Seven habits of highly effective business travellers

By John Walton, September 12 2012
Seven habits of highly effective business travellers

You read Australian Business Traveller, you have strategies for minimising stress and maximising frequent flyer points, you're a packing ninja -- in short, you're firmly in the "advanced traveller" camp.

Over the years I've put together my own set of tips to take this to the next level. With a tip of the hat to the late business guru Stephen Covey, I consider them the seven habits of the highly effective business traveller.

1. Check in as soon as you can

If your flight is even slightly mission-critical, you'll want to check in ASAP -- and that usually means online. Highly effective business travellers set a reminder for themselves (or a clued-in colleague) to check in.

Checking in early gets you the best choice of seats on board -- which will maximise your inflight productivity or relaxation. (If you have a colleague doing the check-in for you while you're travelling or in a meeting, check out our Best Seats guides and give them a few tips on what seats you like and dislike: yes to bulkheads, no to windows, nothing at the front of the cabin, that kind of thing.)

And if something goes wrong -- the flight is horrendously oversold or the plane is replaced by a smaller one, and someone has to be bumped -- it's usually the people who wait to check in until they get to the airport who get the red "bleep" on the airline's systems.

2. Always know where your lounge is...

It's always handy to know which lounge you're heading for, and whereabouts in the terminal it is.

Not all airports are mapped well, many are confusing, and some have more than one lounge for the same airline or airline alliance.

Now, I need lounge number...
Now, I need lounge number...

Know which lounge you want -- whether it's the largest, the smallest, the closest to your gate, the one with the showers -- and how to get there.

3. ...and know how far the lounge is from the gate

When arriving at the lounge, find out how long it should take you to walk to the gate, and what time boarding will finish. Certain airports like Frankfurt and Heathrow are especially walking-prone, and pelting at Olympic speed down the corridors with your rollaboard is a surefire way to start off your flight badly.

Often, lounges don't make boarding calls, so you may need to keep an eye on the time. (Make sure your watch/phone/laptop is on the right time zone, of course!)

4. See if there's a pair of empty seats

While direct aisle access is a real boon to business travellers, there are many airlines that still require business class passengers in window or middle seats to bound like a gazelle (or hippo, depending) over the aisle person.

The extra space of a spare seat next to you can make all the difference on a flight.
The extra space of a spare seat next to you can make all the difference on a flight.

Ask at check-in, at the lounge and on board whether there's a spare seat next to you that can be blocked off so that you have spare space in flight. The worst they can say is "no".

5. Check your seat's in full working order before takeoff

Even on the best airlines, there are occasionally maintenance issues that mean your seat doesn't work as it should. Airlines can often fix things before departure when maintenance people are around.

If they can't fix it, seats are usually fixed on departure, whereas things can be jigged around before leaving (by moving an airline employee flying at a reduced rate to another seat, for example).

I check that the seat:

  • is clean
  • reclines completely
  • has a working table
  • and its entertainment system are functional
  • comes with a juiced-up power point

(Note that the latter two may not always be activated on the ground.)

6. Snag spare pillows and blankets

If you want a spare pillow or two, ask as soon as you can in case they run out. While checking that your seat's recline works, figure out if you'll need to pad any bits of it with pillows and blankets to make it more comfortable.

The same "ask early" advice goes for blankets if you tend to be cold, or if you like to pad your seat.

Extra pillows and blankets are especially useful if you're taking our advice to make angled lie-flat seats more comfortable.

7. Introduce yourself to the person in charge

On the very best airlines, the head cabin crew members (who might be called the purser, cabin crew manager, leading stewardess, cabin director or similar) will introduce themselves to business class passengers.

If they don't, seek them out once you're in the air and introduce yourself. Find something to compliment, explain that you're a frequent flyer and that you're looking forward to a relaxing/quiet/productive/sleep-filled/gourmet/drink-fuelled flight.

Consider asking that the crew keep your coffee/tea/water/wine/beer/Coke filled up, or mentioning that you detest fish but forgot to say when booking. It's amazing how much your flight can be improved by getting the head honcho to take an interest in you.

How did you score?

  • 6-7: you're a highly effective business traveller. Relax in the most comfortable seat on the plane and share your secrets with fellow travellers in a comment below.
  • 4-5: getting there! Keep on picking up tips while you shoot envious looks at that person who managed to pick up your favourite seat.
  • 1-3: courage, grasshopper: everyone started somewhere. Set aside some time to learn from others' hard-won tips -- and follow us on Twitter for the very latest. We're @AusBT.
John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 526

Not sure where these 7 habits have come from... but a couple of them sound a bit dubious.

