Solving Executive Travel Trauma “In the Moment”

Jun 7, 2012 | Travel Planning

If you’ve followed me for very long, you know I love travel planning! I love learning about new places and new resources. I enjoy coordinating all of the moving parts.  And most of all, I love the feeling of relief and comfort that I sense from my traveling executives when I send them their completed travel itinerary with all of the details confirmed and laid out in a superbly organized manner.

But sometimes things just don’t go according to plan no matter how perfectly it looked on paper after my executives depart on their journeys. You can probably relate! That beautifully assembled itinerary can blow up in countless ways, and then my job instantly becomes one of “in the moment” problem solving. I’m often asked, “But what do you do if [fill in the blank with something going wrong once your traveler is in transit]?”  My response obviously varies from situation to situation. But this week, I had an excellent example of travel trauma for one of my traveling executives.  I want to share it with you because it illustrates how I approach travel planning issues “in the moment” and may give you some resources and ideas to apply to the next travel adventure you send your executives on as well.

The trip we were planning was one of the more complicated itineraries I have ever assembled for this executive. This trip combined a professional conference, a personal vacation, and additional business meetings afterwards. It involved commercial airlines, private charter flights, car service, multiple hotels, and a train ride. His travels were going to take him to three different cities over the course of about 10 days. As always, I utilized my awesome travel agency as my prime resource for helping us put the details of this trip together. This was the first time this executive would be traveling by train for a portion of his journey, so they assisted me with that reservation and made sure we all were clear on the cancellation and baggage policies for Amtrak at the time we booked the ticket.  So far, so good.

The day my executive left, he sent me an email asking me to confirm the baggage restrictions on the train portion of his journey because he knew he was going to have more luggage than a normal business trip due to the complexity of this particular trip. So I checked the Amtrak website. I checked with my travel agency.  And we all determined there should not be any issues.  But then my travel agent called me back. He wasn’t completely comfortable with what the first person had told him when he called Amtrak directly, so he called back and talked to another representative. (Good practice in case you’re taking notes!) What he learned on that second call sent off warning lights for all of us.  The particular train that my client was booked on from one city to the next did NOT allow for checked baggage. Most trains do.  The overnight train on that route always does. But the daytime trains on that particular route DO NOT.

Mission control, we have a problem: How was my executive going to get an oversized suitcase from city A to city B in the midst of a 10 day journey when he was traveling by train and he could not check the bag?

I pulled on my problem solving hat and launched into action.  Here’s what I did:

1.  I sent an email to my executive telling him the details I had uncovered regarding the situation. I did this because I knew he was at a conference with A LOT of other very experienced business travelers from that area who may be able to help us find a resolution to our situation if he started asking around on his end while I started researching solutions on my end as well.Note: Not in all cases would I alert my executive at this stage. Many times I work on potential resolutions FIRST so I can send ONE email with both the situation and the potential resolutions all at once. But in this case, an immediate email was the right course of action.

2. I hopped on Twitter and sent out a tweet asking for assistance from any and all travel planners on the east coast:

Within just a few minutes…I had a response from one of my east coast IAAP colleague, Kemetia Foley:

This became potential solution #1.

3. My next stop was LinkedIn Groups. I quickly posted a discussion question very similar to the tweet I sent on Twitter in three of the admin related groups I belong to including the International Association of Administrative Professionals, Executive Secretary Magazine, and Virtual Assistant Networking.Within a matter of minutes, I had responses being posted in each of the three groups. The first response came from Michelle K in my IAAP group:

What a great idea Michelle offered – calling the hotel concierge to see what ideas they might have!  So that’s exactly what I did.  Upon chatting with the hotel concierge, I discovered a brand new resource for my travel planning toolbox:  www.LuggageForward.com  This is a luggage service that picks up and transports your luggage from city A to city B.  Depending upon where you are going, the rates and timeframes may vary.

They quickly became potential solution #2.  (I must mention there were other great ideas suggested on the LinkedIn groups throughout the day, but Michelle was first and took me down a path that yielded results immediately. Thanks, Michelle!)

4. Next, I started doing some detailed searches on Google.  Now that I knew some of the keywords used on the LuggageForward.com site, I started searching for other potential luggage shipment companies.  Sure, FedEx or UPS might work. But if there were companies who specialized in EXACTLY what I needed, I wanted to know what I had for options there also.  I found two more options that looked like they might be worth checking into:  www.LugLess.com and www.LuggageFree.com

In case you lost count, we’re now up to potential solutions #3 and #4.

