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Best of Benjamin Spillman
Benjamin Spillman

Tips to skip trip traps

19 May 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A well-rehearsed presentation and clever turn of a French phrase could help land a deal with a Parisian client.

But even the most prepared businessperson doesn't stand a chance if he or she is stuck in a Chicago airport while a competitor schmoozes the prospective client in Paris. That's why it is crucial for anyone planning a business trip to be sure to account for details that can put them in position to make a sale -- or derail them before the first "bonjour."

A group of some of the most travel-hardened businesspeople in Las Vegas agreed to help aspiring road warriors by sharing inside tips about their favorite and least favorite airports, tricks to avoid flight delays and reminders that when it is sunny on the Strip, it may be snowing in Macau.

"There is no substitute for word-of-mouth," said Robert Parente, whose job as an executive at a Las Vegas-based slot machine company has taken him to five continents. "The best standby is to go talk to people who have been there."

So, please put this newspaper in an upright and readable position. It is time to embark for a direct, nonstop trip to tips and advice that will hopefully save future business travelers a load of trouble.


Age: 43.

Job: Executive vice president, chief operating officer, Bally Technologies.

Passport stamps: Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe, Macau, Australia. Regular U.S. destinations include Southern California, Washington, Chicago, Minnesota, Atlantic City, Florida, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, St. Louis.

Question: Please rank your favorite airlines?

Answer: Favorite airlines out of Las Vegas domestically would be Southwest and probably Continental, US Airways third, American.

Question: Your favorite airport?

Answer: The best is Dallas (DFW, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport). It is very futuristic. It has got great shopping, great food, great monorails inside.

Question: What are your least-liked airports?

Answer: In America, probably Chicago O'Hare or Miami. Nothing is ever on time in Chicago. And Miami is just such a big mess. It is always under construction.

Question: What sort of budgetary limits does your company put on travel?

Answer: We have very strict guidelines. Anything less than four hours is economy. More than four hours international, I can go business. (For hotels), I don't know the actual written policy, but no one goes over the top. Holiday Inn is used very much. Keep it lean; we have so many people traveling.

Question: Considering limitations, what do you look for in a hotel?

Answer: As long as you have a great shower, you don't have insects in your bed and it is a comfortable bed, it doesn't matter where the hotel is. We don't travel for pleasure.

Question: Besides a laptop computer, what do you pack for a trip?

Answer: I always take a bunch of reading, magazines on the plane. Clotheswise, best (way to pack) is carry-on. If I am taking two suits, you are pushing it to take it carry on. You don't want to crush all your jackets.

Question: Do you have some air travel insights to pass along?

Answer: A wrong decision is always flying with United. Their service is the worst and they are always late.

Never fly through Chicago in winter. It doesn't happen. When you go to Europe in winter, go through Houston or Dallas. New York airports are dirty.

Question: You also suggested travelers use trains. You said the train from Newark to New York takes just 15 minutes and trains from remote airports into London and Tokyo are also quicker than driving. Is that a big deal?

Answer: That is the best tip I can give any traveler. There are lots of examples of why you should not be a snob and catch a train.

Question: What do you do when a flight is delayed or canceled?

Answer: I immediately try to get an alternate flight. The last thing you do is panic. Sometimes you get a three- or four- or five-hour layover, but, invariably, you deal with it.

Question: How do you stay fresh and alert on the road?

Answer: If you have a 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. flight on Monday morning, you know you need to have lots and lots of sleep. I always try and be home for the weekends. Some trips, I just pass on now. Sometimes you take an extra half-a-day just so you don't kill yourself.


Age: 45

Job: State director of managed care and marketing for Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada

Passport stamps: Business travels are domestic stops such as Portland, Ore., Sacramento, Calif., and Houston.

Question: What is your favorite airline?

Answer: I'm a big Southwest traveler.

Question: Do you have a favorite airport?

Answer: I love the Denver airport. I like the whole atmosphere. I love to people watch.

Question: What sort of travel limits does your company have?

Answer: We have to fly coach. That's not restrictive to me.

Question: You said your worst business travel experience happened during a conference in Houston last year just before Christmas. What happened?

Answer: We had to go to The Houstonian (hotel). The Houstonian is magnificent. It is a lovely, old hotel. But the key word is old. It was damp, it was moldy. The whole team got sick. We all got upper respiratory infections.

Question: What do you do when a flight is delayed or canceled?

Answer: If I've been working really hard, I'll just relax and read something mindless.

Question: Would you please describe something you've learned by experience that can improve travel for others?

