Monday, October 29, 2007

Pat's Rules for Air Travel

So my little adventure reported in my last two posts brings me to a place where I should probably review my "rules" for air travel. I violated several of them the past couple weeks and that just means extra stress.

Keep in mind that I will sometimes do odd things in my travel to pick up a few extra miles or segments, so I'm not very good at following my own advice. Also, I hate to deal with the "3-1-1" baggies, so I rarely have carry on bags.

Flight Times:

That 0600 flight might get you to where you want to be at a decent hour, but remember that you have to get up and be at the airport at an ungodly hour and that early wake up call is going to be awful.

RULE 1: Avoid the dawn patrol.

You might want to work a full day where you are and take the last flight out of Dodge, but if anything goes sideways, you might get stuck.

RULE 2: Avoid the last flight of the day.


Even though the airline allows you to book a 45 minute connection, don't do it. If that first flight is delayed, you're going to be running -- or you'll miss your connection.

RULE 3: Avoid connections that are less than 90 minutes. Two hours is best.

If you are making a connection, make sure that the first leg of your flight is not the last flight of the day that will allow ANY connection to your ultimate destination.

RULE 4: Make certain that your originating flight to your connection city allows you options if you are delayed or that flight is canceled.

Managing Changes:

It never hurts to pre-plan some options. Download your favorite airline's timetable and have the timetable build you a list of flights to your ultimate destination. That way, if you original routing gets messed up, you have options to suggest. If you are originating in a city where there are multiple airports served by your airline, take a look at options offered at the other airports.

RULE 5: Have options in mind if your original plans go sideways.

Stress is a bad thing. When your plans go awry, the worst thing that you can do is get angry and frustrated. No matter how messed up things get, yelling at the person behind the counter will do very little and likely makes them less likely to help you.

RULE 6: It may not feel like the "small stuff", but getting all bent out of shape over changes to your plans solves very little.

Other Stuff:

If you're able to board your flight in the first group, it is reasonable to bring along your carry-on suitcase. That gives you a lot more options since the airline may not always go find your bag if you don't take the flight. In addition, some bags will not travel the same routing as you. But please check the steamer trunk.

RULE 7: Carry-on luggage provides you with more options. But make sure that your bag will fit in the overhead -- and make sure that you board early.

The Rest of the Story...

So when last I left off, you were with me on my trip home a week and a half ago. It gets better (and worse)...

So we board the CRJ-200. These are just about my least favorite aircraft because they are tiny and First class is not available. I have the aisle seat. I always sit in the aisle on these things because you can lift the armrest and hang a cheek out into the aisle if you feel like you're crowding whoever is stuck in the window seat (as much as I prefer window seats in general, the curvature of the small planes makes it impossible for me to fit there.

So I settle in. There is no one in the window seat when I sit down, but I have been told the flight is oversold. Sure enough, here comes my seatmate. He's not quite my size, but still a big guy. And he has been bathing in garlic. so I make a hole for him to get in, he buckles up, and I sit down, lifting the armrest to make a little more room. He absolutely reeks of garlic.

So we're off and about halfway, he decides that he's claustrophobic. I don't blame him. There happens to be an aisle seat across from me open, so he climbs out and grabs that seat. I'm not going to complain because I now have both seats to myself.

We land in LAX about 15 minutes early, so a quick arrival at the gate means that I'll have an hour to go from terminal 8 to terminal 6. Of course, that means that our gate isn't ready. So we park. After 20 minutes, we roll up to the gate, slightly behind our estimated arrival. I have about 40 minutes to get to the new gate. Plenty of time, but it also means that my next flight is boarding, since it is a widebody. I walk at a reasonable pace and arrive at the gate about 20 minutes to departure, having also made a quick pit stop on the way. As I roll up, I hear the gate agent say, "Folks, sorry for the delay, but we're going to grab a flight attendant from the next gate over and as soon as she is settled in, we'll begin our boarding process." GRRRRR! I'm just glad that I didn't run all the way over or stress myself too much. That's the way these things always seem to work out.

