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THE NEW YORK TIMES BUSINESS TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2012
ON THE ROAD
A Little Perspective Can Open Eyes
By JOE SHARKEY
Fliers Pay More for a Fill-Up
Travel Managers Raise Fuel Charges as an Issue With Airlines
WILL not bother today to list all of the petty annoyances that make air travel such a woeful chore these days. Suffice it to say that by the time the overstressed flight attendants slam shut the doors on those pitifully crammed overhead bins and the airplane rolls toward the runway, many of us jammed in those uncomfortable little seats are miserable. Yet if we all merely look hard enough, we may spot a pair like Dan Bailey and Phelps in the airport, or back in the boarding area or, maybe, calmly finding their way to seats on the plane, a raft of serenity in a sea of angst. And I venture to say they would lift our poor spirits. Mr. Bailey is a 50-year-old national sales director for Industries for the Blind, a supplier of products and services and a leading employer of the blind that is based in Wisconsin. Phelps, a handsome 5-year-old Labrador retriever, is his guide dog. Mr. Bailey and Phelps have taken nearly 400 flights to 40 states on business trips since the day in April 2009 when man met dog. That was for two weeks of training under the aegis of Guide Dogs for the Blind, an organization that matches the blind and those with other severe visual impairments with young, specially chosen Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and crosses of those two breeds who will become their faithful travel partners. This is a Thanksgiving tale about one of those men and his dog. And, I promise, no puns. In the summer of 2008, Mr. Bailey, whose eyesight has been poor since childhood because of retinitis pigmentosa but virtually disappeared after chemotherapy for an unrelated cancer diagnosis, said he realized that his condition had deteriorated to the point where “my travel was becoming dangerous.” “I was running into things,” he said. “So I knew it was time. Then I had to decide, am I going to be a cane guy or a dog guy?” He concluded he was a dog guy. Co-workers at Industries for the Blind pointed him to Guide Dogs for the Blind, an organization based in San Rafael, Calif., that provides the dogs and pays travel expenses for visually disabled people to train with them in preparation for a traveling life together on the road. The group sent a representative to visit Mr. Bailey at his home near Atlanta, in a preliminary evaluation to match him up with a dog. Mr. Bailey met Phelps at a Guide Dogs for the Blind site in Oregon and they trained for two
weeks along with five other blind travelers and their new dogs. “When I got out there in April of ’09, Phelps was already raring to go; he was ready for airline travel,” Mr. Bailey said. “It was just a matter of me catching up to him.” He added: “From the second day your dog is your responsibility. You feed them, water them, you take them to the bathroom.” (That command, incidentally, is “Phelps, do your business.”) “You train with them all day, long days: ‘Find the escalator, find the elevator, find the chair.’“ The travel drill is second nature now, he said. “When we’re at the Atlanta airport to check in, I tell him, ‘Find the desk,’ and he’ll take me up to the counter. From there, we head down the hallway to security, and he knows to take me right to the guy standing there to look at my boarding pass and ID. Then at security, and he knows to take me right to the table where the trays are. Once we get to the X-ray machine, I take off his gear — he wears a harness that I grip with my left hand — and that’s run through the machine. Then I tell him ‘Sit. Stay.’ I walk through the metal detector first, then I call him, ‘Phelps, come!’ and he CHRIS GASH comes right through.” He said “At the boarding area, I tell him, ‘Phelps, find a chair,’ and he’ll find an empty chair for me. We’re working on ‘Find Starbucks.’” But upon arrival at the hotel, Phelps becomes a frisky Labrador again, his work done. “Labs are perpetual puppies, but it’s a credit to his training, because Phelps turns that instinct off when he’s working,” Mr. Bailey said. “But at the end of the day, when we’re finally settled in at the hotel room, I take his gear off and give him the O.K., and wow, he rips around the room, does pirouettes, runs from the window to the door with all this pent-up energy from the day. He knows he’s off duty.” And this is the Thanksgiving message Mr. Bailey shared the other day. “Phelps brings light and joy to anyone who encounters him, and I am privileged to have him in my life. If I’m having a bad day, which fortunately really is rare, I think, I’m healthy. I’m five years cancer-free. I’m pain-free. I’ve got a wife who still loves me after 29 years. I’ve got kids who bring so much love and happiness. When Phelps and I are walking down a concourse at the airport, I sometimes imagine people watching us and saying to themselves, ‘Oh, look at that poor blind guy.’“ Mr. Bailey chuckled and said, “They couldn’t realize this, of course, but honestly, I wouldn’t switch places for anything in the world.”
