Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The Glamour of International Travel

As I sit in alone in a small room in Barcelona, where I have somehow damaged the airconditioning switch so that I am inside a medium sized refrigerator when the outdoor temperature is 25 degrees, I am once again pondering what's good about international travel.

A young American lady sitting across the aisle on the plane over told me that she was spending 4 months in Spain and was looking forward to it. I agreed - it was a great adventure. She asked me how long I would be in Spain and I replied one night. After a day in meetings, I was to spend a night in the hotel and then another morning of meetings, then plane home. I must have done this a hundred times in the last year, it seems, and I cannot remember the last time I actually kicked back and had a moment to myself to enjoy some of the spectacular cities I have visited, from Rome to Stockholm to the inside of Copenhagen airport only. I lie. Now that I think of it, I did manage a trip around the harbour of Hamburg in an open top boat, breathing diesel fumes, sun beating on my head and sweating profusely in a suit. I saw several scrap heaps, empty dry docks and Roman Abramovich's new yacht covered in plastic - and all the while I kept glancing at my watch worrying that I would be late for my meeting.

The day had not started well. Due to travel costs, the cheapest flight got me to Barcelona just 40 minutes before my meeting, cutting it all very fine. The plane was packed so full that there was nowhere near enough room in the departure lounge, let alone on the aircraft, for us all to comfortably sit. It was fashionably, but bloody annoyingly late - by well over an hour and so my slim margin of error was already burnt away before I started, causing one of those stupidly fractious journeys where I felt like going onto the flight deck and telling the pilot to put his foot down. How he would have laughed and either shot me as a terrorist or pointed to the throttle as being a lever not a pedal.

In the cost consious era of business travel, I found myself in the section called 'Basic' as classified by Iberia Airways - a euphemism for 'abattoir class'. This is a level that makes Ryan Air look like the Orient Express. A mere tomato juice cost €2.50, rivalling any of O'Leary's rip offs. The good news was that they do not charge extra for check in, bags, jetways or fast queuing - just get to the front and stand up quickly. And you get a real seat allocated to you beforehand. That made the return flight to Barcelona exactly half what I paid for a recent Ryan Air one way trip from Frankfurt-Hahn airport to Stansted. Oh yes, believe me - Ryan Air advertise cheap flights but I paid, with check in, priority boarding and one tiny bag in the hold, exactly double the price to go for a flight double the distance to Barcelona, both ways. One other, nit-picking point - Frankfurt-Hahn airport is around 200km from Frankfurt, and is a god forsaken hell-hole infested by more flies than a festival of rancid horse manure. Granted it was hot but even I couldn't see the waitress in the small cafe for the fog of flies in the room. Some of us think London Luton is stretching the imagination, but this is like calling Birmingham Airport a London airport.

Whenever I mention what I do or where I go, it always sounds good that I have been to Germany last week and Spain this week etc. But when you sit like 'Billy Nomates' alone catching up on the day's emails and messages with a motley room service sandwich half eaten at your side and only two channels with English on and both are boring business news running the same endless loop, it really is not as glamourous as it sounds.

Tomorrow is 28 degrees in Barcelona - I am only hoping the office I visit has good ventilation or else it will be another day in a sticky shirt, preying for a shower. Hands up all those who know what I'm talking about.

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