So we finally board after all of the people who don't speak English or don't care to read the big number on their boarding passes get out of the way. I'm seated all the way in the back of Economy Plus. The good news is that it is Economy Plus; the bad news is that the seat won't recline all the way. But there is no one behind me. So I settle in to the window and find a pillow and blanket. No one immediately sits down next to me. I'm holding my breath waiting to see who eyes that seat... NO ONE!!!! So up goes the armrest and I know that I'm not going to be crammed in that seat for four hours.

We leave about 15 minutes late, but at this point, I'm really too tired to care. There are some bumps along the way, but I manage to doze for a little bit. We land at ORD around 0500, actually ahead of schedule. When I get off the plane, I note that it is schedules to fly back out to DEN as UA 707 -- the same flight that I left Chicago on a couple days before. So I join the sleepy line of red eye travelers and head off to find my bag. Amazingly enough, once the bags come down, mine is an early arrival (I was worried that it wouldn't make the connection).

I finally made it home around 0600. Slept until Noon, missed the soccer game. My whole day was messed up.

So on the whole, I did get home. I lost my first class seats, but managed to mostly have two seats to myself. When they rebooked the reservation, they recoded my fare basis to "Y" (which is considered full fare economy) which means that I picked up an extra 50% of miles and segments for my trouble. And UA is supposed to be mailing me a voucher for my troubles.

Still, not a day that I care to repeat.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Glamour of Business Travel

***SIGH*** I've finally had one of THOSE trips... you know, the one with headaches that just keep coming?

So I book a quick trip to Silicon Valley to help a new subsidiary get records out to Iron Mountain. It's a Wednesday to Friday trip. Oh-dark-30 on the outbound and the last flight of the day on the return. Good fare.

Wednesday, 3AM. The alarm rings... grumble. Out the door at 3:45 and off to ORD. Pull in to the parking garage and it deposits me on the Blackhawks Level 4. BONUS! (This is the level that allows you to go from your car over the bridge into the terminal -- very fast.) Check in with UAL.COM Bag Check is uneventful. My upgrades have cleared and I have First Class seats out to SJC (via DEN). Things are looking good, except for the hour. Security is remarkably uneventful and fast compared to my last trip. Off to the Red Carpet Club for a light breakfast and some juice. I can actually relax for a bit. I head for the gate around 5:15 for my 6AM flight. We board and I settle in. We're off and they bring around some sort of breakfast item... not memorable, but at least resembled food.

Wednesday, 0730 Local Time, Denver. I hop off the plane expecting a quick trot to the next gate for SJC. I check the departure board and find a delay... looks like an hour... oh well, Red Carpet Club time! I glance at the paper and have some juice. Then off to the gate once I see the plane pull in to the gate. We're off about 90 minutes late. Looks like my lunch meeting will start late. Oh well. The plane is apparently catered oddly... they offer a roast beef sandwich accompanied by biscotti and yogurt.

Wednesday, 1100 Local Time, San Jose. I just remembered why I'm not a fan of Mineta San Jose International Airport. It has been under construction for the past decade and the new terminal is starting to take shape... maybe by 2010... But United arrives at the old terminal and you get out and walk across the tarmac. That is followed by a circuitous route to bag claim and a wait for bags. But mine is out first and I'm off to the central (temporary) rental car facility. I jump off at Avis and don't find my name on the board (because I am late). I'm assigned a long in the tooth Taurus and need to find the office. I have to drive about two miles to get there, but the 101 is a parking lot. Sigh. So, some side streets and wandering and I find the office. Do the meetings, head over to Apple to meet a colleague, then time to find the hotel. I'm at the hotel around 6PM and note that the small restaurant is empty... hmmm.... I'm hungry and tired so i decide to do room service... after 20 rings, I decide to find some fast food. Sleep comes at 2130... a 20+ hour day.