MARILYNN K. YEE/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Michael Steiner of the Ovation Travel Group says fuel surcharges can add 10 to 50 percent to base airfare.
By HARRIET EDLESON
Rising fuel surcharges have begun to become an issue in negotiations between airlines and corporate travel managers over the cost of airline tickets. The charges were initially tied to the rising cost of fuel, but industry experts say they have turned into a way for airlines to increase fares. “Airlines can use fuel surcharges as indirect fare hikes and masquerade them as fuel surcharges,” said Henry Harteveldt, co-founder of the Atmosphere Research Group and an airline and travel industry analyst in San Francisco. “Airlines are quick to raise fuel surcharges when fuel costs increase, but slow to reduce the surcharges when fuel prices go down,” Mr. Harteveldt said. “It is a way for an airline to indirectly raise its fares without signaling to its competitors that it’s trying to raise fares. The base fare is almost a form of pricing camouflage.” Corporate travel managers say that while they have begun to raise the issue with airlines, the surcharges themselves are not being discounted. “It’s one element that needs to get into the mix for negotiation but I have not seen any discounting on that,” said Michael Steiner, an executive vice president of the Ovation Travel Group, a travel management company in New York. Rather, he said, travel managers can use fuel surcharges to negotiate discounts on the base fare. Mr. Steiner said companies had also been trying to negotiate lower fees for Wi-Fi, baggage, legroom and other amenities that airlines used to provide as part of the ticket price but for which they now charge extra. The International Air Transport Association, a trade group for airlines, declined to comment on fuel surcharges. In an e-mail, a spokeswoman, Miriam Ashong, said the surcharges were “quite a sensitive topic and as such we cannot make any comments at the moment.” Victoria Day, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, the trade group for airlines in the United States, said in an e-mail, “For antitrust reasons, we cannot comment on specific fuel sur-
charges.” Fuel surcharges, Mr. Steiner said, can increase the base fare by 10 to 50 percent. “Hotel costs are 20 percent of air cost and rental cars are 5 percent of air,” he said. Carlson Wagonlit Travel, a business travel management group, has found that even as fuel prices fluctuated, the surcharges either stayed the same or rose. “Fuel dropped back down but carriers have not dropped fuel surcharges,” said Brent Eisenach, director of the CWT Solutions Group, Americas, based in Minneapolis. The company estimated that fuel surcharges now represent about 7 to 12 per-
One industry group found that business travelers were paying more for fewer trips.
cent of total corporate travel spending. “Fuel surcharges are one of the many variables to look at,” Joel Wartgow, senior director of the CWT Solutions Group, Americas, said. “They are one thing to evaluate if you are seeing increased costs year over year.” Air transportation is often the biggest element in the cost of business travel, with hotels and rental cars representing a far smaller proportion. Hervé Sedky, senior vice president and general manager for global business partnerships and premium services at American Express Global Business Travel, said in an e-mail that “on average, we have seen companies spending slightly over 50 percent” of their travel and entertainment budget on transportation. Because the cost of travel has risen, business travelers are spending more on fewer trips, according to the Global Business Travel Association. The association projects that total business travel spending in the United States will be 2.6 percent higher in 2012, reaching $257 billion
by the end of the year. The increase, it said, is driven mostly by rising business travel costs. At the same time, total business trip volume — the number of business trips — is expected to drop to 438.1 million this year, down 1.6 percent from 2011. The group said it expected business travel spending to continue to grow next year while the number of trips drops 1.1 percent. According to the association, economic turmoil in Europe, slower growth in China and unemployment in the United States are all expected to curb business travel growth in the United States through the end of the year. Businesses are taking a cautious approach until there is greater economic certainty, the group’s report said. Companies are not cutting business travel spending, it said, but growth is “very modest.” To drive down the cost of business travel, Mr. Steiner of Ovation Travel recommended negotiating a market share discount with one or more airlines. Corporate travel managers and travel management companies have been able to negotiate lower fares by promising a certain market share. Booking in advance, typically 14 days, Mr. Steiner said, can save 15 to 20 percent on the price of an air ticket. He added that companies should identify nonessential travel, although some travel managers prefer to leave such decisions to the travelers and their supervisors. Other advice from travel managers includes: ¶ Companies should decide which business travelers can book which class of service, like business class or coach, and make those rules part of the corporate travel policy. ¶ Companies should establish daily maximums that a traveler can spend while traveling. ¶ When possible, companies should use videoconferencing. Also, Mr. Steiner said that travel managers should remember that the airlines might be willing to deal. “The airlines say, ‘We will give a discount across the board’ if you book a certain number of fares in markets that are important to them.”
