There used to be a time, long long time ago, where, to me, travelling all over the world, whether on business or on vacation, was just pure pleasure! One of those small, little treasures one could dedicate him/her-self to for the remaining of one’s life. Yes, indeed, travelling has always been one of my hobbies for as long as I can remember, even way before I embarked onto the unexpected world of business trips. Unfortunately, that is just about to finish.
I mean, me enjoying the pleasure of travelling, because over the last few months it has been, all along, everything, but a pleasure. Including this week! As you may have noticed, mainly from my twitterings, I am on the road again! First business trip of the year and already taking me into multiple places. This week I will be in Raleigh, NC, US where I will be meeting up with my team to come together with the core set of activities for our program on helping drive the adoption of social software with client facing teams, as well as with the rest of IBM.
Then, this coming Sunday I will be heading down to Orlando, FL, US, where I will be attending the IBM event of events; the one you can’t miss out; the one you know is going to change your working experience for good; the one where you will be able to find out what’s going on with some of the most impressive products IBM has been working on all along around the area of Social Computing, amongst many many others; the one I have always been looking forward to: Lotusphere 2009.
From there onwards I will be heading back to Madrid, on the weekend of the 23rd of January, to go and present on Monday to an IBM internal group on what IBM is doing around the subject of social computing and how that specific team can get things started for themselves.
Like I mentioned a couple of days ago, this year I am planning on detailing a bit more on what we are eventually doing internally to help drive such adoption of social software, thus expect to see follow up blog posts on the subject coming up soon! At the same time, I will be putting together a couple of short entries detailing what I will be up to while at Lotusphere. Surprise, surprise, plenty of good stuff to come!
For now though, please allow me to expand further. Back to how I started this article. Yes, this is going to be one of those longer blog posts I mentioned a few days back that will be popping up every now and then. This time around I just feel I need to get it out of my chest.
Back on to the subject of travelling and why I am starting to enjoy it less and less to the point whether I am wondering whether it is worth it altogether. Here is the story of what has happened this week…
Last week I managed to eventually book a rather complex business trip that involved going through a good number of airports over the course of merely twelve days: Gran Canaria, Madrid, Boston, Raleigh; then Raleigh, Atlanta, Orlando; and, finally, Orlando, Miami, Madrid, Gran Canaria again. Phew! Quite an itinerary, indeed! But, like I said, I managed to book all flights and hotels with no further issues.
However, things changed beginning of this week, when just one of those magical serendipitous knowledge discoveries kicked in and through my hairdresser, yes, you are reading it right, through my hairdresser!, I found out that, from January 12th, there is a new procedure to go through in order to travel to the US. A new online form everyone needs to sign up for, called ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), which needs to be filled in and signed up before you are allowed to enter the country.
The approval will eventually take place rather right away or within a 72 hour period. Reason why? I am not sure, but that is what’s mentioned on its Web site. Either way, panic kicked in, because I was due to fly out on Wednesday early morning and I didn’t have the approval. So after a quick phone call to the US consulate in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to confirm it, I went over to the ESTA Web site and sign up the form. And I got lucky, if I could use that word, not much though, because I had to wait for that period within 72 hours. Panic growing…
This whole situation changed completely a great start of the week to a stressful situation out of my control and at the mercy of hoping that things would work out! In the mean time, news coming from Madrid were not very good either! Plenty of snow, a strike (Was flying with Iberia and probably shouldn’t be saying much more, specially if you have travelled with them in the past!) and hours of delay at the MAD airport didn’t look much better either. Panic going crazy by now!
As you can imagine, I spent Monday and Tuesday stressed out hoping that everything would turn out all right and hoping that I would be able to travel to the US on Wednesday morning. The ESTA form approval was starting to take too long and I already started to lose hope that I would eventually be making it, but I decided to have everything ready just in case. So, to my surprise, on Wednesday early morning, 4am local time, I checked out the status of the request and I got it approved! Yay! I could travel to the US! All of this happening 30 minutes before I had to be at the airport for the first leg of my trip! Phew! Just in time!