For a start... why wait until you check in to get the best seats... In most premium airlines, you can go in and block your seat once you book your flight. So the best advice would be to go in and choose your seat as soon as you can rather than wait until you can check in.

I can't say I've ever seen anyone test their seat fully when getting seated. Do you really recline the seat to flat as soon as you get on to see if it is working? As you stated, it is rare for the entertainment system to be on as it is also for the laptop power to be switched on... so it is unlikely you can check those. I'll look out for someone reclining their seat to flat though and know that they must work for AusBT.... :-)

As for introducing yourself to the Cabin Manager... are you serious?? Do you really think that they don't roll their eyes at every passenger that thinks they are owed extra attention or service because they are a "frequent flyer"? That's almost like going up and saying "Do you know who I am.....". Can you imagine if every frequent flyer did this...? Sorry.. but for this one you got to be having a laugh....   

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 665

See, the change in your passenger status at checkin is one of the issues that people don't realise in the era of online seat selection. That "SEQ" number determines all kinds of things in the event of things going wrong in particular, and the earlier you check in the higher you are on the priority list in case someone gets bumped. Last-minute changes in aircraft are usually confirmed right before check-in opens, so your excellent seat could be swapped for a dire one by the computer algorithm.

I may be a weirdo, but yes, I do test the seat as soon as I get on, and I can point to several times where there's been something wrong with it. (This is especially true when flying in the US, where aircraft tend to be older and maintenance issues more frequent, but new planes also suffer from teething trouble too.) We're seeing more and more airlines offering gate-to-gate entertainment systems, though, and many modern aircraft power points have an indicator light to show that they're working even on the ground when nothing's supposed to be plugged in.

And I'm absolutely not suggesting that you introduce yourself to the cabin manager every flight. But on a 14-hour trip where you really need to get sleep/work/etc, it can really make a difference. (Try it sometime!)

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 526

I'm with Chandi regarding the lounge... I generally avoid spending time at the airport if at all possible. The lounge no longer has much attraction to me.

I'll tell you what is the best way to avoid being bumped... Status. Be a top tier and you generally won't get hassled with being bumped... of unless of course the entire cabin is top tier status.

I fly at least twice a month and have done so for the last 6 years. I can count the number of times that I have checked in online for an international flight and I have never been approached to be bumped off. How often does this really happen to be the number one item on your list?

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 665

Ah, but as I said elsewhere in a comment, there are times when you can't avoid the lounge, like a morning checkout before an evening flight. So it pays to know where the good ones are, and how much time you need to leave before trundling down to your plane.

You're right that status helps with being bumped, and you're equally right that it sometimes doesn't help at all on platinum-heavy routes! I remember one Chicago-Dallas flight on AA where I spotted on the manifest that the entire front of the plane was an AA statusholder of some form or another. Of course, in those situations check-in priority comes back into effect even for the "heavy metal" cardholders.

Oh, and in terms of the order of the list, I ordered it by stage of travel, not necessarily priority. My number one tip would probably be the one about empty seats, as it happens.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer Platinum

06 Apr 2011

Total posts 18

I must be a grasshopper.  Only manage around 800,000km a year in flights.  My most important habits are:

1.) Pack light then remove the non-essentials.  That extra few kilos will matter when hiking across airports like Heathrow and LAX. 

2.) Why spend time in the lounge if you have a better option?  I try to time my physical check-in time to comfortably walk to the flight or may be less than 30 mins max in the lounge. 

3.) Remember flying is a means to an end.  Keep your cool and dont get frustrated or angry.  Be it a weather delay, mechanical fault or a grumpy gate agent it is out of our hands and nothing is achieved by getting angry.  Stay cool, it will soon be over.

5.)  Google maps and public transport it your friend.  In most European cities it is quicker and cheaper to take public transport than a taxi or a rental.  Same applies to places like JFK and even Sydney.  Only really work if you pack light.

I am sure given time I can think of two more..

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 665

A very well-travelled grasshopper, it sounds like!

I like your tips too -- especially the packing, since I always goggle at the people who bring a massive bag on board and wonder why it doesn't fit.

I guess that lounge point depends on your circumstances, but I often find myself with an afternoon or evening flight and a morning hotel check-out, so the lounge is the better option. Stopping by for a 15-minute pre-flight blitz on the old email inbox before the flight is also pretty useful. 

And I love Google Maps too, though I wish it did transit for more cities. I'm actually seriously concerned that Apple will break much of the most useful functionality in iOS 6 Maps. We'll see soon!


