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.

NTSB Searching for Clues in Hoboken NJ Transit Crash

Information about the Sept. 29 crash of a New Jersey Transit commuter train into the platform at the Hoboken, New Jersey, terminal is still scarce, as the train’s rear data recorder was recovered but not functioning, and the engineer has said he has no recollection of the accident. The crash killed one person and injured more than hoboken-station100 others during the busy morning commute.

The crash of NJ Transit’s Pascack Valley Line train #1614 was the first fatal accident of a New Jersey Transit train since 1996, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Experts at NTSB worked with the recovered data recorder’s manufactures to access data, however, “unfortunately, the event recorder was not functioning during this trip,” Bella Dinh-Zarr, NTSB vice chair, said at a press conference on Oct. 2.

She also said that investigators indicated the allowed speed on the curved area of track leading into the station is 30 miles per hour and it could have supported speeds up to 45 miles per hour. There were also no signal irregularities in the system leading into the terminal.

The NTSB team is currently photographing the train cars before demolition of the surrounding area. Dinh-Zarr said they were also able to use a drone to capture 109 aerial images of the accident scene, paying special attention to the collapsed roof of the terminal. “This is the first time we have used the NTSB drone to document a rail accident,” she said, adding that investigators used a laser scanner to create 3-D images of the cab car and a portion of the second rail car.

The train’s engineer told investigators that his cell phone was turned off at the time and stored in his personal backpack, which is still located in the cab of the control car, and he had also conducted required brake tests prior to departure.

Witnesses have described the high speed of the train as it traveled into the terminal, renewing discussion of positive train control (PTC), which experts say might have prevented this and a number of other train crashes in recent years.

“PTC has been a priority for the NTSB,” Dinh-Zarr said. “We know that it can prevent a lot of different types of accidents—train-to-train accidents, derailments due to overspeed, work zone incursions. But we need to remember that PTC cannot prevent every accident, and we just don’t have enough information yet.”

As reported in Risk Management Magazine last year, PTC is a technology designed to eliminate human error by using four components: GPS satellite data, onboard locomotive equipment, the dispatching office and wayside interface units. The system communicates with the train’s onboard computer, allowing it to warn the engineer and display the train’s safe braking distance based on its speed, length, width and weight, as well as the grade and curvature of the track. If the engineer does not respond to the warning, the onboard computer will activate the brakes and safely stop the train.

Congress enacted the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which required each Class 1 rail carrier and each provider of regularly-scheduled inter-city or commuter rail passenger service to implement a PTC system by Dec. 31, 2015. That date had been pushed back to the end of 2018, however, to avoid possible shutdown of some railroads.

Delta Limping Back to Normalcy

After two days of cancellations due to a system-wide outage, leaving thousands of customers stranded, Delta today announced it will return to normal operation by mid-to-late afternoon. It added a caveat, however, that “a chance of scattered thunderstorms expected in the eastern U.S. may have the potential to slow the recovery.”

Delta said that by late morning on Wednesday it had canceled 255 flights whileDelta 1,500 departed. About 800 flights were canceled on Tuesday and there were around 1,000 cancellations on Monday. It also extended its travel waiver and continued to provide hotel vouchers, of which more than 2,300 were issued Tuesday night in Atlanta alone.

“The technology systems that allow airport customer service agents to process check-ins, conduct boarding and dispatch aircraft are functioning normally with the bulk of delays and cancellations coming as a result of flight crews displaced or running up against their maximum allowed duty period following the outage,” Delta said.

The company’s chief operating officer, Gil West, said on Aug. 9:

Monday morning a critical power control module at our Technology Command Center malfunctioned, causing a surge to the transformer and a loss of power. The universal power was stabilized and power was restored quickly. But when this happened, critical systems and network equipment didn’t switch over to backups. Other systems did. And now we’re seeing instability in these systems. For example we’re seeing slowness in a system that airport customer service agents use to process check-ins, conduct boarding and dispatch aircraft. Delta agents today are using the original interface we designed for this system while we continue with our resetting efforts.

Reuters reported:

Like many large airlines, Delta uses its proprietary computer system for its bookings and operations, and the fact that other airlines appeared unaffected by the outage also pointed to the company’s equipment, said independent industry analyst Robert Mann.

Critical computer systems have backups and are tested to ensure high reliability, he said. It was not clear why those systems had not worked to prevent Delta’s problems, he said.

“That suggests a communications component or network component could have failed,” he said.

The airline has not yet detailed the financial impact of the event.

Long-Awaited Infrastructure Repair Bill Nears Passage

Road work

While short-term patches have been used to shore up our nation’s infrastructure for years, leaving large, long-term projects such as bridge repairs to languish, those issues may be remedied by a bill passed by Congress on Tuesday. The measure approves a long-awaited five-year measure of more than $300 billion to fund highways and mass transit. Known as TEA-21, the bill is expected to win final passage by the House and Senate.

“Right now, 11% of our bridges across the country are rated structurally deficient and another 13% are considered functionally obsolete,” Andrew W. Herrmann, 2012 president of ASCE and principal with Hardesty & Hanover LLP, an infrastructure engineering firm, told Risk Management in February 2014. “This means they were designed to an older standard, so they may not have the same lane widths or turning radius or may have been designed to carry lesser loads.”

Deterioration of the nation’s infrastructure jeopardizes public safety, threatens quality of life, and drains the U.S. economy. “If they have to start closing down, restricting or putting mileage postings on bridges, the economy will be affected,” said Herrmann, who served on the advisory council for the 2003, 2005 and 2013 report cards and chaired the council for the 2009 edition. “Bridges are the most pressing need in the infrastructure overall. You can have all the roads and highways you want, but if you don’t have the bridges to cross the rivers and intersections, it slows everything down.”

In California alone, 58% of roadways require rehabilitation or pavement maintenance, 20% need major maintenance or preventative work and 6% need to be replaced. Traffic volume is also growing 10 times faster than lane miles, the California Transportation Commission reported.

According to the Wall Street Journal, highlights of the bill include:

  • Extending the Highway Trust Fund through Sept. 30, 2020, and allowing for total transportation spending of as much as $305 billion.
  • Renewing the Export-Import Bank through September 2019.
  • Separating the budget for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor services from the rest of the passenger rail network. This would allow the carrier to invest more in the heavily-traveled lines between Boston and Washington.
  • Preserving a program that allots a share of mass-transit funding for seven high-density Northeast states, including New York and New Jersey. The House had earlier voted to eliminate the set-aside and use the money to fund bus programs whose funding had been slashed in 2012.
  • Providing a total $10.8 billion for freight projects, including establishing a $4.5 billion grant program designed to award money to large-scale freight projects.
  • Providing the largest share of funds to the federal highway-aid program, with authorization to spend $207.4 billion over five years.
  • Providing the next largest share of funding to mass transit projects, at $48.7 billion over five years, an increase over levels approved by the House.