Small business owners have many reasons to travel. It could be to check out a supplier, meet a client, or deliver a product – maybe even take a vacation. Each time you leave your office and home to jet-set off to a far-away place, you accept a degree of risk and leave many factors to fate.
Of course, if your schedule is open – or you aren't averse to re-scheduling – a three-night delay could always turn your business trip into a European vacation.
But prior to April, few would have expected their flight home to be delayed by a volcanic eruption covering Europe in clouds of ash and preventing 100,000 flights from taking off.
Well, it happened. Of course, this threat of complications is no reason not to travel. Moreover, a savvy business traveler should take to heart a few lessons we learned from the worst travel disruption since World War II.
The first lesson is to buy travel insurance. For a ticket surcharge as low as six dollars, you get partial protection against cancellation. Travel insurance will typically pay room and board costs while you wait for the next flight. It may also pay for an alternate way home. Sadly, it will not pay for revenue lost during your delay.
In April, many travelers to Europe probably wished they had travel insurance. Others realized they should have read the fine print. Companies like Europ Assistance and Axa turned down claims related to the volcano because it was not a “named peril” associated with flying.
The second lesson is to be creative. Some awesome travelers refused to let the volcano get in their way. Monty Python's John Cleese, who was in Oslo to appear on a Norwegian talk show, paid for a 930-mile taxi ride to Brussels. “We checked every option but there were no boats and no train tickets available. That's when my fabulous assistant determined the easiest thing would be to take a taxi,” Cleese told Norway's TV2.
The Telegraph described a set of travel heroes who bought bicycles and rode aboard a ferry that only had tickets available for cyclists. Tom Noble, a marketing director from London, said the only available bike was a woman's bicycle. Other businessmen saved money by purchasing children's bikes.
The third lesson is to be determined. One company, Sourcefire Inc., was faced with a major problem – one-third of the European team was in Miami for a corporate retreat when the Volcano unleashed its fury. With no way of knowing how long the delays would last and desperate to get everyone home to their families, Sourcefire's management chose the only option available: they booked everyone on a boat ride back to Europe. The employees made it back home safely, and they were even able to work during their voyage using satellite systems on the ship.
The final lesson is to be flexible. It's not hard these days to find a way to work from anywhere. Norway Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was photographed using an iPad in JFK Airport – and everyone joked he must be running his country from the mobile device.