EDITORIAL COMMENTS: The long and gridlocked road
July 1, 2007
I don’t know about you, but the world outside my tidy suburban enclave is awful loud and congested these days. Morning rush hour seems to start about 4:30 a.m. and the afternoon crush is underway by 2 p.m. And this is with more folks than ever working from home. I thought flex time was supposed to make life simpler.
Those who make their living on the road or do extensive traveling have never had an easy go of it. Dr. Scott Geller, our “Psychology of Safety” columnist, told audiences a tale years ago (before Mapquest) about getting lost in the middle of the night somewhere deep in Florida. An EHS VP was doing so much travel years back he found himself on the shuttle to the airport one morning and saw that his ticket said his flight was actually scheduled for the next day. But now it’s getting more ridiculous by the day. The news is chock-full of new lows and high hurdles in travel. I got a taste of it recently running through an airport in my socks after the security check to catch a plane on a hastily rebooked flight, the gate attendant giving me the countdown to take-off on the PA system.
Does this sound at all familiar?
“Travel has gotten all but unmanageable. Like others who live in airports, planes, rental cars and hotels, I have quite a collection of stories,” says our culture columnist Dr. John Kello. Indeed, many EHS consultants, corporate types and vacationing readers can relate.
Where’s the ferry?
Here’s one of John’s stories: “I took the early afternoon flight out of Charlotte to Burlington, Vermont, via Philadelphia, so that I could make a dinner meeting at 7 p.m. at a restaurant in Plattsburgh, N.Y. I didn’t bother looking at a map, because I was to meet up with a colleague, who knows the client well, and she was driving the rental car. But my Philadelphia flight was inexplicably delayed (no reason offered) so that I arrived in PHL an hour late and just missed the connecting flight to Burlington. The next one was 41/2 hours later, at 8 p.m. (forget the dinner meeting, and forget being picked up at the airport). That flight left the gate at 8 p.m. sharp... and sat on the runway for over an hour (“air traffic” was the “explanation”).
“I actually arrived in Burlington around 10:30 p.m. I managed to get my own rental car (after standing in line for maybe 20 minutes), and got directions to the hotel in Plattsburgh, where, having missed the dinner meeting, I was to meet my colleague and the client for breakfast at 7 a.m., to discuss our project. The directions to Plattsburgh involved finding my way to a ferry dock (this is true) and boating across Lake Champlain. This was all news to me. So, late at night, after being in transit at that point for nearly 12 hours, I found myself driving lonely two-lane country roads through rural Vermont, in search of a ferry dock. Somehow (the directions were not entirely accurate, of course), I got to said dock at 12:05 a.m., to find that the boat leaves every half hour on the half hour. So at 12:30, I drove onto a flatbed ferry with maybe 20 other cars, and for the next 15 minutes was in my rental car (nothing was ever said about life jackets or anything else that might have to do with safety) out in the middle of Lake Champlain. It was well after 1 a.m. when I arrived at the (lovely) Best Western Plattsburgh.
“After maybe four hours of restless tossing and turning (the heat/AC unit made an awful noise intermittently all night), I met the client, apparently spoke somewhat coherently (I have no recollection of what was said), and got a big project. So it goes...”
Spanning the globe
So it goes for many in the EHS world, where departments are lean and one regional manager can cover a dozen states, two dozen facilities, or â€” working for multinational companies â€” a quarter or a third of the globe perhaps. It’s tough enough with resources stretched thin, but the record number of flight delays, plus overbooked flights, air traffic computer glitches, “Sit back folks, we’re 23rd in line for take-off,” sometimes confusing Mapquest directions, “I’m going to shut down the engines while we wait, folks” and the often freezing, noisy, sealed-tight hotel room make the job that much more challenging. Productivity would go down the tubes today without laptops, GPS, earplugs and cell phone headsets. Here’s to EHS road warriors everywhere, especially now competing with all the tourists and the frequent thunderstorm in the heart of the summer travel season. Hopefully you don’t get a seat next to a giddy first-time flier, an infant with an ear infection, or a group of traveling teenagers.