbrella and looked again at the small hole left, knowing the whole process could end up with the guy in seat F gaining a broken neck.  Then from no- where, a hostess came and like some odd Houdini movie, somehow in the flash of an eye stuffed my luggage into the impossibly small space.  Wow- she must have learnt origami at a young age to know how to turn that manoeuvre! Step Six: Success: Someone else did it for me!
Step 7 - Actually sitting in your seat
To my horror and possibly to the man's delight in seats E and F, I then realised that my beautiful high heels and the tight pencil skirted me now had to work its way over to the window seat.  I looked at the others seated in my row and my second horror wave came over me.  They were not moving anywhere, they had their seatbelts buckled and I now had to perform some odd gymnastic like move to get past them.  I still hope to this day that it was mainly my hand-bag that was brushing against them, but I fear it was not.  I finally wedged myself into my seat before looking at them reading realising my book was not with me.  I am not going to get it, never, not now, it can stay there. 
It was at this point that I also realised I had also lost a battle I never knew I was participating in.  I now call it "Arm-Rest Ninja Battle".  What is up with that?  I sit down and the guy next to me is gripping onto his arm rest like his life depends on it, he pretends not to notice me sit down.  I look across the row.  OMG.  You have to be FAST around here. He was staking his real-estate alright.  "I see you one arm rest and may have to later raise you one annoying toilet break mate"...then we'll have round two of "Arm-Rest Ninja Battle "...and this time I will win!  Step Seven: Fail: "Arm Rest Battle Ninja" Final score- 2 to 'Guy in Brown Jacket, 0 to me, clearly I need a new technique.
Step 8 - Performing the Chicken-Wing Breakfast Dance
Way back when I was 22, they actually served food on every flight.  I know- can you believe they actually did that and you didn't have to pay!  Amazing.  Unfortunately the free food never came with any instructions as to how to consume it.  I never actually realised how important elbows were when eating or where they were positioned in space until I first had a meal on a plane.  When I picked up my first rather over-processed looking item, I then realised that I didn't know the "Chicken Wing Dance".  I elbowed the guy right next to me and had to apologise (However he had just beaten me at Arm-Rest Ninja Battle so quietly.... I didn't really feel that sorry for him).  Then I looked further across the other side of the aisle  at the others eating to realise that there bodies were twisted into some odd position like they were all wearing some invisible straight-jacket, many struggling to actually get their eating utensil to their mouth.  I almost couldn't stop starring it was so odd.  OMG. Now I had to work out how to do it.  I swear I dropped at least half my food as I struggled to work with the "Chicken Wing" rhythm with the guy next to me.  Should I lift my arm if he has his arm up and is poking food in his mouth or do I wait until he lowers it for the next go and I take my opportunity?  I was just no good at it- his rhythm was too hard to follow.  Perhaps I'll just have my orange juice instead.  Another rookie mistake.  No one mentions that the air-pressure changes and again their is actually a special way to open orange juice.  Who knew that there was actually a technique to opening water and orange juice? To make matters worse, much, much worse, someone also packages yoghurt in planes in the same way.  **&^$#.  So I open my orange juice and it was like a fire hydrant had gone off.  Orange Juice everywhere.  Again, I had to apologies to the guy next to me (I'm still not over Arm Rest Ninja Battle at this point but have spotted that his arm is no longer on his I starve and try and win round 3?).  It was becoming a habit and I think he possibly knew what was coming next as he strategically positioned his napkin a different way, I at first thought his manoeuvre was simply an Arm Rest Block- yet another tricky technique to stop me winning round 3....but...No.  He knew.  I didn't.  Yogurt time.  OMG.  You think the airline would learn!  Clearly I had not.  I couldn't even bring myself to say anything to the guy next to me this time, I didn't need to- he knew!  And dam it, he just won Arm Rest Battle Round 3 due to my exploding yogurt.  Will I never learn?  Its all about speed and precision.  Obviously.Step Seven: Fail: Not all food in mouth, nor did I master the Chicken Wing Dance.