5. While searching the results pages of Google, I landed on some online travel forums that addressed the specific issue I was facing. Because I had done a specific search using the exact keywords including the two city names, train, and luggage, I found several threads of people asking this similar question and dozens of other travelers providing ideas or personal experiences to help them figure it out.  I learned that Amtrak has an “official” baggage policy, but they rarely enforce it.  So most of the travelers with specific travel experience taking the exact same train route my executive was going to be taking said if you can carry it on and off yourself without assistance, people take big bags on the train with them all of the time.  That was slightly comforting, but you know how that goes…my executive would be the ONE to get stopped and told he couldn’t do it. So I wasn’t totally comfortable with “taking a chance”.

Then I came across a post where someone provided the exact train station phone number of the city where my client would be departing from.  That intrigued me. When you call the Amtrak main number, you get an automated line and eventually someone will answer if you press 0 enough times.  But maybe I could get better information or more specific details if I talked to someone at the specific train station my executive would be departing from.  So I quickly called the train station directly. A real person actually answered the phone.  I explained my situation.  They confirmed that passengers could bring on larger suitcases as long as they could transport them on their own. They assured me that he would not have any issues.

So potential solution #5 became: take a chance and haul your luggage on and off yourself.

6.  In the meantime, I also learned from my travel agent and the Amtrak official that I talked to that my executive could leave his bag at the station and have it checked through on the evening train that did have checked baggage space.  If he did that, someone would obviously have to return to the train station at his next destination to retrieve it early the following day. It wasn’t a great option, but hey – it was another option.

This became potential solution #6.

7.  In a final conversation with my travel agent, I also learned that my executive could cancel his Amtrak ticket and only incur a 10% fee.  That would mean we’d need to figure out another flight option.  But at this point – all options were on the table.

This became potential solution #7.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

So far, about an hour of time had elapsed since I sent the email to my executive outlining the situation we were facing.  With seven options on the table, I then composed a follow up email detailing the solutions I had for consideration and sent it off.

After my executive did a little onsite polling at his conference and checked the websites of the luggage shipment companies I had located, he selected one that had also been endorsed by American Express Vacations and several other reputable brands.  I called, made the reservation, and our travel trauma was downgraded to a minor scrape that we found a quick bandage to apply to and make it all better.

Within a very short period of time, I had seven potential solutions to this travel trauma my executive was facing. I hadn’t even tapped into my professional association forum on the IAAP web community or posted an SOS post on Facebook or called any of my local admin contacts to pick their brains. If one of the options I had uncovered had not worked, these would have certainly been my next stops.

So what are the key takeaways from this experience for you as an administrative professional supporting traveling executives?

  1. Secure a reputable travel agency to partner with. I personally LOVE my team at www.DUAgency.com. As an admin and a traveler, I can’t live without them!
  2. Develop an established network of ONLINE resources you can tap into at a moment’s notice.
    • Join LinkedIn Groups for your profession or industry
    • Leverage Twitter by following other administrative professionals, travel planners, travel bloggers, travel industry experts, etc.
    • Post questions on Travel Forum sites
    • Post questions on Facebook – both on your own page but also on the pages of companies or organizations you “like” that may be able to assist you.  (e.g., I could have posted on the IAAP Facebook page also.)
  3. Develop an established network of HUMAN resources you can tap into at a moment’s notice.
    • Admins you work with.
    • Admins at other companies.
    • Admins in your professional associations.
    • Then make sure you friend, follow, or connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn also so you have multiple ways to get their attention above and beyond email or phone in case you need them in a hurry.
  4. Be willing to do some phone calling, internet research and digging around yourself to see what you can find on your own.
    • Tip #1: When searching on Google, don’t just type a word or two and hit search.  Type an entire sentence explaining your issue and then hit search. You’ll get better results to choose from.
    • Tip #2: If you want to make sure the information you’ve been given is accurate, sometimes you need to call back and talk to a different person at the hotel or train station or airline you may be working with.
  5. Take control of the situation, don’t let the situation take control of you.

I’ll admit it. I pretty much wanted to be sick to my stomach when the travel agent called me to raise the red flag about my executive’s luggage issue.  But I knew there wasn’t anything I could do about the potential issue other than quickly find some options for resolution.  So I activated my network and every possible resource I had at my disposal to take control of the situation and figure out how to save the day! My ultimate goal was to ensure my executive could continue on his journey without delay or a lot of added hassle and most importantly enjoy his vacation time with his family.  Mission accomplished!

We’d love to hear your experiences, too. Tell us how you’ve resolved difficult travel traumas for your traveling execs.  Share your travel trauma tips in the All Things Admin Innovation Lab on Facebook!

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