I had a pretty busy stretch of work-related travel over the past year. To redeem the experience, I offer the top eight ways to know you’ve been doing too much work travel (top ten lists are so 2011):
1. The airline names a plane after you. No, I’m not that guy. I did, however, qualify for Southwest’s highest frequent-flyer level, A-List Preferred, by March. Let’s just say I made a few flights back and forth to Arizona in those three months. Next up? Qualifying for a companion pass on my next business trip. Pretty sure that involves getting to sit up in the cockpit, take a turn at flying the plane — that sort of thing.
2. Your kids forget your name. Well, just about. One morning as I was getting ready to head to the office, my two-year-old asked where I was going. When I said I was going to work, she started bawling. Turns out that my going “to work” had come to mean in her mind that I was heading out of town.
3. The TSA agents know you. Or, better yet, the ones you don’t know say things to you like, “This isn’t your first rodeo, is it?” But seriously, having a TSA agent know you is fairly significant. They either employ about 500 agents per airport (such that you never see the same ones twice), or they have a higher turnover rate than a goldfish tank.
4. The hotel employees know you by name. This one became a running joke for me and my colleagues. No matter who was manning the front desk, they would greet me with, “Welcome back, Mr. Kennedy!” And yet they acted as if my colleagues were there for the first time. When one of them called a front desk employee on it, she stammered a bit and explained that she remembered me “because he walks by all the time . . .?” (Everyone has to walk by the front desk on their way in and out of that hotel.) On my next visit, the guy checking me in scoffed at my attempt to hand him my ID and credit card: “Oh please, we don’t need that, Mr. Kennedy.” Or, as my colleague heard it, “Your money’s no good here, Mr. Kennedy!”
5. The Starbucks barista knows your order. The guy at the downtown Phoenix Starbucks not only knew my order, but he greeted me in line with, “Hey, Shawn!” Which led to more grief because there was no such greeting for my colleagues. Whatever, they’re just jealous of my Starbucks cred.
6. You’re a security ninja. You know how they have separate security lines for experienced travelers, ordinary travelers, and families flying with children? Those are all for rookies. Security ninjas make the experienced travelers look like me flying with my five kids (which isn’t pretty). And we ninjas have precious little patience for people that clog up the security line by doing things like “forgetting” the water bottle in their purse.
7. You’re a scheduling savant. I made the flight between Orange County and Phoenix so many times, I had the schedule memorized. My colleagues and I had some stirring conversations about the periodic schedule changes: “Can you believe they dropped the 5:15 flight??” And we were like Rain Man when it came to changing flights at the last minute. “Five minutes to find a cab, 12 minutes to the airport at this time of day, 15 minutes to charge through the airport and get through security, and two minutes to the gate. We can make it — book it!”
8. You know the way of the early boarders. Unless I switched onto a flight at the last minute, I almost always was one of the first few people to check in for my Southwest flights. My colleagues and I took special pride in being able to say things like, “I was A1 for both flights!” But with great position comes great peril. The middle seats in those first few rows are awfully tempting to the middle-of-the-packers. Avoiding eye contact only works for so long before some brave soul blurts out, “Is anyone sitting there?” Um, no. “Mind if I do?” Um, yes, fat dude with big elbows. Yes, I do mind.
So there you have it. If you see yourself in any of these, you might want to ease back on the work travel a bit. If you don’t see yourself in any of these and you happen to see me in the second row on that next flight, just keep right on walking.