I got to the airport, checked in my bags all the way to Raleigh, NC, and had a good seat. I thought, brilliant! Everything is going according to plan. Or so I thought. When I got to Madrid, where it was still freezing!, I didn’t see a single sign of the strike, or the delays or the chaos that reigned over the last few days. Another piece of good news! And off we go to Boston!
Well, not so fast, Mr! Apparently, people have become rather selfish and inconsiderate nowadays, because when we all got to the plane, on our way to Boston we eventually ended up with a 2.5 hour delayed because the planned luggage weight and the actual luggage weight didn’t match and they had to check things out. Five people were carrying far too much weight in their suitcases and therefore had to leave that behind or them stepping down. Eventually they did step down (We didn’t see those folks anymore on that flight) and 2.5 hours later we took off!
By then I realised how in between the Boston flight and the one to Raleigh I only had 90 minutes of time over to make the next flight, which, in normal conditions, would have been all right, but this time around it meant I lost the connection to Raleigh way before leaving Madrid. Oh well, I thought. Hopefully there would be another flight before the end of the evening…
Eight hours later the plan arrives into Boston, connecting flight is gone already, and head into customs. To my amazement, and while waiting on the queue I found out that all of the stuff I have gone through with the ESTA form process was not worth it a single bit! I still had to fill in the green card to be allowed in the country (Mind you, on its Web site, it is mentioned how this new process replaces that same green card! Crazy!) and go through the standard usual procedure! Arrrrggggghhhh! By now I realised I wasted two entire days stressed out for NOTHING! Not good! I mean, if you are going to make something mandatory from a specific date and you get people to go through that hassle for their own sake, don’t turn around and change things back to what they were! It will get people rather annoyed and upset!!!
Ok, can anyone remind me what the ESTA form is supposed to be used for then? Was it worth it all of the stress for nothing? No, thanks! But, again, very little I can do, I know. Just have to put up with it and move on. And so I did. Things have changed quite a bit over the last few years…
I headed over to the Connecting Flights desk and asked whether I could take a flight to Raleigh before end of the evening, and, unfortunately, the answer was negative! Ouch! That hurt! Really hurt! 18 hours in transit already, a couple of nights without good sleep kicking in and knowing I would be stranded in Boston for the night was starting to get me. And pretty bad. But again very little I could do at that stage.
I was told I needed to stay overnight in Boston, at the Comfort Inn hotel (A very nice hotel, by the way!), and leave for Raleigh at 6:00 am. So that meant, having to head to the hotel, after having waited for the shuttle bus for over 35 minutes on the street (And believe me, Boston was NOT warm last night! Quite the contrary!!!), check in, having a quick bite (Although with a 15$ voucher I am not sure how much you could eat!), and straight to bed. And off to another rather early start! Ouchie!!! (Sleeping eight hours in two full days of travelling is NOT healthy, I tell you that!).
And that’s where I am now. On my way to Raleigh. On a plane. No delays. Over at 35,000 feet, Two hour flight where I have been able to draft this long blog post during the time it would take me to get there and although I will be posting this entry during the course of the day, I just thought I needed to get it all out of my chest. It was starting to get me and as I am about to wrap up the article, I feel much better! I guess that’s what blogging is good for as well.
I know that no matter what I do about this whole experience, nothing will change. No compensation would get rid of the frustration, the stress, standing on the cold for far too long (Hope the cold doesn’t come back!), the over 24 hours of travelling, the lack of apologies from anyone, at any time, the we don’t care about you anymore (We just want your money at all costs!). One thing that I know for sure is that travelling is no longer a pleasurable activity. Quite the opposite. And I guess next time around I will think about it, twice. That’s my lesson learned from this whole week.
Oh, and then there is the lovely process (NOT!!!) of having to declare expenses from the business trip, but that is another story altogether!
Tags: Travelling, Business Trips, Pleasure, Twitter, Raleigh, Orlando, Madrid, Spain, US, Lotusphere 2009, Lotusphere2009, IBM, Conference Events, Events, Gran Canaria, Boston, Atlanta, Miami, Bad Experiences, Travel Hell, Travelling Hell, Comfort Inn, Compensation, Customer Service, Iberia, Ranting, Rants, Travel Rants, Bad Customer Service, ESTA, DHS