Step 9 - Exit Stampede
Another odd phenomenon was getting off the plane.  Really, really odd.  We landed and I remember thinking OK, now I have to find my suitcase, where-ever that may be about now.  But then all of a sudden, literally as the plane stops moving and the seatbelt light went 'bong' - another odd stampede started.  Nearly everyone at the same time rushed to get out of their seat, madly grabbing luggage and vying for the best position again closet to the door.  I remember looking at these tall business men in suits in the middle seats half bent
over, half in and out of the aisle, like frozen statutes not able to move forward or backward.  The oddest thing was that it was at least 10 minutes before they could move.  Why the rush?  The doors were not even open.  Still to this day I do not understand this odd rule, yet I learnt how to play the game myself and follow the pack. What an odd thing to do!  But guess what. in all the excitement, I won Arm Rest Ninja Battle Round 4.  The other guy on the other side just looked at me and smiled, it was almost like I saw him mouth...."don't you realise, Arm Rest Ninja Battle time ends when the seat-belt sign goes off?"  I sat for my few minutes of bliss, feeling good for having my arm on that arm rest, even if just for a minute.  It may have even been the highlight of my flight!  Step Nine: Success- Even if I didn't know what was going on!
Step 10 - Meet the luggage eating 'cougars'
I decided that my day couldn't get any stranger until I saw my fellow travelling companions at the luggage carousel.  It was like they had turned into hungry luggage eating cougars, ready to strike at any moment.  It appeared to me that the people actually winning in this odd 'cougar' game were those with a trolley. They could simply 'shove' the trolley into a space that did not exist in the weird luggage circle we were not all part of.  The odd thing was that the luggage circle is simply not big enough to fit all of the luggage eating cougars around.  I saw Arm Rest Ninja Guy and decided that I would not tempt fate this time and stayed well away.  I realise I do value my body parts and felt with his tactics I could end up in a moon-boot before exiting the airport if I stood anywhere near him!  I did realise however, that to be a "luggage cougar" your primal side really had to show.  Become a cougar or an elephant- the choice is yours.  As soon as what I thought was luggage one cougar identified with came around, then there was an almighty 'pounce' to get the new piece of meat, which was actually just a suitcase.  It was an odd game which I stood and watched initially from a distance as I was actually too frightened to move into the circle of luggage.  I finally plucked up the courage and then realised that having a black suitcase is actually not a great plan. No one ever told me that for some reason everyone in the world shops at the same place, or so it seams.  I watch several cougars do the 'pounce', catch their meat and then decide the seasoning was a little off and actually returned the suitcase to the carousel.  OMG.  I do not want to do that- how embarrassing.  Finally I learn the pounce and drag my suitcase away from the other cougars.  Job done.  Step Ten: Success  (I just hope its actually my bag).  Too proud to look before exiting the airport.
Step 11 - Find a taxi in Wellington
Luggage in tow, I look out the doors to see nasty weather.  At least I have my coat and umbrella.  I felt quite proud of myself at this point.  The best I felt all day, despite it only being a touch after 8.00am.  I put my umbrella up and take two steps forward and I swear it was like I was Mary Poppins.  Apparently I was the only person in New Zealand that was unaware that Wellington Airport is actually a giant wind tunnel and as soon as you exit the safety of the terminal - its every man or woman for themselves.  I was blown, battered, cold and in search of a taxi.  I look across and I swear I had blurred vision.  There were at least 6 taxi drivers in identical cars, identical dress who all had an uncanny resemblance to each other, all beckoning me there way.  OMG.  Which one do I choose?  How do you choose
?  Stress. Another move I had yet to learn.  I just walked in a straight line across the road, that's how I picked.  I finally arrived at the Wellington office, luggage in tow and was glad just to be there, already exhausted and ready for a full day of work, it was just after 8.30am!
Step 11: Partial Success- now look like a wreck!
Step 12 - Accommodation
As odd as it may sound, you actually need to be told things about accommodation.  As a rookie business traveller, I was actually told about this, until other rookie travellers I have had working for me over the years.  Yes, you actually need to check in AND check out.  I have acutally been charged for an additional nights accommodation due to one of my rookie staff travelling who never knew you had to check out,.  They just left the key on the table and left!  Needless to say, when I finally got to my accommodation that night, I felt like I had done a 22 hour day.  When does anyone actually tell you that business travel is NOT actually FUN!
For all my years of travelling, I must say I have really loved every minute (almost), except for those times you bag doesn't turn up, your flights are horribly delayed or there is terrible air-turbulence.  After many years of being a road warrior, I try now to keep my travel to a more enjoyable level.  I leave you on this note, "may the force be with you Ninja- may all of your future battles of Arm Rest Ninja be fair and if they are not, learn to play dirty like I do".  Just raise the arm rest (if you can) and don't play at all!
Please comment and share your experiences of first time business travel- I'd love to hear them.


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