Thursday, 0630... how the heck do you turn the alarm off, where are my glasses, and where is the light switch? Free breakfast in the restaurant, then off to the office. The next 12 hours are spent labeling boxes, identifying contents and repacking oversize boxes. I am tired, sweaty, and hungry (pizza was lunch). But the team has done well and we have 628 boxes ready to go in the morning. I have a California steak dinner (that was cauliflower, not mashed potatoes...) and head back to the hotel. Sleep comes easy and the next sound that I hear is that darn alarm clock...

Friday, 0630... I still haven't figured this thing out. I suspect it will be buzzing tomorrow at 0630 as well... Off to the office... time enough to verify box counts and transmittals and make copies... 0900... here's Iron Mountain. The crew is unhappy about the stairs to the 2nd floor and someone runs off to retrieve some skate wheel conveyors from the warehouse. The work goes faster and the grumbling sort of ceases. They stop for lunch, I have a donut and Mountain Dew. I verify that my flights are on time and that my upgrades are good to go. I'm heading back at 1710, connecting in Denver and getting home after Midnight. No biggie... the soccer player doesn't have a game until 1100. Iron Mountain finishes up and I'm off to the airport. On the way to the airport, I get buzzed with a flight update... ONTIME!!! I deposit the car. Get on the bus and I have three more updates... uh oh. My "ontime" flight is now cancelled and I am rebooked at 2100 for a flight connecting at LAX. The LAX flight will leave at 2300 and get to Chicago about 0500. This is where the steam starts coming out of my ears.

Now I'm over two hours early for my now-cancelled flight. There should be options. Should. Be. Options. So let's see... how about another flight to DEN? Nope. That one will leave you stranded in DEN. How about SFO? Nope. It's Friday and everything east at the end of the day is booked solid. What about earlier to LAX? Nope. Booked solid... this is Friday you know? GRRRR. Ok, I'll do this connection. What's the connection time? About 45 minutes. Great. Upgrades? Nope.

So here I sit. First, we need to get to LAX. On. Time. We'll see about that. Good news is that it is a 55 minute flight and is scheduled to take 75 minutes, so I should have a few extra minutes, assuming we get out on time and have a gate at LAX. Bad news is that this is a CRJ, so I'll hate the plane all the way to LAX.

I have a window seat LAX-ORD, but it is right by the galley and won't recline. Great. Maybe it will be empty.

Well, I've never done the red-eye, so this should be interesting... more whenever I get home...

Sunday, October 14, 2007


The ten year old plays soccer on Saturday mornings. She's now in the "U12 Girls" division of AYSO. At this age, soccer starts to get to be serious. There aren't as many "do-overs" on throw-ins and goal kicks. Offsides are called with more frequency and drawing the opponent offside is now part of the strategy. There will still tend to be a couple dominant players in each game, but the games that are blowouts, don't happen as much. It is an interesting transformation.

So Saturday morning I set up my folding chair (finally one for us big and tall guys!)and settled in. The ten year old was decked out in her red and black AYSO uniform, but also in sweats, mittens and her Glasgow Celtic Football Club hat (if you have to play soccer in a hat, you may as well wear one that supports a team somewhere). For the early morning games, someone has to come by with the game bag and the corner flags. That person was running late on Saturday, so the ref ran back to his car for a game ball and some linesman's flags -- yep, he was real ref. The referee (at this level the referees tend to be parents who actually understand the game, rather than ones who feel obligated to blow the whistle) then set about checking the nets. I noticed that he didn't have any linesmen yet and with a large field (this age group plays on almost a full-sized field), it is a big help if somebody is watching the sidelines and endlines. So, having once had a class on the laws of soccer (they are not RULES, they are LAWS -- and don't you forget it!) and been trained by AYSO to act as a linesman (probably ten+ years ago for the older kid), I volunteered. We talked about where he wanted me (referees usually work a diagonal and want the linesmen to be watching whichever sideline is the far side from him or her) and what calls he expected. He reminded me that the ball has to completely cross the line for it to be out and he only wanted to see the flag for offsides if someone was in offside position AND part of the play. By that time another parent arrived in linesman's garb and he took the opposite sideline. As the ref was checking shin guards, shoes and earings, the game bag arrived and I planted the corner flags.

