People often complain about how difficult flying can be these days. I recently spoke with certified speaking professional Garrison Wynn to learn what can make it easier to travel and navigate the airlines. Wynn, who categorizes himself as a professional traveler, “commutes” nationwide to about 100 speaking engagements each year. Here, in a series of interviews, he provides tips for ironing the kinks out of air travel for speakers and others who often find themselves flying on business.
Linda Singerle: In previous interviews, we’ve covered how and what to pack for easy, frequent travel and how to navigate airport security with minimal hassle. So, assuming I’ve now reached my destination, how do I get around on the ground? Shuttles, cabs, car services-what’s best and why?
Garrison Wynn: Traveling on business, the best thing you could ever do is use a car service-a limousine company that provides a Lincoln Town Car, a Cadillac or a comparable vehicle. This does not mean a stretch limo with a full bar and neon lights on the ceiling. You don’t need a rolling brothel, just reliable transportation. When you call, just ask for the price of a “town car” and tell them where you want to go. Some services provide cars that are even less expensive than a town car. For instance, some will pick you up in a Toyota Camry.
It can be expensive-twice the price of a cab, in some cities. But if your destination happens to be an hour from the airport, the car service actually turns out to be less expensive than a cab. Also the chances of the native language of your driver being Klingon are greatly reduced!
LS: How does it compare with renting a car?
GW: One great advantage is that the car service is a hired private car that shows up looking for YOU. You don’t have to hunt down the rental. You don’t have to learn to navigate the city. But a lot of businesspeople do rent cars when they travel. (I don’t anymore. I once had to abandon a rented Buick in Los Angeles after realizing that making my flight was more important than honoring my commitment to Hertz. That’s a bad feeling, abandoning a car you’re responsible for in a rather large city.)
If you feel that you can drive well in a city you’ve never been to before, and you’ve got time to turn that car in, and you’ve got time to make a wrong turn in a dangerous neighborhood without making yourself late, then renting a car can be OK. It may be the way to go if you have multiple destinations within that city. In that case, renting a car might be your best option.
LS: Are cabs to be avoided altogether, then?
GW: In some cities, cabs can be fine. In smaller cities, it takes a long time for cabs to get to you; and in midsize cities, they often don’t have enough cabs for people who are leaving the airport at certain times. In fact, in certain cities, the wait in the cab line is literally an hour. In the winter, you might not be able to handle that wait, standing outside in 10-degree weather for 20 minutes or more. If you’re going to catch a cab in Washington, D.C., in the winter, you’d better have a warm coat because you might be standing outside awhile. Once, while waiting in a long cab line in the cold, I came down with some head and bronchial sickness that took forever to shake, but I still had to travel and speak at conventions for a month or more. So keep in mind what’s most important when it comes to ground transportation. No one will ever say, “Hey, I was impressed with that guy; he was thriftyand massively ill!”
If you’re going to take a cab, I recommend you travel with cash. Cab drivers don’t like credit cards, and in some cities or some states they’re not required to take credit cards. Some cab drivers will not take you short distances if you don’t have cash, and others will claim their credit card machine does not work. Some will take credit cards but complain that they don’t make any money. Others will charge you a $10 “credit card fee” while giving you a dirty look that seems to indicate you’ve used a credit card because you are a horrible person.
From experience, I suggest you ignore the credit card stickers on the window. As you approach the vehicle, ask whether the driver takes credit cards. I once rode in a cab that accepted payment by credit card, according to the stickered rear window. But when I arrived at my destination, the driver insisted otherwise. When I pointed to the window, he emphatically countered in very broken English that his window was wrong!
Overall, cabs are better than they used to be. I’ve been in cabs that smell like some foreign land-so strongly, in fact, that I could almost swear they were grillin’ up some goat on a hibachi in that back seat just before I climbed in. And every now and then, you’ll come across a cab that smells like somebody has defecated on a Christmas tree. There are some cabs where whatever you’re wearing when you sit in the cab – you’ll just have to throw it away. But there are a lot of great cabs too.
LS: And then there’s the shuttle.
GW: And I am not a fan of the shuttle. There are two types of shuttles, actually: the hotel shuttle and the pay-in-advance shuttle. The pay-in-advance shuttle is a van that shows up and takes you and other people to one destination or various destinations. The problem is that if your flight is late and the others are on time, they will leave without you even though you’ve already paid. And they will promptly refund your money, I’m sure. Oddly enough, it also works the other way: I have waited an hour in a shuttle for two people whose flights were late. So when it comes to shuttles, it seems that you have a 50 percent chance of not being a priority.
I once was at an airport in Arkansas where the shuttle didn’t park at the sign that said “shuttle.” It parked behind the taxis where you couldn’t even see the shuttle, and when I got to the shuttle that I could barely find, it didn’t have air conditioning for the 40-minute ride in 100-degree heat. So what did I do? I got a cab.
As for the shuttles operated by the hotels, they’re pretty good but sometimes they’re erratic and run on a schedule that no one seems to understand. A lot of times the hotel shuttle schedule is determined solely by the availability of Jimmy, the part-time employee who drives the van. Sometimes they can’t find Jimmy. Sometimes Jimmy is “on his way.” Sometimes Jimmy “has just left the airport” and won’t be back for 30 minutes or more. And sometimes Jimmy is with his girlfriend and will not be appearing at all tonight… That’s what I’ve noticed about the hotel shuttles.
In a small town, Jimmy may have left the airport Sunday night at 10:30, which is precisely when your flight touched down. When you spoke with the hotel Friday, you were assured Jimmy could pick you up Sunday night. But now you’re curbside, and as you call to see where the hotel shuttle is, you might be told that they have nobody available to get you. So, Jimmyless and disgruntled, you call a cab and complain to your driver, who is very supportive because no one enjoys bad shuttle stories like a cab driver does.
If you’re returning to the airport on the hotel shuttle, and it’s coming from just your hotel, you’re OK. But some shuttles actually service two or three hotels on the way to the airport. What you think is a 20-minute ride could really be an hour to the airport and could cause you to miss your flight, so be sure to ask the right questions in advance. Don’t ask “Are you going directly to the airport?” They will answer yes but then stop at four more hotels and the Waffle House before reaching the airport. Instead, ask “Are you going to make any stops before we get to the airport?” It’s apparently part of their job to lure people in a hurry onto what’s really just public transportation that’s fond of hotels.
LS: If you’re flying internationally, do you have different guidelines to go by?
GW: If you’re traveling to Mexico, Indonesia or Nigeria, never ever get in a cab, shuttle or bus. Always have an arranged ride from someone you know, someone from your company or the company you’re doing business with. There are just too many problems. Too many people never get to the hotel and are never seen again. In Jakarta, my client referred to the local shuttle as the “death bus.” He explained that a lot of tourists who board the thing are later identified only by their dental records. I asked whether he was joking and he said NO!
In Nigeria, my corporate driver started every sentence with the phrase “for your safety,” which is a strong indication that going from the airport to the hotel is definitely unsafe. It’s also a good idea in any Third World country to avoid the infamous “chicken bus.” If the person sitting next to you is calmly smiling while wrestling livestock, you might not reach your destination… There are many wonderful people around the world, and I think we should embrace all cultures-just not when they are all embracing their own animals.
Frankly, anytime you’re traveling outside the United States (except Canada), I recommend an arranged ride. Canada’s relatively safe. Canadians are much like Americans, except we Americans are fatter and carry guns.