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Do Your Travel Policies Ensure a Productive Journey?
When reviewing their company’s directives and policies related to air transportation- Directors should be aware of recent trends that impact the productivity of employees- urges Jack Olcott.
Business travel via the Airlines often is a hassle. Schedules have been curtailed between many city pairs; Airline terminals are crowded; flights usually are full (if not oversold); the specter of delayed or canceled flights is ever-present; and once onboard passengers find space is limited. Recent changes by the Federal Aviation Administration and the scheduled Airlines may add to such travel frustration.
Rest Period Changes
At the beginning of 2014- the Federal Aviation Administration announced stricter rules related to the amount of rest hours Airline pilots must have between flights. Cockpit crews flying passengers for the scheduled Airlines now are required to receive 30 uninterrupted hours off duty per week- which is a 25 percent increase from previous regulations. In addition- they must have 10 hours of rest- including eight hours of uninterrupted sleep- prior to launching on the first leg of their schedule. These new regulations are designed to reduce the potential for pilot fatigue and were prompted by the events that preceded the fatal crash of Colgan Air 3407 (see Business Aviation and the Boardroom- January 2014- Page 20).
While the regulations appear to be warranted- and eventually crew scheduling for the scheduled air carriers will adjust to the transition- the new rules may have a short-term impact of aircraft availability. One major Airline canceled its entire system-wide schedule immediately following the rule’s effective date because of its need to rearrange the carrier’s duty rigs.
Even after pilot schedules have been adjusted- the requirement to have eight hours of sleep during the required 10 hours before flights may have a noticeable impact on crews that commute long distances from their home to their point of departure.
If air carriers find the need to hire additional crews- it may be some time before passengers can expect a high degree of predictable- on-time departures. With Airlines consolidating as well as practicing “Capacity Discipline”- they are able to profit in spite of delays and cancelled flights. All aviators- regardless of the nature of their activities- should be rested and alert. Fatigue does not discriminate according to the certification basis of the air transportation.
Companies with corporate flight departments are able to benefit from the nature of Business Aviation- however- without affecting their level of service to company employees. Boards are more likely to succeed in establishing staffing policies than the scheduled Airlines- which must deal with unions when establishing rules affecting pilots.
Most Boards will agree that an aviator cannot commute from anywhere in the world and be ready for duty immediately. Complying with the new rest requirements seems most prudent. However- beware of the company that allows the rules (or lack thereof) to determine what is suitable for the crew that transports your employees.
Price- not customer service- is the hallmark of scheduled air carriers these days. Thus it may be understandable that seats in economy class are being placed closer together- thereby enabling a carrier to add another row of passengers. Since the 1990s- the space between the seats (called pitch) has been reduced from an average of about 34 inches to about 28 inches. Also- they are using a new generation of seats that employ lighter materials- have less padding- and position the magazine pocket above the tray table. Recline capability has been reduced- and in some cases eliminated.
One US Airline uses seats with a fixed backrest on some flights—no adjustment possible. By doing so- it can seat 178 ticket holders in a single-aisle Airliner that typically accommodates 150 passengers. Since the air carriers have taken older aircraft out of service and reduced available flights accordingly- passenger capacity throughout the entire domestic Airline system has been reduced by about 12 percent. The reduction of flights combined with less competition (due to Airline consolidation) leave travelers with little choice but to accept a diminished level of service.
Yes- the Airlines provide safe transportation and attractive fares- but business people also need to use their travel time productively. Squeezing passengers together significantly reduces the likelihood that travel time can be used for much more than reading generalized material.
The option to fly business or first class is not always available- particularly when last-minute travel must be arranged. Even with the added space in premium class- Airline service and crowded terminals combine to produce business burnout.
Boards should address the need for alternate forms of air transportation- ranging from chartering a business aircraft to some level of ownership. Relying solely on the Airlines is not a viable travel strategy.