Now those of you who know me know that I'm not going to be running sprints anytime soon. So it was up to me to stay ahead of the game. My main concerns were getting throw-ins called correctly and calling goal and corner kicks properly. The ten year old looked at me oddly as she took my chair since she wasn't starting.

For the first half, most of the play was on the other side (and end) of the field. I mentally noted each pass of the ball and who had the last touch. I had a couple calls that were easy and mainly counted substitutes on and off the field. I got behind play once and thereafter tended to anticipate the game more by staying more towards the endline. At halftime, the ref, the other linesman and one of the coaches got into a spirited (it was good-natured, so I wouldn't say heated) discussion of an offsides call. Offsides is a real judgment call in soccer. A player can be offsides, but if he or she isn't really in the play, the violation won't be called. In this instance, a player was hovering around the goal and had distracted the goalie. The other team didn't score, but the coach was concerned that the violation wasn't being called. The ref countered that if the ball had come to that player or if the player had been calling for a pass, he would have called it, but merely distracting the goalie wasn't a problem. I just stood off to the side with a neutral look. Frankly, I didn't have a clue... I would have raised the flag.

The second half brought much of the play to my side and end of the field. You need a lot of focus to recall who last touched the ball and which direction each team is going. I pointed the wrong way (at first -- right color, wrong direction) at least once and overruled the ref (correctly, btw) once, so I figure I was even. I got screened from a call a couple times, but my daughter noticed that I was really paying attention. So I guess I looked the part, even in my Northwestern hoodie and ballcap.

But watching the game from this perspective does change the way the game looks. You see the plays develop and you start to know which players will be playing the ball more intensely and more accurately. You're not as quick on the line calls because some of these kids are just good enough to save a ball on the line. Their skills are really starting to develop. You see the speed and the agility coming out. Some are getting more loft of the ball -- and maintaining control. A few are trying to punt the ball -- two weeks ago, our goalie punted the ball past midfield, the ball bounced once, and one of our players drilled it unopposed into the net. There are even intentional headers from time to time -- although the outcomes of heading the ball tend to be fairly random.

The kids still don't seem to worry about the score and the snacks are as important as the outcome. The parents will cheer just about any play, but you can hear the intensity a bit more -- and most understand the game by now. We're within a couple years of this game getting serious.

In our league, U14 is the next level. At that level, there aren't enough girls to field enough teams to compete over the course of a season, so the teams are co-ed. The sad part, I suppose, is that the girls who play for fun, but don't have the skills yet will tend to drop out, while the girls with the skills will likely get better playing with boys. I'm not sure where Molly will land. She likes playing, but she still doesn't have a nose for the ball or the aggressiveness that she will need soon enough. Sometimes it just clicks. She's still one of the younger ones on the field. I can see her starting to put some of the pieces together, but I suspect that she'll not make the leap to U14. But that's ok. As long as the game is fun for her, I'll drag myself out on Saturday mornings, plant some flags, cheer her on, and raise the linesman's flag from time to time.

It's a bunch of kids running around, kicking a ball, having fun, and not really caring about the final score. It's a game after all -- and much more fun than watching the millionaires who play baseball, basketball and football (the American kind) in this town.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Riding in the Front of the Bus

So going to and from ARMA, I upgraded my flights. Since both flights were on United Airlines 757s, I was pretty well assured an upgrade. (UAL's 757s have 24 first class seats.) I normally won't burn my upgrade certificates on a 600 mile flight (you "pay" with 500 mile certificates, so each flight cost me two certificates). But I wanted to have some comfort going there and I knew I would be tired and cranky coming home. That extra bit of room makes life in an airplane a bit more enjoyable. And on these flights, you actually get something resembling a hot meal, so that was nice.

