tampabay.com

Airlines give us reasons to quit

By Steve Huettel
Published May 30, 2007


Veteran business traveler David Cox got a fresh reminder Tuesday why he's ready to give up life on the road.

His US Airways flight to Charlotte, N.C., left Tampa 40 minutes late. Cox worried about missing his connection to Chicago, but that plane was late, too.

He arrived at O'Hare International facing a two-hour drive and another couple of hours at the hotel responding to e-mails and cell phone messages from the office.

"The stress thing follows you down the line, " said Cox, 53, national sales manager for a glass tile company in Tampa. "At some point, you've got to say enough's enough."

His is a common refrain among harried frequent fliers as airline performance deteriorates.

More than one in four flights ran late for the year ending in March, according to the government's latest Air Travel Consumer Report. Airlines mishandled 424, 000 bags in March, an increase of 40 percent from the same month a year earlier.

Carriers are packing more passengers on flights than ever and doing it with fewer employees.

Any wonder that customers gave the airline industry its lowest rating since 2001, a grade lower than the IRS and barely better than cable TV companies?

No big surprise that busy business travelers like Cox are burning out faster than ever, says Tim Winship, publisher of frequentflier.com, a travel Web site.

"The people you hear that are getting to the end of their rope are the real road warriors who put up with it day in and day out, " he says. "It's an awful lot of stress to be exposed to on an ongoing basis."

They also face more pressure from work and family, says Joe Brancatelli, a longtime business travel writer and editor.

Employers expect long-haul day trips. Road warriors tethered to cell phones and BlackBerries now put in a full day of office work in planes, airports and hotel rooms. Many travelers are parents at an older age and their spouses hold down jobs, too.

"It's not one thing, " says Brancatelli. "It's the whole ball of wax."

Cox is ready to kiss the road life goodbye. For 22 years, he's been "a roadie" selling plastics, electronics and now tile. Cox scaled back some but still averages flying every other week.

He's learned how to improve his odds. Leave on a trip in mid morning instead of fighting crowds trying to get out on the day's first flights. Don't check a bag unless it's absolutely necessary. When lost luggage doesn't arrive until the next morning, he has to round up a toothbrush, toothpaste and mouthwash, maybe a clean shirt and underwear.

Cox particularly tries to avoid checking luggage when going through a handful of busy airports, such as Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago.

He waited an hour for a bag on his last trip to Chicago O'Hare with customer service workers unable to say whether it might show up. On Tuesday, Cox traveled with just a carry-on.

A small victory in a war he's tired of fighting.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.