Despite the many project dilemmas, I love working for Ernst & Young management consulting. I do a variety of things for Ernst & Young; I work on projects, I perform recruitment interviews, I give training, I participate in business development. All of this involves a lot of travel. I am what the Americans call a ‘road warrior’ (‘Gold’ with Northwest airlines, ‘Gold’ with Sheraton). I don’t mind this at all. I enjoy the travel and all the hard work has a purpose; I want to make Partner in the Firm, which will mean success, wealth and status.
For example, one typical week in June, I spend Monday to Thursday in Cleveland working on a client project, and then Friday at the Atlanta office of Ernst & Young, doing management consulting recruitment interviews all day. By 4:15 PM we are having roundtable discussions about the candidates, but most of the other interviewers are focused on the fact that they have to rush to the airport to catch airplanes, some as early as 5:30 PM. Of course, being a seasoned traveller, this unnecessary stress does not apply to me. I have a First Class seat on the 7:50 PM flight to Minneapolis, and I have not a worry in the world about making it.
After the others have long gone, I nonchalantly complete a few administrative tasks in the office I am using, until the (very attractive) Atlanta recruitment manager comes to get me. She has kindly agreed to give me a lift to the airport in her sports car, since she is also flying out this evening. As she weaves the car through the horrible Atlanta traffic, we are mostly discussing my exciting life style (okay, I am discussing it while she is mostly just driving).
It is true that I have come to take First Class for granted. With the number of miles that I fly on Northwest, I have been Gold for four years in a row, and virtually always get upgraded to First Class. I enjoy visiting new cities, and favourite old ones like New York and San Francisco. I enjoy staying in fine hotels and eating in splendid restaurants. I impress her with my tales of the mysterious Orient, and of exciting Latin America, and she laughs when I say that the women I meet are mostly flight attendants. Yes, it is a good life.
We have plenty of time to park the car and get into the terminal and, since my flight is an hour after hers, I have plenty of time to join her for a drink. Once she is on her way, I stroll down to my gate to check in. I always have an E-ticket, of course. A quick flash of my driving license and a smile and I’m all done. My luggage is a model of efficiency as well. An expandable leather attaché case has my laptop computer inside, and my clothes and toiletries fit snugly inside an elegant green sports bag with our company logo.
I note with approval that the airplane is at the gate, always a good sign. Generally, if there is no aircraft at the gate, it is an indication that one won’t be leaving for at least a few minutes. I line-up to check in, and am told by the gate agent that, because of bad weather in Minneapolis, the crew has not yet arrived. In fact, they have not yet left Minneapolis. This means a minimum three-hour delay. I offer to fly the plane myself, since I flew Chipmunks (and almost steered a glider) with the Royal Air Force cadets in school, but this offer is ungraciously declined. Actually, flying a Chipmunk is harder. These modern pilots don’t have to do anything except read scripts to each other and check light bulbs.
I sit in the gate area and wait. I observe the 150 people waiting with me; fellow travellers across the sea of life. A couple of hours pass. Then the gate agent makes an announcement, and all hell breaks loose. The flight is cancelled, and we are individually going to be re-routed, and none of us will get to Minneapolis tonight. A queue a mile long forms at the gate, for re-routing, whilst every telephone in the vicinity is taken. More ominously, people are staking out seats on which to spend the night.
I telephone the Gold Line on my cell phone and secure my favourite seat on the 8:45 AM flight the next morning. They give me the telephone numbers of airport hotels to call. Since this delay is weather related, the airline is not responsible for overnight accommodation.
But wait. Before I book into a hotel, don’t I need my Director’s permission, according to all those new expense guidelines? It is Friday evening, but I have his home telephone number. Should I call him at home to ask for approval for this unexpected expense? What if he says ‘No’?
I observe a late-middle-aged man stretched out on a row of seats, already sound asleep, his luggage laid out around him. This is not looking good. What about the security of my computer while I am asleep? I figure that I can secure it to my ankle with the security cable. But, if I am in a really deep sleep, someone will still be able to steal it. I decide to take the initiative of booking a hotel room without troubling my Director at home.