Well, a few of my fellow Board members were on both flights. They were all back in steerage and reminded me of that when we arrived -- and even more so when my "Priority" bags actually came down the chute first. I commented on the fine wines, choice of champagne, and filet mignon that I enjoyed up front and asked them to take a look at the manicure that I got. Unfortunately, the manicure part is where they realized that perhaps I was stretching the truth. I'm always reminded of this commercial.

Over the past few years, I've had my share of upgrades. I never take them for granted. And I tend to look at the folks who are up there. Most are like me -- or worse -- serious road warriors finding a use for the miles or upgrades that they have accumulated. A few actually BUY the higher priced tickets, but mostly it is people who are in planes much of their lives. I like to see what they are reading. Right now, since I haven't been flying as much, I'm not getting a consensus, but a short while back, EVERYONE was reading The World is Flat (see link off to the side). Noticing a trend like that is worthwhile. While I'm not a huge advocate of "Management by Magazine Article", when you see a lot of people looking at the same thing, it's probably worth a look.

An interesting set of data points that I noticed on these trips -- a fair number of military enlisted in desert cammies going to and from Baltimore. It appeared that United upgraded as many of these guys as they could -- although my very small sample size indicated that the Air Force guys got more upgrades than the Army and Navy guys. That's a nice touch for these very young men (no military women on these flights). The guys really seemed to enjoy the small thank you from United.

I seem to run across a lot of military in my travels and each time I see a big crowd of them, I don't know whether I should feel sadness or pride. These guys and gals are doing something that I would never want to do. I worry about the kids who signed up to get an education paid for, make a few extra bucks on weekends, or wanted to serve in the National Guard and help in disasters. It seems like so many of them are off to Iraq to fight and that doesn't seem right to me. Sure, that is part of the deal, but I suspect that in Iraq are a lot of kids who saw the commercials about education and sandbags in floods and never imagined being issued a rifle and being asked to kill someone in a foreign country. I always tell the kids that I see when I'm traveling, "Thanks for your service to our country." It is a huge, and all too often, a very final sacrifice for some of them and their families.

And this is what I think about while I'm riding in the front of the bus.... I'm very privileged in this life to have these opportunities to travel and to enjoy the few perks of travel.

And I had my letdown this week as well. One of the other Board members is senior enough in her organization to be able to reserve the company jet. She described HER trip to the meeting. "The car service picked me up about a half hour before we were scheduled to depart and dropped me right at the Citation. They loaded up my bags and we were rolling before I had sipped my tea. We were there before I finished the newspaper and the car service was waiting for me." THAT was really First Class. That sort of story will tend to take you down a notch.

Back From ARMA, the Competencies, and Certifications / Certificates

Well, I safely made it home from ARMA's Annual Conference. I have a wicked cold, courtesy of a fellow Board member that I sat next to for a number of hours in Board meetings who insisted that he "only had some allergies". Uh huh. Guess that's what I get for staying out of airplanes for a while again. (When I was in the air on a monthly / weekly basis, it seemed like I was never sick because I was exposed to so much recirculated germy air.)

It seems like the Conference was a success for us. Even with conflicts for US Columbus Day and Canadian Thanksgiving, traffic and attendance looked good. The crowd was younger than I recall seeing before. I had a number of people mention that to me. That bodes well for the profession if we can continue to engage these folks and help them make a career out of records management. Step one is finally delivering the Competencies. Over the past week, whenever I had a few minutes, I spent a fair amount of time working through the various levels. If nothing else, they are exhaustive. The trick is going to be getting people to use them and start to see them used to create really comparable positions. We also need to ensure that we do a good job mapping education resources to them. But they are now available and, from what I hear, being downloaded like hotcakes. "FREE!!!" tends to do that.

