About Franc Jeffrey

Franc Jeffrey is CEO of EQ Travel, with offices in the United Kingdom and Boston, Massachusetts. He has more than 25 years of experience in global corporate travel. He can be reached at fjeffrey@eqtravel.com.

When Nature’s Wrath Alters Your Business Travel Plans

The recent devastation of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria pulverized Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, displacing hundreds of thousands of residents and racking up billions of dollars in property loss. These massive storms, as well as others, also wreaked havoc on corporate travel, crippling a good portion of the business economy by preventing companies from getting employees to their destinations.

FlightAware’s cancellation tracker reached the 3,000 mark the Sunday that Hurricane Irma hit Florida as airports closed throughout the state. But travel issues didn’t ease once the airports reopened, because there was still the issue of missing aircraft. According to reports, JetBlue didn’t have a single plane in the state of Florida and most other airlines cleared out their aircraft from vulnerable airports ahead of the storm. So, flights couldn’t resume until airlines flew aircraft back into the state. This meant that a large number of business travelers, in one of the most convention-friendly states in the U.S., were either stranded or unable to land.

This leaves us with the question: How do you keep stormzillas like these from throwing an oversize wrench into even the most carefully orchestrated travel management plans?

The simple answer: You can’t. But there are ways to minimize the collateral damage that the next big storm brings when planning business travel.

Travel Management Companies can help, as they monitor global weather conditions daily, so as to respond quickly when major disruptions to travel occur. These companies also receive automatic flight updates, enabling them to immediately rebook individuals onto different flights. Due to the fickle nature of hurricanes, which can force additional flights to also get cancelled, companies must investigate ground transportation options as well.

Here are four sanity-saving tips that might come in handy while traveling during hurricane season:

    1. Book flights wisely:

Choose an early morning flight. That way if your flight gets cancelled you have the entire rest of the day to find an alternative flight. And if possible, pick an airline with tons of flight options—the more the merrier when you positively have to get to a game-changing meeting.

  1. Must-Have Phone Apps:

Any app on your phone or tablet that displays a 7-Day Forecast (such as The Weather Channel) is a godsend and helpful when planning business trips. Don’t wait until a storm hits to start making alternate plans. Stay ahead of the weather system game and make your contingency plans as far ahead as possible.

  1. The domino effect:

Always remember that even though your flight lifts off in Chicago (where you are unlikely to get hit with a hurricane), chances are the weather is going to be much different when you land in Miami (where the possibility always looms). Be aware of the weather in all cities on your itinerary. Some airlines will even address customer service issues on their social media pages. JetBlue and Delta are among those that used Twitter to help passengers during Hurricane Irma.

  1. Allow for extra time:

For business travelers trying to get somewhere in unpredictable weather, one of the best suggestions is to simply give yourself plenty of time to get where you are going. While it might cost a little more to book a flight the day before or put an extra night for a hotel room on your AMEX card, but weighed against the option of missing a meeting with a client, it is an investment well worth taking. And if you do find yourself stranded in an airport, turn it into your temporary office.

Inclement weather will always threaten business travel. But by being pro-active in how you handle the situation, you’ll find yourself handling all the adversity thrown your way, no matter which way the wind blows.

Moving Employees Safely is Critical in Oil & Gas Industry

oil-rigs
The oil, gas and marine industry has always teetered on the brink of unfortunate circumstances. Oil rigs and oil tankers, by the very nature of their massive size and exposure to the elements, are susceptible to myriad dangers. And when those risks materialize, the safety of the men and women operating these maritime behemoths must take top priority.

In the case of a hurricane, energy giant Shell Oil says it begins evacuating non-essential personnel from offshore platforms and drilling rigs, starting with sites closest to the hurricane’s anticipated path. Like Shell, most of the larger oil companies have evacuation down to a science, particularly during hurricane season. In many cases the evacuation from oil rigs or oil tankers is highly manageable, with no more than a few dozen people having to be transported at times. Thus, in most cases, the evacuees can simply grab a taxi, book themselves into a hotel room, or make other similar accommodations.

But what happens when the evacuation is so immense that you are suddenly relocating thousands of workers to the nearest mainland? In October 2014, with the threat of a cyclone ready to batter the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico’s state oil company, Pemex, evacuated 15,000 workers from more than 60 platforms in the Gulf of Mexico—all with the need to be transported and lodged.

