Critical Thinking and Travel: 37 decisions and counting…

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Business travel requires more critical thinking than any other activity I do on a regular basis. Each step of the process necessitates applying critical thinking skills as you are faced with a myriad of decisions. Let’s start with packing. The first step is to think about what meetings I need to attend and who is attending. This impacts what work clothes I need to pack. And then of course there are the after business hours but work related occasions. Will I be going directly from a meeting to a dinner? Is it a formal business dinner or does my relationship with the business partners allow me to dress more casually? What type of restaurant we decide on also determines what clothing is appropriate to pack.  And, then there is the issue of weather. Will it be cold? Will it rain? Lastly, will I have any free time where I might be able to do something that I enjoy where I will need different types of clothes?

Usually, I assume that I will have no free time and that the majority of dinners will be immediately following meetings and that there will be no time to go back to the hotel to change. As for how to deal with weather, I always keep an umbrella in my suitcase because I assume that at some point on some trip it will rain and it’s about layering. I have become a huge fan of the shawl or pashmina for those who are more stylish; the larger the better. It not only functions as an additional item for warmth over a jacket or sweater, it can be a blanket when the hotel blankets are too hot or not warm enough, or it has on occasion served as germ protector when the sheets or blankets look suspect! From there, it is matter of evaluating what my choices are from my wardrobe. These choices are often limited by whether I did laundry, what I wore last week (in any effort not to wear the same clothes each trip, I do try to rotate them!), what the base color scheme I choose for the trip (although my choices are usually confined to black or brown or shades thereof), and how I feel that day. Am I in a corporate conservative mood, a whimsical mood or an “I don’t care” kind of mood! All this scenarios play out in my head and eventually I do arrive at a conclusion. Once committed to the conclusion, there’s no turning back!

I wish I could say that my game of critical thinking ends there, but it doesn’t. The next step to consider is how am I going to get to the airport and what time do I have to leave? Again, the questions and assumptions… Should I drive or take a taxi? Will there be traffic? If I drive, should I chance pulling into a lot or should I make reservations in advance? What time do I need to leave? If I take a taxi I can leave later, if I drive I have to allow for parking time and time to get to the terminal. Recently, taking a taxi seems to be the conclusion I draw. Parking, transport to and from the terminal and potential damage to the car point to taking a taxi as the better options.

Once I arrive at the airport, my decisions really kick into gear. To begin with, what line should you stand in to get through security? If you are like me, whatever line I choose always ends up being the wrong line. There is either someone who doesn’t have the right documents or can’t find them, or looks suspicious in the eyes of the TSA, or worse still, the TSA officer responsible for that particular line is new or just seems to be on his/her own schedule. Heck – TSA officers don’t get paid by the number of passengers they check, they get paid by the hour. And it’s certainly not their problem if you didn’t allow the suggested one hour getting through security!

Assuming you get through this saga with your wits intact, you are then faced with the whole luggage and personal screening process. In some airports, depending on which security line you have chosen, you are forced into one particular screening line. This is a double whammy since if you have chosen the wrong security line; you are now subject to following the same people through security. As I stand there surveying the line, I make assumptions about the people in front of me in order to evaluate what I should do. If the passengers in front of me look like they are infrequent flyers or have lots of luggage in a variety of sizes and shapes or are traveling with children, I know that there is no need for advance preparation. I don’t have to contemplate how I am going to untie my shoes (if I have been stupid enough to have worn tie shoes), take off my jacket and/or sweater, remove my belt and jewelry that may set off the alarm, take out my bursting ziplock bag of toiletries, laptop and any other offending items from my pockets all before I reach the conveyer belt. And, the real challenge is accomplishing all of this without dropping or losing anything along the way. In these situations, I assume that I will have plenty of time as I reach the conveyer belt to do all this, because nearly every time, these passengers forget to remove something from their luggage or persons and end up get screened twice.