There is a fair amount of debate in the profession about education and testing. Debate is always healthy, as is competition. Market forces will eventually determine the winner. But what I have found in my 20 years of experience doing this stuff is that you cannot substitute a book, a class, or a CBT for good, old-fashioned, on the job experience. A healthy bit of curiosity and a fairly retentive grey-matter data bank help. I'm not big on all the new-fangled classes and certificates being offered over at AIIM. A bunch of initials after your name in technology circles seems so 1998 to me. What they prove is that someone was willing to pony up some big bucks, you attended a class, and you proved that you could parrot back the correct answer. I suspect that most tech-savvy kids fresh out of school could get a string of initials after their name. They would grasp the high points, but miss the nuance.

Let me take you back a couple weeks to my last post. If you recall that post, I waxed on about spinning my IT manager's head around when she came in with a simple question. That same question came up in my session at ARMA. I had mercy on that victim. Nonetheless, you're not going to be able to work through all the permutations of the legalities of imaging unless you have been around the block a few times and been mugged by lawyers, a client or two, and the business. THE BOOK or THE CLASS or THE CBT will tell you the theory. You'll know your dpi and your image formats and your cost analysis. But applying that knowledge is learned by experience.

Let me give another example: I dropped by one of my company's offices yesterday. They are doing some imaging there. The process was explained to me at a high level and I determined at least three process improvement opportunities simply by listening to what was described. And I would expect that someone who had a bunch of initials after their name would see the same opportunities. The challenge is listening harder and applying what you know. While the quick fix is to solve those issues (and, in theory, they are pretty low-hanging fruit), that's not the way to fix the problem. When you react like that, you're very likely to miss the root cause and miss more significant and underlying issues. There is truly an opportunity there, but that opportunity is to look at a sick process rather than a few symptoms. The rule that I learned over time is that you have to look at the whole process and then start looking for where things are broken -- and it may not be the things that look obvious. Oftentimes, fixing the obvious problems simply makes bad things happen more quickly.

The beauty of ARMA's Competencies and the CRM exam is that they demand very broad knowledge across many areas of practice. You're not walking away thinking that taking an open book test means that you know enough to be competent. That may be true for one narrow band of practice, but you have to understand the broader implications and apply good solutions in order to be truly effective and competent.

Another example: I had a meeting today on lab notebooks. My experience with lab notebooks is limited to a consulting engagement with a food manufacturer's R&D facility and various conversations and presentations from folks who need to be compliant with FDA regs. So I walk into a meeting about lab notebooks with a mindset that they are critical documents that are absolutely essential to protecting patents and intellectual property. BIG MISTAKE. I fell into the inexperience trap. That's what THE BOOK would say. The reality is far different. You have to look at a variety of opinions -- lawyers, engineers, management, bean counters, etc. While THE BOOK says that these things (lab notebooks) are as precious as gold, those folks live in them every day and know the problems and opportunities tied to them. Perhaps they do have real value into the future; perhaps they are only valuable to the person who doodled in them. And dropping THE BOOK solution on that crowd will get you run out of town on a rail. In my case, I listened and asked questions. I probed around what I thought to be true and found that in the FDA-compliance world, life is truly different. Our business has a different sense and a different set of experiences over time. There may well be a need for tighter and more effective control of the lab notebooks, but that is driven by forces other than compliance. The good consultant listens, questions, listens again, analyzes, then speaks.

So the point to this rant is that initials aren't everything. Competencies are. If you can demonstrate a broad base of experience and knowledge -- and the ability to turn that knowledge into value for the business, the initials after your name will enhance your credibility -- "Hey, this guy knows his stuff and he made an effort to document that knowledge." But those initials aren't going to magically render you a savant and a guru. You've got to be able to walk the talk first. I'm proud of my CRM and I'm probably prouder of my Master's degree. My certification and my degree are prominently displayed in my office. One is an accredited graduate degree; the other is an accredited certification. Both have been deemed to be valuable in the outside world and have credibility. But if Patrick Cunningham, MA, CRM can't develop solutions that work both outside and inside the box, even those initials are worthless.