Anticipating worst case scenarios is a prerequisite. Although travel by executives at the C-suite level in these types of companies is handled with the highest priority, to deal with the constant movement of lower-level workers, many companies enlist the services of travel management companies to coordinate getting personnel from land to rigs, tankers, drills and pipelines and back. This massive orchestration includes coordinating accommodations, lodging, weather alerts, translation services and other types of ticketing.

Certain industries, such as oil and gas, need to send employees to work in the world’s “hot zones.” According to a USA Today report, three Americans were among 38 workers killed in the 2013 siege of an Algerian gas plant in which Islamic terrorists used hostages as human shields after their attempted mass kidnapping for ransom went awry. Seven U.S. citizens survived the attack. This illustrates that the need to move crews swiftly isn’t always at the mercy of weather conditions. This is where a real-time knowledge of the current political climate is necessary, including the best exit points, and how to travel safely within those countries should the need to evacuate a facility arise.

Other times the challenge includes getting workers from a major airport to a remote location—perhaps where a helicopter undertakes the last leg of the trip out to the site. Oil and gas industry travelers also need to realize that the flight on a major airline to get into a somewhat unstable country isn’t the problem; it’s traveling within the country, where options are often very limited.

Fortunately, the recent boom in technology has helped make personnel travel safer, as they can now receive electronic alerts regarding risks such as natural catastrophes, labor strikes, and changes in flight schedules.

There is the potential for a number of problems to arise when operating these marine locations, both weather-related and man-made. And the cost of finding solutions to these situations can often be crippling and costly to a business, both in terms of valuable staff time wasted as well as the difficulty in finding the time or the resources to source viable, inexpensive travel alternatives.

Is Fear of Terrorism Grounding Your Business Travel?

Paris

The recent acts of terrorism in Paris stunned the world, when 150 were killed and more than 300 were wounded. But the collateral damage went far beyond buildings being ripped apart and one of the most popular cities in the world being virtually shut down.

Business Travel Coalition, a U.S.-based lobby group, recently released a survey of 84 corporate, university and government travel and risk managers from 17 countries on their attitudes of trips to France following the bombings. Twenty-one percent of the respondents said they were very or somewhat likely to cancel travel to France for “some period of time,” and 20% were somewhat likely to cancel travel to and within Europe. A large majority said they’d probably allow employees to decide whether they were prepared to head to France. One in five corporate travel managers is likely to cancel trips to Paris “for some period of time.” These are not surprising statistics.

Terrorism has been defined as “The use of violence to instill a state of fear,” and that effect is far-reaching; a bomb explodes in Paris and it’s likely that 5,600 miles away in California some corporate risk manager for a Fortune 500 company is seriously considering cancelling a business trip to Europe—a visceral reaction that could cost his company untold sums of money. Mission accomplished.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I fully realize that the fire that fuels business owners is the desire to overcome any obstacles perceived to hinder the bottom-line. But there’s no way a sane person can watch the news today and not wonder, “What is the risk of undertaking a business trip overseas? Will I fall victim to a terrorist act?” I contend that the answer to this question is to put your risk in perspective.

Although it’s a sad state of affairs that there will most likely be another terrorist attack in Europe sometime in 2016, it doesn’t mean that a high degree of risk involved for you, personally. According to the U.S. State Department, the number of U.S. citizens killed overseas by incidents of terrorism from 2001 to 2013 was 350. In other words, your odds are greater to be killed in a car crash (one in 19,000), drown in your bathtub (one in 800,000), or be struck by lightning (one in 5.5 million) than to perish in a terrorist attack (one in 20 million).

It is important that we don’t allow acts of terrorism to knock the wheels off our economy. Business travel is a key element in making us what we are, so it’s imperative that we mitigate that risk whenever possible.

The first thing is to make sure you are not so focused on terrorism that you fall victim to the common risks swirling around us every day. For instance, when traveling overseas don’t be so obsessed with where you think an incident might happen (no matter how statistically unlikely) that you select an alternate route that takes you through the last place on earth where you’d want to get a flat tire in the middle of the night.

Second, minimize the risks you have control over. Stay up-to-date on the State Department’s list of global hot spots, and have your business travel professional plan each step, down to the slightest detail (air, hotels, ground and communication).

Detailed planning is paramount because with any type of business travel in these uncertain and even downright scary times, it is all about controlling the risk. And that can start with the simple act of driving carefully on the way to the airport. That way the most likely risk you’ll ever face on your trip is already behind you before you even board the plane.