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Aug 2012

Total posts 65

Agreed AusFlyer, they do sound a bit dubious. I have had seats/video/lights that started out fully functioning but fail at some point into the flight necessitating several  re-sets (Air Canada's 777's are particularly good at this); you can't nab pillows asa and need to wait until the doors shut  - have lost count of flights of J and F pax sliding on at the last second; or en-masse upgrades on  an overbooked flight, where pax are coralled in the galley until after door close (I am looking at you Asiana); can't remember the last time i didn't do a seat request with the booking (which falls apart when  the airline hands you and other half your boarding passes as per arranged, but on boarding the aircraft finding a radically different configuration and you are no longer together (again Asiana);  and as for introducing yourself,I can't think of anything that is more likely to irritate the crew. I find usually that keeping your head down and being as undemanding and pleasant as possible gets a good result!

As far as lounges go, agree with Chandi. The less time in them the better. mostly the food is crap (special exception for Virgin A); wine not that great; and as far as I am concerned really only useful when delayed. 

and follow you on twitter?! get a life!

maybe i am becoming a grumpy old grasshopper!

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 665

Well, you can't help it if the thing breaks halfway through the flight, but wouldn't you want to swap seats in advance to one that worked if you had the option?

I'm not suggesting snagging pillows and blankets from other passengers before the flight takes off, but there's often an overhead bin with extra ones available.

Checking in early is a decent way to try to avoid the problems of a late aircraft swap -- a fair majority of the time when I get a swap, I end up finding that out at the T-24 hours online check-in window.

As I said to Chandi, I think we'd all prefer to waltz straight through the airport, but sometimes a morning checkout and evening flight combo can't be avoided. Lounges are great for productivity at that point -- or for simply catching up with the fam back home.

And Twitter is one of the most useful things in travel these days. We'll see you on there, @grumpyoldgrasshopper! ;)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 May 2011

Total posts 362

Introduce yourself to the cabin manager? Are you serious? I can't think of anything more pretencious. They will absolutely think you're a total twat and have a good ol' giggle with the other crew I'm sure. You attract more bees with honey - be polite to the crew, don't press the call bell when you want something - wait until they walk by and politely get their attention. More of all use your manners and thank them when they offer you something. Common courtesy goes a long way these days

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 May 2011

Total posts 362


03 Jan 2011

Total posts 665

I'm absolutely serious, but obviously not for every flight. If you want to conk out for the whole flight, asking them for a "do not disturb" order is a good plan (remember those stickers that some airlines used to hand out for your eye mask?), while if you need to get some work done on a 14-hour flight I've had several helpful suggestions -- including a BA Purser who gave me the tip of snagging a centre pair of business seats as a spacious mini-office, with extra table room, power points and so on. 

Don't forget, many Asian airlines prefer business/first passengers to use the call bell than to send their crew walking regularly through the plane. 

I also find that the vast majority of crew are genuinely interested in helping you have an enjoyable flight. I certainly don't suggest a "don't you know who I am?!" attitude (I'd laugh along with them, not least because the airplane's manifest means that they really do know who you are) but a bit of civility and saying hello has never gone amiss.


04 Nov 2010

Total posts 670

Sorry John but a lot of this comes over as a bit 'pretentious', eg introducing yourself to the cabin manager! You think they want dozens of DYKWIA types trouping up for a personal introduction? If you're a high status flyer they will introduce themselves to YOU anyway.

My tip is to buy a box of chocolates from duty-free and give them to the female cabin manager or head FA as a pre-emptive 'thank you' for looking after me, although I present it more like 'a little something for you because I know your guys have your work cut out making our trip easy!'. This really goes down a treat.

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 665

Well, I certainly don't mean it to be pretentious or DYKWIA -- more as a bit of common courtesy between people who fly a lot, whether that's us or crew. But popping your head around the galley "door" to say hello at the beginning of a 14-hour flight doesn't strike me as making a pain of yourself. 

(And I use your chocolates tip too, especially on long flights.) 

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 526

I might have to try the chocolates... I have to say that I have purely relied on smiling nicely at the crew and not being overly demanding. I see so many people that treat them like they are not worthy that I feel that just being nice to them works a treat.

The worse cases are usually Australian and British men on an Asian carrier like Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines. Wow some of these guys can be really dismissive and nasty! Maybe AusBT can do an article on the behaviour of these people!

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 665

You're not wrong about people treating crew badly, AusFlyer -- I've seen some absolutely appalling behaviour over the years, and it's just inexcusable. 

Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Seven habits of highly effective business travellers