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Tips For Travel Disaster Preparedness

Lessons learned from the power blackout

travel disasterWith the Thanksgiving holiday week around the corner, I am reminded that this is the most heavily traveled weekend of the year. Highways and airports will be filled with families trying to get to visit relatives, and business travelers trying to get home. During this time, you may experience chaos and delay, so this month I am sharing with you what I learned the last time I encountered chaos and delay, during the power blackout in August of this year. I am convinced that the lessons learned can be applied to all travelers.

I arrived at LaGuardia airport at 4:30 p.m. — relieved that I had beaten the worst of the traffic with over two hours before my scheduled flight departure to grab something to eat and make a few phone calls. After too many days on the road, thoughts about how nice it would be to see my husband and sleep in my own bed were beginning to dance in my head.

I walked up to the kiosk to get my boarding pass. I punched the screen — no response. I looked around and realized no one was moving. The gentleman beside me responded to my quizzical look: “The power’s out.”

Twenty-seven hours later I fell into the last seat on the last flight that day to the Raleigh-Durham airport (I did get a business class seat!). Like all experiences, there are lessons to be learned. Here are some tips for travel disaster preparedness:

  1. Carry a paper printout of your travel reservations. Because the computer systems were down, the airlines had no way of substantiating that you even had a reservation unless you had some kind of paper documentation with a reservation number on it. Even though I was automatically booked on a later flight (don’t ask me how!), I had to show the printout to get my boarding pass. I save all my travel documents in my “calendar entry” file of my Paper Tiger filing system – that way it is easy to grab itineraries and related documents as I head out the door.
  2. Travel with cash. Since cash machines and credit cards require electricity, your ability to buy food was directly related to the amount of cash you had available.
  3. Keep your cell phone charged and a calling card handy. Although cellular service at best was sketchy, without a battery you had no chance at all. Payphones worked intermittently, but many people were scrambling to borrow change to pay for the calls when they had the chance.
  4. Carry a flashlight. I didn’t need it this time…
  5. Pack some snacks. The day before I was in a nutrition store. Protein bars were on sale. I bought a whole box — something I had never done before. I enjoyed passing them out even more than I enjoyed eating them. Even if there is no disaster, never rely on the airlines to feed you.
  6. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Keep in mind that temperatures vary widely — the airport was incredibly hot, but the airplane felt like a meat locker. My feet ached just watching women in 3″ high heels with pointed toes struggling up staircases and stalled escalators with heavy bags.
  7. Carry wet wipes. Running water requires electricity. Need I say more?
  8. Keep physically fit. I said a big “Thank You!” to my fitness trainer every time I climbed the 2-story long escalator carrying all my luggage. (The first floor was relatively cool, but information about flights was only available on the top floor.) Passengers with checked luggage had to tote their own bags since luggage belts were not functioning.
  9. Take an extra battery for your laptop. In spite of the chaos, I managed to get some real work done.
  10. Carry a good book. Fortunately, the bookstore owner was a true entrepreneur and sold books the old fashioned-way — without a cash register. (I decided to lighten my luggage and gave her the copies of my books I was carrying with me for samples!)
  11. Because I employ the Taming the Paper Tiger system in my office, I was able to rest assured that my staff was able to function in my absence, able to find files and documents and information needed to change my schedule, handle my responsibilities and manage without me. Remember, I had very limited phone service so I really could not communicate with them. Being organized and having a well-trained staff allowed me to feel confident that they could handle the business in my absence.
  12. Be gracious. As my grandmother used to say, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Getting upset didn’t solve any problems, and it always created one more.
  13. Whenever you think you’ve got problems, just look around. Other travelers were sick, elderly, physically or mentally handicapped, or traveling with children – one with a premature infant. I had much for which to be thankful!

About Barbara Hemphill

Barbara Hemphill is CEO of Hemphill Productivity Institute, located in Raleigh, NC. Author of Kiplinger's Taming the Paper Tiger series and Simplify Your Workday she provides speaking and consulting services to help individuals and organizations increase productivity.


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