Business Travel Tips

For most periods in the last decade I’ve travelled internationally a couple (or more) times a week for business, often at times of the day that are ‘my hours’. There’s a tradeoff to be made in terms of planning to get to the airport/train station with less time to spare (and therefore increasing leisure time) at the expense of a higher probability of arriving too late if there is a delay on the way.

Let’s say that planning the transit to arrive 90 minutes before departure has a 99% success rate, and that reducing this to 60 minutes corresponds to a 95% chance of getting on the flight. I ran some numbers, and at a cost of an incremental 3hrs of waiting time for each missed departure, plus £200 fees, then at 2 trips per week you’re buying back 40 hours per year at £20 per hour. Wouldn’t you take a £800 wage cut (pre-tax) for 1 extra week of holiday per year? Of course, you need to train yourself to be not stressed at the possibility of missing your flight, and accept that you will miss a small number each year.

If you’re a frequent traveller and always make every flight, then consider that you might be getting to the airport too early.

In The Checklist Manifesto, the author discusses the use of checklists to bring about improvements in frequently performed activities. I have a list I use for packing for trips (hardly as important as a pilot’s take-off checklist!) but does mean I pack slightly quicker, don’t have to put much thought in, and don’t forget to take e.g., the iPhone charging cable because it’s plugged out of sight under the bed that weekend.

That said, if you are frequently travelling to the same client site then consider buying all of your usual toiletries, electric tooth brushes, razors, training shoes, cables, etc, twice, and keeping one set of all of these at the client site. That’s a lot less to pack and think about. More business travel tips ideas here.


The FedEx arrow

I’d never noticed it before:

Apparently it’s legendary among designers.

Tourists’ tube topology

I liked this:

Hat tip to Lindsey F.

An interesting thing happened to me on the tube one day…

Nudges, webforms and cookies

They can designed to be in your best interests (as in the libertarian paternalism espoused in Thaler’s and Sunstein’s book, Nudge) but also in someone else’s best interest.

One small way is the resetting of options of webforms. The next time you’re booking something, uncheck/check the boxes so as not to receive marketing mail, then make a mistake in e.g., your payment details before pressing submit. Watch what happens when the site loads the page again with a message saying to review that section – I bet all your details are still there, except the marketing options have reverted to the defaults of opting in.

I forget the company now (Eurostar, Opodo, ?) that I was using a lot sometime ago, but there would always be a ‘mistake’ on the form – I think it was the CVV number – and the page would reload with that bit blank asking me to try again. I’d retype the number (the same number as before) but in the reload process the marketing options had reverted back and needed changing again.

Anyway, I noticed today on the Brussels Airlines website, that when the page reloads after making an incorrect entry they keep everything for you – except for the frequent flyer number you’ve entered, which will need retyping if you happen to notice. A nice way to marginally lower some of their future airmile liability.

One of my favourite sites is, which recently has started to charge readers when they view more than 7 articles a month (as far as I can tell, this is only when your IP address is outside of the UK). However, simply going via your browser’s internet options to see the list of cookies, and deleting the one from will reset your count back to zero, which made me wonder – is this theft?

Party A clearly wishes to charge Party B for their product, but Party B is preventing Party A from conducting the process that will lead to an invoice being issued and this is done in a way that Party A can’t detect.

Party A’s process involves planting a tracking device on Party B however. But then Party B probably also implicitly accepts such an activity (I haven’t read through the T&Cs on the site, but presume it’s standard to have a line about ‘we may use cookies when you use this service’). Ultimately though, when Party B is not on the site, what is wrong with choosing to remove data files from her computer so as to no longer be tracked, even if that does stop the payment process from being triggered on a later return?

The Guardian -v- Addison Lee

I was wondering why the London-based taxi firm, Addison Lee, had so many bad reviews all of a sudden on its iPhone app and so did a little googling. This Guardian article explains part of the controversy*, which concerns a quote by the company’s chairman:

“There has, as we all know, been a tremendous upsurge in cycling … These cyclists are throwing themselves onto some of the most congested spaces in the world … the influx of beginner cyclists is going to lead to an overall increase in accidents involving cyclists.