Left the Cuff Links at Home? Check Out Walmart’s Earrings
Q. How often do you fly for business? A. About once a week, mostly domestic, but I do some international travel. Q. What’s your least favorite airport? A. McCarran International in Las Vegas. It’s such a labyrinth it’s almost impossible to navigate. Q. Of all the places you’ve been, A. Paris. Don’t tell my mom,
USINESS travel isn’t new to me. I’ve been flying for much of my public relations career. Most of my travel today is focused on meeting clients or pitching new business. Even though I’ve been flying for years, I am the world’s most forgetful traveler. I’m always leaving something at the office or at home. I make all sorts of checklists and reminders, but nothing seems to help. I’ve even left stuff on the Acela train, which isn’t easy to do. I was headed to Baltimore for a business meeting. It was hot, so I took off my suit jacket and stowed it in the overhead compartment. When we pulled up to the station, I bolted off the train and jogged down the platform. Of course, that’s when I realized I left my suit jacket in the overhead bin. I got back on the train and grabbed my jacket out of the bin. I jogged back down the platform, looked at the jacket, and realized it wasn’t mine.
but I think their food is the greatest in the world. I don’t speak French, but I find the people to be very warm and friendly.
Q. What’s your secret airport
A. I like to tune out the world for a little bit, so I just get out my iPad and play chess. It’s not much of a vice, but it works for me.
what’s the best? I thought about the poor guy who might be looking for his jacket, but the train was almost ready to take off again. I wedged a colleagues I was traveling with between the now-closing train doors and yelled, “Don’t move.” Surprisingly, he actually listened to me. I made my way back to the bin in record time, put the other jacket back in, and got mine out. No one was the wiser. And yes, we were almost late for the meeting because of me. That would have been an epic disaster. The one thing I seem to always forget to pack is cuff links. Most of my dress shirts require them,
By Nick Ragone, as told to Joan Raymond. E-mail: joan.raymond @nytimes.com
but I convinced myself that forgetting cuff links is an easy oversight since I rarely travel in a dress shirt. Here’s a travel tip: It’s tough to buy cuff links after midnight. I was headed to Texas for an important business meeting when I realized midflight that I had again forgotten my cuff links. I told a colleague who I was traveling with and he reassured me that we could buy a pair when we landed. We touched down around midnight and, not surprisingly, there were few stores open at that time. We asked our driver for
Nick Ragone, a partner at Ketchum Communications and a historian, at the Grand Canyon.
some suggestions as to where I could buy some cuff links. He laughed at us, but took us to the nearest Walmart. The greeter there laughed at us, too, when we pulled up in a Town Car and then asked for the cuff links aisle. He suggested we go to the women’s jewelry aisle, and was probably thinking we should be men and make do. Little did the greeter know that my colleague is like MacGyver. He found a pair of tasteful earrings, and then we went to the tool aisle and got a pair of minipliers. The next morning, he worked his magic and somehow manipulated the earrings onto my shirt. I was relieved, because the chief executive I was meeting with was always well dressed. Without the cuff links, my shirt cuffs would have been flapping in the breeze. I would have resembled a pirate, but not in a Johnny Depp, Capt. Jack Sparrow cool way. More like the Seinfeld puffy shirt way. I was feeling really good that the earrings held up during the entire meeting. But when I went to shake hands to say goodbye, one of them exploded out of my cuff and fell to the floor. It was clear that it was a woman’s earring. The chief executive looked a little baffled. Right then, I realized that looking like a pirate may not have been all that bad.
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