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Business Travel

Every seasoned traveler has a few war stories. I do as well and, although this has nothing to do with life in Japan, I thought I would share this memory with you. 

Quite a few years ago, I was working in Portland at an internet startup (I'll call it "Portland Software"). We had just begun a series of trips to Japan to showcase our technology. Having previously worked for Microsoft, I had become used to the raw edge of full day international flights being offset by the comforts of business class travel. However, as a newly funded business, Portland Software flew economy class only and so it was a shock to suddenly find myself in a section of the plane I had only very rarely set foot in before. This was not a change I took to happily.  

[As an aside, let me note that now that I travel internationally with 2 children in economy, I can only wonder at my sheer arrogance in looking down at the poor souls on the other side of the curtain. I have become what I pitied.] 

Early into my series of trips, I made arrangements to travel with our CFO (I'll call him "Ed") to meet with some senior people in Japan. Ed was no more thrilled at the prospect of sitting next to me an entire day in the back of the bus than I him. Fortunately a co-worker had some upgrade coupons and we were able book the flight in business class. Even better, the airline agent, seeing that there were weather delays in San Francisco, routed us to LA instead and then bumped us up to first class. High Fives ensued. The week ahead suddenly brightened and we felt ready to take Tokyo by storm. 

Alas, the euphoria was not to last. The aforementioned weather delays had an effect on the entire west coast and by the time we reached LA, our connection to Japan had departed. Upon talking to the gate agent, we discovered there were no available seats on any other flight out that day. Furthermore, none of the flights out the following day had space in first or business classes so we were sent back down to economy ("but we'll give each of you an entire row so you can stretch out").

Defeated, we left the airport. What do you do at 11:00am in LA? We decided to rent a car. Because of flight cancellations, all the rental agencies were packed with harried travelers. Ed's driver's license had long since expired ("I'll get to it when I have time") so I waited in line for what seemed an eternity. Upon finally reaching the counter and filling out the paperwork, the agent got a worried look on her face. "It says here you have been banned from our service." Dang. I had forgotten. Different story, different time. We took a shuttle to the luxurious accommodations of the airport Red Lion. 

The next day, the sharp sting of being bumped from first class to economy still fresh in our minds, we boarded the plane. True to the agent's word, we each had an entire row of seats to ourselves. Everyone else must have been moved up a class.  

Three hours into the flight, the plane's engines seemed to start working a little harder and the aircraft dipped to the right. Probably nothing, I'm sure. A few minutes later the pilot comes on the loudspeaker. "Ladies and Gentlemen, don't be alarmed but.." (don't be alarmed??) "..one of our engines has shut down. We will have to return to LA. When we land, there will be emergency vehicles on the tarmac but they are there as a precautionary measure only." Right.. 

Ed and I, both seasoned travelers and immune to surprise until that day, exchanged looks of disbelief at the sequence of events leading up to that announcement. Three hours later we land safely (sure enough, there were vehicles and personnel awaiting our arrival. Was that a look of disappointment on their faces??). The airport is a complete madhouse of flight cancellations from weather. Having already lost one day to flight problems and increasingly worried about the meetings we are missing in Tokyo, we desperately try to find other options out the same day. No luck. Well, maybe we can at least try to crawl back up to business class. Uh uh. How about economy with a couple of empty seats next to us? No way. Maybe an aisle seat? Nice try. A window seat? Nope. We find just two seats. Both in the middle of five seat rows in economy.  

Back to the Red Lion for a second night. The front desk manager is surprised to see us again but we don't bother explaining. The next morning, a full two days after leaving from Portland, we are back at the LA airport. Completely defeated and deflated, we meekly check in and are herded to the back of the plane. We crawl over the passengers to our middle seats, hunker down and try to not think of the champagne wishes and caviar dreams in First Class.

Several years later, the internet bubble pops. I've studied the decline of our company and am convinced it began on that day.