“The rest of us occupying this road space have had to undergo extensive training.

“It is time for us to say to cyclists, ‘You want to join our gang, get trained….”

The Guardian felt differently however, using as evidence the fact that motorists are responsible for up to 75% of collisions involving cyclists. Their source was an earlier Guardian article which contained this:

The data, which was analysed by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) …found that police attributed responsibility for collisions to … the driver solely in about 60%-75% of all cases, [with] riders solely at fault 17%-25% of the time … CTC said the report showed that the government needed to focus more on driver behaviour …”We believe this report strongly supports our view that the biggest problem for cyclists is bad driving.”

I don’t agree that the data supports that the view that the government should concentrate on driers [though this may be true]. The statistics reported relate to the probability that party x caused an accident given that an accident occurred. It can often be useful to analyse something with extreme numbers, so let’s do that.

Imagine there are 1,000,000 motorists, just 4 cyclists, and 3 collisions. Two of the collisions are the fault of the driver, and one is down to the cyclist. So 66% of accidents are caused by motorists, but this ignores the fact that there are relatively more drivers than cyclists (ok, a lot more given the numbers we picked). The bigger picture is that in this version of London a mere 1 in 500,000 motorists cause accidents, as opposed to a massive 1 in 4 cyclists.**

A related stat I remember: you have the same chance of dying on a 200-mile motorbike ride in the UK as you do of getting killed whilst serving for a single day in the British army in Afghanistan (a year or so ago).


* The actual source of bad reviews seems more likely to be by black cab drivers not taking kindly to their unique privilege of being able to use bus lanes being challenged – a challenge which I think has some merit.

**When I first heard about Monty and his 3 doors I didn’t guess to change door, so happy to receive a challenge on this way of looking at the stats…

Flying: weigh more, pay more?

I saw an article earlier discussing whether people who weigh more should pay more to fly. (It reminds me of one of Tim Harford’s ‘Dear Economist articles’ on how to split a taxi fare on a trip home after a night out when a group of friends are going different distances).

The author states that:

Friends with whom I discuss this proposal often say that many obese people cannot help being overweight – they just have a different metabolism from the rest of us. But the point of a surcharge for extra weight is not to punish a sin, whether it is levied on baggage or on bodies. It is a way of recouping from you the true cost of flying you to your destination, rather than imposing it on your fellow passenger.

But I think he may be in danger of missing the woods for the trees. It’s true that the cost of flying is directly proportional to the weight carried, but almost all of that weight is the plane itself: a passenger on a A380 at maximum takeoff weight is about 0.01% of the total. Differences in passengers would run at an order of magnitude less. If you did want to charge according to weight, then the fixed cost of moving the plane itself (from which all passengers derive the same aerodynamic benefit) should presumably be shared equally amongst everyone, and then the smallest of deltas added on for individual weights.

Indeed, the data point given in the article is that carrying an extra 1kg from London to Sydney and back again on an A380 costs an additional… answer at the bottom, under the fold.

I typically fly a few times per week, and my answer to friends who ask what I think about the environmental consequences of this is that at the margin, I don’t think I make any difference. If I didn’t fly, I would be significantly financially poorer, yet the environment in no measurable way any better off. Tens of billions of humans will be responsible for dangerous climate change should it occur (it’s from accumulated excess CO2 in the atmosphere, so you need to add up the contributions of everyone from 1850ish, up to say 2050ish) and I’m going to be an infinitesimal portion of it. Tragedy of the commons, yes. (And it’s only looking at one side of the equation anyway, think about all the benefits accruing to other people from the consulting project I’m working on…hmmm.)

People sometimes take issue about me considering myself to be the marginal passenger, rather than an average one, which is a reasonable point, not withstanding the point above regarding the relative weight of the passenger to the plane. Of course, at some point the lose of one more passenger could cause the  airline to drop the route, and I could [not] be that passenger. I read an article a few years back that suggested that whilst the scenario can play out like this in the US, in Europe typically Airline A might keep operating unprofitable routes in order to tie up take-off and landing slots so that competitors B,C, and D are unable to use the slots to compete on the route/timing that is super profitable for A.

