Thought Leadership

Why is traveling so hard?

By Colin Walls

Over the years, I have done a lot of business travel. This is not a complaint, just a fact. Sometimes it is enjoyable and I certainly like working in a multi-national environment; I cannot imagine what it must be like to be professionally confined to a single country. A lot of business travel is very mundane: airport to hotel; hotel to office; office to airport. One could be anywhere. Once in a while I am lucky enough to visit someone’s house. I have even visited a school and talked to the kids. But those are rare privileges that I value.

I have no idea how many flights I have taken – in the hundreds anyway. I estimate that I have made more than 50 trans-Atlantic crossings. And it is not getting any easier …

Maybe I can illustrate my point by looking at my travel last week, when I was going from my home in Malvern, UK to San Jose, CA:

Getting to the airport. Heathrow is really the only feasible airport for most intercontinental travel out of the UK. It is quite a long way from my home and it takes a while to get there. Although I appreciate that the distance is under my control, the designers of the infrastructure could have made it easier. The airport is to the West of London and well connected with the city, but there are no rail connections in any other direction. When I heard that they were building a new railway line a few years ago, I assumed that it would be from the West. I was wrong; it goes into London. So, as I come from the West, I have to travel into London and back out – just extra time an aggravation.

At the airport – landside. Check-in etc. is fairly well sorted at most airports nowadays and Heathrow T5 is quite good. Of course, online check-in simplifies matters, but there is still the matter of bag dropping. Then there is security … I have no problem with the existence of security – sadly the need is clear. But I wish that, first, I understood it and, second, there was more consistency from one country/airport to another. Do the shoes come off? Laptop out? What about iPad? Often an iPad needs to be removed, but an iPhone, which is much the same electronics, gets to stay in the bag. And there is rarely a comfortable place to reassemble oneself afterwards.

At the airport – airside. There is always a wait for boarding. All I need is somewhere quiet and comfortable to sit, toilet facilities and maybe a source of food and drink. Free WiFi is handy too. More often than not, there is insufficient seating and what is available is uncomfortable. Some terminals have good and varied food outlets, but not LHR T5. Sometimes you have time and it is nice to sit, relax and be served. At other times, you may be in a rush and want to grab something quickly. T5 has a few of the former and little of the latter. I thought that I would try a different restaurant, which did not look too busy. After waiting for ever to be seated, I gave up and went to another which I knew would work. I always find the vast array of shops just annoying. Why are they there? Of course, it is because there are lots of people with time on their hands and money in their pockets.

On the plane. The prospect of sitting on a plane for 10 hours or more never appeals to me. So, I stand around before boarding in order to keep my circulation working, while others fight over seats at the gate. Then everyone is in a great rush to board in order to maximize the time they spend crammed into a seat. Of course, the reason for the rush is to secure space for all the carry-on luggage. On a short flight, where the passenger may only be away a couple of nights, traveling with just carry-on makes sense. But surely most trans-Atlantic passengers will have checked-in bags, so why carry so much stuff? I see so many people, often elderly, struggling with enormous bags that they cannot manage, let alone literally “carry”. I tend to take just what I need for the flight, along with anything fragile [like my camera]. I like the system with small aircraft, where they take away your bags at the door and hand them back when you leave the plane. Then there is the question of electronic stuff. Why do I need to switch “off” my Kindle for take-off and landing? When I am reading a page, it is not actually “on”. It only bursts into life briefly when I “turn” a page and that would not involve the emission of any significant interference. There is no point arguing – the crew are just obeying [dumb] rules.

Arriving. There is normally some kind of immigration control involving passport inspection. In the US, this can [but oddly not always] involve having fingerprints and photo taken, which takes for ever and seems quite pointless. At least it is better than it once was. It used to be common to collect baggage first [after a wait], then get in line for Immigration, which was another lot of waiting. It is nice to know that, when I get back to UK, it is usually a fast dash though automatic passport gates.

Getting a rental car. In the US, people are always renting cars when they travel. So why is it not easier? Typically I stand in line for ages and then it takes the agent for ever to process my booking, during which they try to talk me into spending more money. They had my reservation and knew what I wanted. Why is the check-out not a matter of handing over credit card and driver’s license and then getting the keys?

Hotel. This is mostly the painless part of the trip. Every traveler has their hotel horror stories, but they can soon be forgotten.

Once installed in the country/town in which I am based, the next similar stress is the trip home. This time, I am home for a short time and then we are off for a short vacation to Berlin – more airports, aircraft …

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at