On the other hand, if you are following or preceding the road warrior types, you need to think fast. This type of traveler can not wait fifteen seconds for anything. Bins need to be filled in advance and if you can’t fill your bin fast enough; they will most certainly cut in front of you to save those fifteen seconds. In this scenario, you had better have your game plan well thought out and be prepared to execute. I have to admit that due to the amount of travel I do on a monthly basis, I too can be classified as a road warrior although I do not think I am quite as aggressive as some. I must admit that I do the road warrior head bob while I survey the security and screening lines, begin various states of undress as soon as I clear security and have all my other items ready to pull out as quickly as TSA booms, “Take out your laptops!”

Ah – once through TSA, it’s time to make your way to the gates. If you have allowed yourself sufficient time, then this is not a problem. However, if you are made some wrong assumptions along the way and have not allowed sufficient time, this is when you have to use all your critical thinking skills because missing the plane is not an option. Do you hurl yourself head first running through the airport or do you get on one of those people movers and hope that the people really are moving? How obnoxious are you willing to be in the process? Sometimes, a polite, “excuse me,” doesn’t cut it. The process requires a full on “EXCUSE ME, CAN I GET THROUGH?!” assault. And assuming that you make it to the gate while your section/group number is still boarding or hasn’t boarded and the area is clear, there isn’t a problem, but what do you do when your section/group number is already boarded? Do you cut in front of all those people who are technically “behind” you in the process? If you do, you had better be prepared for some less than polite remarks, because everyone ASSUMES you are cutting in line. The problems that arise from wrong assumptions!

But let’s assume that you have done this all correctly. You arrive at the airport in sufficient time to not require an OJ Simpson dash through the airport. And let’s assume you haven’t let too much time before your flight because this requires just as much effort to organize. You can peruse the magazines and resist attempts to pay upwards of $4.00 for something you probably wouldn’t read, or you can look for the hundredth time at all the usual things that are marketed at airports for tourists or nowadays, you can evaluate your options for food since you are not going to get any on your flight. This is a real exercise in the RED model. I like many, someone assume that salad is going to be my healthiest and lowest calorie option. However, I have since learned that this is not necessarily true. It appears that southwest salad with grilled chicken (320 calories)at McDonald’s is twice the calories of a Vanilla reduced fat ice cream cone (150 calories) and only ten calories more than a McChicken without mayo (310 calories). This of course does not take into consideration other “healthy eating” factors such as amount of sodium, amount carbs, sugar, fiber, etc. (Making choices about food have to be the ultimate in critical thinking, but I’ll save that for another blog.) And then of course, is this purchase to substitute for a meal, to supplement a meal, or is it just a snack to tie you over until you get t your destination. I almost and I say almost, wish we could go back to food on the plane. At least there were fewer decisions involved. All I had to think about was to eat or not to eat, what to eat and how much. In this millennium, the options have been reduced to peanuts, pretzels and 100 calorie snack packs or on longer flights, a box.

For the most part, nowadays, there is very little evaluation that needs to go into boarding the aircraft. On my flights, we are given seats and sectors to board by, unless of course you are flying the most democratic of all airlines, Southwest.  With no assigned seats, it is all about the boarding sequence which is determined by when you check in. Unless of course, you are one of the few who elect to pay at least double the fare and get a coveted A1-15 boarding pass. What could be more democratic than assigning boarding sequences based on who checks in first? Apart from a few uninitiated travelers, I believe that most passengers understand how the system works, and are aware that the reason you rush to get on-line one minute past the hour the flight departs the day before, is that you want to an A and as low a number as possible. Somehow, this insight all evaporates at the airport and the flight is boarding. To be fair, Southwest has designed a system of very clear markers indicating the order in which passengers should board, but without fail there is someone who insists that they do not understand what the numbers mean on their boarding and how they correspond to the signs. Is it not obvious that if your boarding pass says B that you wait until the B group boards and that those numbers 1-30 and 31-60 in sequential order mean that you need to stand in the corresponding order? If Southwest intended for everyone in 1-30 to stand in a random order why would they take the trouble to design signs that break the groups into five?

I could go on, but believe me when I say you have to be a good critical thinker to fly successfully these days!

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