And anyway, wouldn’t the plane not just be deployed on another route? If you want to reduce the contribution to global warming from air travel then you need to stop planes moving, not passengers flying on them. Therefore reduce slots, rather than tax passengers more. I guess that would raise governments less revenue though, all things equal.

And, if you’ve read this far, the cost of carrying an extra 1kg from London to Sydney and back again on an A380 is: Read more of this post

If you build it, they will come…

…But then be too confused to go anywhere.

In the beginning there were two standard Belgian ticket machines at Brussels airport train station. They didn’t take cash. And they didn’t take credit cards. But if you did have a Belgian bank card, well, actually even then the machine’s operating system was so slow as you tapped in where you wanted to go [for most people needlessly – the majority of travellers would want a one-way ticket to Brussels centre] it would take a few minutes for one transaction. Also, in case you might have missed it, there were only two machines.

So, you know, with 40,000+ people using the airport daily it’s not as if there are ever any ridiculous queues of travellers all wishing to buy the same €5.20 ticket at the manned ticket desk.

For years I wondered why another machine wasn’t installed that could simply and quickly sell a single train ticket to Brussels city centre. Finally, the waiting is over. Brussels airport train station’s additional new ticket machine:

No credit cards still, but it takes money. Actual money! Oh, what’s that you ask? Why does it have 25 buttons to sell a one-way ticket to the city centre? Christ knows why, that’s why.

The top row of 5 are for second-class tickets. Five because each button says the word “one-way” in a different language.

The next row of 5 are for first-class tickets, with another language learning opportunity for “one-way”. Actually, no, just kidding! The button in the middle of the row is for two first-class tickets. Obviously.

The third row is for passengers already in possession of a ticket to Brussels, but who haven’t paid the airport-line supplement which is included in the price of the ticket when you buy it. Don’t ask. No, I said don’t ask. Stop asking.

And on to the fourth row, where we have our pick of any of five buttons to buy not one, but two second-class tickets simultaneously. In one transaction. How about that.

Followed by a final 5 chances (in addition to the one renegade button above!) to buy two first-class tickets simultaneously, in the language of your choice.

What’s that you say, you don’t know what to do next because the LCD screen telling you what to do only displays in Flemish?

Welcome to Belgium.

Galapagos Islands tour review and advice

Having spent 8 days sailing around the Galapagos Islands recently, on board the Athala catamaran, I thought I’d share some of my experiences and offer some advice for anyone interested in booking a cruise around the Galapagos.

There are currently 88 boats operating in the region, broadly speaking starting from 16 berths and going up to a 100 or so. Around 170,000 people visit the islands annually, though that is about to be restricted to 100,000. At an average tour length of 6 days, say, that means around 1,500 visitors per day across the islands.

The islands are close enough to each other to have identical meteorological conditions, and are composed of fairly similar rock from volcanic processes. In Darwin’s words:

I had never dreamed that islands, about 50 or 60 miles apart, and most of them in sight of each other, formed of precisely the same rocks, placed under a quite similar climate, rising to a nearly equal height, would have been differently tenanted

My expectation was that I would in some way follow in Darwin’s footsteps and see contrasting phenomena between islands that could be pieced together in a narrative that was consistent with the process of natural selection. This didn’t really happen and I’ve been told that the guides have a tendency to tone down the extent to which they mention evolution in order to avoid upsetting any sensitive souls in the American contingent on these trips.

I’m familiar enough with evolution and natural selection, and the history of the science, to know that it’s reported that the beaks of finches vary between islands according to the available vegetation, and that the shells of tortoises should also differ around the neck depending on how the animal feeds.

The difference in beaks is not huge though – are you really going to notice the difference between a sample of 5 birds you saw flying past on yesterday’s island from a distribution of mean = 12mm, st dev 3mm, and the one you’re seeing now randomly selected from a population which has a mean beak length of 8mm on this island? I didn’t, in spite of how close you can get to the birds here.