The voice at the Crowne Plaza is attractive. She’s never heard of Ernst & Young, but she is going to give me a corporate rate of $105, because I sound like a Corporate Man. I wait fifteen minutes in the Atlanta heat and humidity for the shuttle to take me to the hotel. Life is glamorous.
The face at the Crowne Plaza is attractive. I have no membership privileges with Crowne Plaza, but she gives me an executive level room, because I’m good looking, charming and have a cute English accent (she doesn’t say this, of course). I need to use my room key-card in the elevator to convince it to stop on my floor. Life is privileged.
The room is fine. It looks like a hotel room. I take a cold shower and order a room service dinner. I have a 16 oz peppered steak, with a baked potato, butter and sour cream, and a large slice of chocolate dessert. It all comes with a salad, which is good, because I like to eat healthy.
The remote control for the television does not work, so all I can watch is the menu channel. I eat my dinner listening to music from the CD player in my laptop computer. I reflect that it was really considerate of my company to equip me like this out in the field. Idly, I wonder if the CD player can also read software CD’s, as well as audio CD’s. That might be useful too, sometimes, I think.
I finish dessert and try to loosen my belt, but there are no more holes left. I contemplate my navel and consider the dilemma of Partnership. I am doing everything possible to make Partner in my Firm, which will make me rich. In order to make Partner, you have to become like a Partner. There are two kinds of Partner in the Minneapolis office; thin Partners and non-thin Partners. Unfortunately, my Director is a thin Partner, so if I am going to be more like my mentor, I will either have to go on a diet or change Director. I wonder which is easier.
I update my expense report, and put in several lines of explanation about bad weather and computer security to explain this unauthorized night of unrestrained hedonism in a luxury hotel.
The next morning, I take the 7:30 AM shuttle to arrive at the ticket desk in good time for my flight. It has been cancelled. Northwest gives me a ticket for Delta, and tells me to get my seat assignment at the gate and, by the way, this will not be First Class on Delta, since I am holding an Economy ticket, and my upgrade is a Northwest privilege.
On the way to Concourse B, the airport train breaks down, so we all have to get off the train and use the moving walkways. Some of these are not working, so I have to walk.
What basically depresses me (as I carry my stuff in the heat and humidity) is that not only will I not be in First Class, but I will not get priority boarding of Economy Class, which Northwest always gives me on those rare occasions when I am not in First (once this year, out of 37 flights so far). The reason this depresses me is that I will have to hurry on board to ensure overhead space for my modest carry-on luggage, otherwise it will be in front of my feet throughout the flight. The reason this is possible is because some people persist in having ludicrously large carry-on luggage. Fortunately, as a Northwest frequent flyer, I am spared from all of this stress. But to Delta, I will just be some damn upstart who “ain't from around here”. I am going to be a regular Economy Class passenger, the prospect of which scares the heebie jeebies out of me.
Well, there is a crowd of Southerners at the Delta gate, along with a few anxious looking displaced Mid-Westerners. I line up at the desk and await my turn. I am attended to by a friendly man in his fifties. He looks at me: trembling, sweat on my face, terror in my eyes, my voice shaking as I explain that my two successive flights have been cancelled. He must also notice from my accent that I am most definitely not from around here. Then he looks at my Northwest boarding card from the night before, and notes that I would have been in 1B (my favourite seat, and unmistakably First Class on any aircraft except the Wright brother's 'Flyer'), and he says, "I'll put you in First Class."
The flight attendant gives me Special K for breakfast. Is this a sign from above to guide me in my Partnership dilemma?
I arrive at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport at mid-morning on Saturday and exchange greetings with the airport staff on duty. Walking through the car park, I reach into my pocket and use the remote control; my Camry’s engine gently purrs into life as I approach.
The next evening I return to the airport and park her in the exact same spot. What a great life!