Is Flying Coach Really Worth The Savings?


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Article from Business New Hampshire

Business New Hampshire - November 2014

Most business owners are acutely aware that every penny they spend on what might be considered non-essentials is one cent that’s not being invested back in their business, whether it’s flying three executives from New York City to Chicago to meet with a prospect, or flying 100 executives from New York to Frankfurt  to attend a major pharmaceutical conference.

There’s a lot of time and energy spent on financially planning these all-important trips. But there’s one cost-saving measure that you should simply skip.  And that's flying anything less than first class is not only a strategic mistake, but could hurt a potential deal.

A little TLC and some much-appreciated extra legroom might not seem worth the added expense of paying for a ticket upgrade. But have you really thought about what that higher fare buys you?

In a recent New York Times article, David Liu, co-founder and CEO of TheKnot.com, explained why he thinks business owners and executives should rethink their habits of flying coach.

“I'll never forget one of my first meetings with a venture capitalist,” recalls Liu. “I booked the round-trip ticket for less than $200. Of course, on the way back, there were three layovers. It didn't matter to me because any money I saved could be used to hire personnel.

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It was a great meeting because she understood how we were trying to grow the business. I told her that I was leaving for the airport at 3 p.m. for a red-eye back to the East Coast. She was really confused because obviously a red-eye flight doesn't leave midafternoon. But then, I told her my flight from Los Angeles had several layovers and I was actually going to get back to New York at 6 a.m. She looked at me like I was crazy.”

Adds Liu, “I remember her telling me that travel can make people stressed, and they couldn't afford to have a stressed-out CEO. She rebooked the flight for me and got me a first-class ticket.  I've always remembered her advice that having a chief executive who is half-dead from bizarre travel schedules doesn't do a company any good. Unless your company is in its infancy or dire financial straits, take a clear-eyed look at the costs associated with economy, and the case for avoiding cattle class becomes clear.”

It seems quite clear that companies should consider more than simply the cost when it comes to booking travel for their employees. Businesses instead should be making travel plans that are based around what the executive or company wants to achieve from the trip, and understand that important contracts can be lost as a result of staff arriving fatigued by their travel experience.

The majority of those deciding on business travel policy, whether it is HR, finance or procurement personnel tend to base policy on their own science, but almost exclusively base that decision from a cost perspective.  However, to ensure that the process of travel is efficient, effective and safe, a much wider focus is required.

Companies should be asking the question: “How can we expect our executive to win a major piece of business if they are being asked to make a presentation after getting up at 4am and sitting in a cramped seat for a long transatlantic flight?” Even a short haul flight averaging four hours can easily equate to an eight hour working day, when travelling to and from the airport, checking in and security and immigration queues is taken into account.

This will be a tiring experience for the employee and particularly so when travelling economy. Work productivity in economy is limited, due to lack of space, facilities and distractions. With long haul destinations, economy flights can have an even greater negative impact upon the performance and well being of the employee.

It is important to research all aspects when considering business travel options, particularly when business travel remains the third highest expense for any business. This is particularly true when the journey is undertaken overnight when the traveller may get little or no rest, leaving them fatigued for the business ahead.

Those in charge of booking travel should consider a higher class of cabin with flat or partially flat beds to ensure the employee is comfortable and well rested. And a number of airlines have been doing their part to see that top executives and other business travelers arrive at their meeting at the top of their game.

Lufthansa Airlines offers first-class passengers a dedicated lounge featuring beds, showers, office space, special security screening and chauffeured limousines directly to the aircraft.

Don Buckenburg, Lufthansa's managing director for sales, North America, says that many airlines offer a suite of enclosed space with a door, creating a passenger's “own little cabin."

"When we developed first class, we asked customers what they wanted, and our customers responded that they like open space, but they also like privacy,” says Buckenburg. "So now you have a seat, but a wall that separates you. You press a button, and a wall comes up." The retractable wall allows couples or fellow travelers to decide whether to be connected or separated.

In addition, according to Buckenburg, flight attendants are specially trained to serve first class, knowing how to “read” the passenger differently and knowing the wine and menus with precision.

Bountiful food, sparkling champagne, walls that go up and down, are all very nice. But ask business travelers what they want most on their flight and the overwhelming majority will respond in unison—“More legroom.”  Bottom line: Nobody wants to limp into an important business meeting.

Flying coach tends to be uncomfortable for anyone of larger than average height or weight. The legroom is limited, so your knees might be cramped against the seat in front of you, and you might find your shoulders are pressed against your neighbor. Plus-size passengers might also find that the armrests are too close together to sit comfortably in one seat.  And sleeping is hard for some, because the seats only recline a few inches in coach.

Airlines such as Delta are now offering up to four inches more legroom and 50 percent more seat recline in their business class. Doesn’t sound like much difference for the additional cost, unless you’re a 6-ft, 4-inch CEO flying from Chicago to Paris. And then it sounds like heaven.

At all times, the purpose of the trip must be taken into account to ensure employees can perform to their best ability and achieve the goals set forth by the company. You may find that pivotal business results, such as winning that crucial contract, are not being achieved due to inefficient travel policies, which could have a serious financial impact on the business. And as a result, many business organizations are finding that business class flights are in reality much cheaper than economy class for the majority of their travelling executives. Particularly when weighed against the potential for lost business.

Franc Jeffrey is CEO of EQ Travel, with offices in the United Kingdom and Boston, MA. With over 25 years experience in worldwide corporate travel, Franc is a hugely experienced travel and events management professional, with a proven track record in corporate travel management, negotiating rates, and implementing travel technologies.