Answer: Always confirm your reservations right before you leave. Just make it as easy as possible. Do as little as possible when you get there.


Age: 34.

Job: Operating director for Health Profile Institute, Henderson.

Passport stamps: Sweden, in United States, California.

Question: What is your favorite airport?

Answer: Newark. That is the best airport. It is so easy there. I prefer to go there, then to Copenhagen, Denmark. If you go to Newark, it is just one stop. It is so helpful if you just have one stop.

Question: Do you suggest making it a priority to keep stops to a minimum on long trips?

Answer: The more stops, the greater the chance you miss a connection and you are much more tired. Every stop adds a couple hours to your trip.

Question: What is your favorite airline?

Answer: I really like Scandinavian Airlines. It is good service, it is comfortable. Some of these airlines put so many seats in there, after one hour your body is hurting. When you get there you are just tired and it takes a longer time ... to get over the flight.

Question: Besides booking fewer stops and a comfortable airline, are there other ways to stay fresh and alert during travel?

Answer: If you are in good shape, if you exercise, it is so much easier for your body to work with a time difference. It makes a huge difference. It is easier to sleep, even if you only get a few hours of sleep, your body functions better.

If you are staying at a hotel, definitely try to use the gym there. It will be easier to get used to the time difference. Abstain from alcohol during trips. That is a big one that I learned. Alcohol makes you tired and makes it hard to adjust to the time difference.

Question: What do you do when a flight is delayed or canceled?

Answer: I try to get a lot of reading done, or I bring some work.

Question: What advice would you give to new business travelers?

Answer: Wear comfortable clothes, bring extra sneakers and socks so you can switch on the plane.


Age: 47.

Job: Executive vice president, Progressive Gaming.

Passport stamps: Russia, China, Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina.

Question: What are the most glamorous business destinations?

Answer: I don't know what is more or less glamorous. They all kind of seem the same after awhile. We are a global business, I go all over the place week by week.

Question: What is your favorite airline?

Answer: Virgin Atlantic. For long flights, they have a class of service called upper class. They have these compartments with beds and a small bar where you can eat breakfast. It is just a comfortable service.

Question: Which airports do you dislike and which do you enjoy?

Answer: Least favorite airport, Newark or Atlanta. It just seems like there is always delays in flights and waiting times. If you hit them at the wrong time ... they just tend to strike a chord. You are inevitably tired, waiting in line, getting on another long haul flight overseas. As far as liking airports, I like the smaller, remote airports. If I go to California, I'll go through Burbank versus LAX.

Question: Is there a way to avoid delays?

Answer: Reserve a backup flight, space it out to anticipate. If you leave everything to on the spot ... you are waiting a long time in a line of very ornery people.

Question: Do you have a favorite type of hotel or chain you try to stay at while traveling?

Answer: A lot of the casinos obviously have hotels attached to them. You are right there where you need to be. You also get a sense of how that casino-resort operates. We are there to run our business so it is less time in the hotel and more time on the gaming floor.

Question: What do you do for ground transportation?

Answer: As much as possible, I try to avoid driving cars. You get into countries where it is the opposite side of the road or different things. (Clients or sales reps) pick us up and basically play tour guide.

Question: What do you consider your best business travel experience?

Answer: It is rare that everything goes right. On longer flights, my best experiences are just everything going to plan.

Question: You said worst was a recent trip to a gaming conference in Australia. What happened?

Answer: The worst experiences are customs delays, missed flights. Somehow my baggage got lost. I was scrambling around to buy clothes.

Question: What has experience taught you that is a good lesson for unseasoned business travelers?

Answer: For those who fly quite a bit, you typically don't like to check baggage period. Check or buy deodorant, toothpaste. Even though it sounds simple, depending on what country and what city you are going to, and depending on what time it is, it is not always the easiest or the safest to gather that stuff up.

Question: How do you decide what to pack?

Answer: I'm a bit of a control freak. I will go to so I know if it is raining. If it is not going to rain, I'm not bringing rain gear. Also, when it is summer here, it is winter in, say, Asia. In Macau you can get snow.

Question: You also suggested people avoid changing currency. Why?

Answer: They charge you exorbitant exchange fees. I've not had any problem in any country going to an (automatic teller machine) at an airport. You withdraw, it comes out in local currency. There is not really a lot of need to have local currency.

Question: Are there other ways to save money?

Answer: Don't use the hotel phone for long distance, get an international-calling cell phone, make sure you have the right plan for the country.