In fact, I was reading through Darwin’s notes of his voyage and it was only later, when comparing dead samples side by side, that he first became aware there might be something interesting going on:

My attention was first thoroughly aroused by comparing together the numerous specimens, shot by myself and several other parties on board, of the mocking-thrushes, when, to my astonishment, I discovered that all those from Charles Island belonged to one species, all from Albermarle Island to [another] … Unfortunately most of the species of the finch tribe were mingled together, but I have strong reasons to suspect that some of the species are … confined to separate islands … and as a probable consequence of the numbers, the perfectly graduated series in the size of their beaks.

The story with the tortoises is different: there just aren’t that many of them. From a population of 300,000+ back in the day they’re now down to a few thousand, mostly in a sanctuary on one island. And anyway, Mr Darwin missed the shell thing himself at first:

I have not as yet noticed by far the most remarkable feature in the natural history of this archipelago; it is, that the different islands to a considerable extent are inhabited by a different set of beings. My attention was first called to this by the Vice-Governor, Mr Lawson, declaring that the tortoises differed from the different islands, and that he could with certainty tell from which island any one was brought. I did not for some time pay sufficient attention to this statement, and I had already partially mingled together the collections from the two islands … Captain Porter has described those from Charles Island … as having their shells in front thick and turned up like a Spanish Saddle, whilst the tortoises from James Island are rounder, blacker, and have a better taste when cooked.

The main boat travels to a new location each night. The itinerary is dictated by the government and allows for 15 day intervals between landings to any one place by the tour operators. Small speed boats are used to transfer passengers to the islands/make a tour around the waters of on an island two times per day. On a 16-berth boat there is normally one guide and two transfer boats, so if you don’t get into the one with the guide then you miss out a little on that tour’s commentary. That wasn’t too terrible though.

There are some landing spots that are out-of-bounds to the larger cruise ships, and the cut-off kicks in once you get past the 32-passenger size of boat. Therefore in terms of what you would get to see, the 16 and 32 passenger ships are equivalent. I might have preferred the larger size to have more varied company, and again would have traded off having a cabin half the size that I did (it was ridiculously big!) for a lower price.

It wasn’t uncommon to find the same boat’s tours offered via multiple agencies. I found $1,000+ differences for the same boat from different people at the same company (using different email addresses that didn’t have my full name when asking for quotes, cheeky!). Taking advantage of what I suspect is weakened demand right now I opted for a well sourced, high-end, spacious 16-berth boat. In retrospect I wouldn’t have minded one with a smaller space per passenger ratio and with fewer services, e.g., having my cabin cleaned 3 times a day is something I might have trimmed from the offering if I had my management consulting value engineering hat on.

If you want to drink, consider taking some alcohol with you. It’s not prohibitively expensive on board, but hardly cheap either. Surprisingly, there are no vending machines on ocean-going catamarans: I wish I’d taken more chocolate bars with me – far too much fruit and healthy stuff like that was served up…

For sea-sickness problems whilst sailing around the Galapagos I would recommend actual medicine, you know, the kind based on compounds with scientifically plausible modes of action, with proven benefits as shown by the results of a placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized trial. If you want to try herbal remedies or Chinese acupuncture wrist bands then expect to be sick.

In summary then, the best expectation to have is that you’re going to get surprisingly close to wildlife, can expect to swim with sea lions, see manta rays and dolphins/whales/sharks jumping out of the ocean, etc. It’s better than a safari.

Plane simple

New aircraft must undergo an evacuation test to demonstrate that everyone on board can escape within 90 seconds when half the exits are blocked. A study of 105 accidents and personal accounts from almost 2,000 survivors of how they managed to escape from crash landings showed that this time may not be achieved, and can depend on the social bonds of the people travelling,

…many passengers delayed their escape to help friends or relatives. People travelling with colleagues, however, appeared to focus on their own survival and head straight for the exit.

This has been replicated in trials. Incentivize everyone by offering $10 so long as all passengers all exit the aircraft within 90 seconds and you’ll find they manage it with time to spare with plenty of cooperation. Change it to be $20 for the first 50% off the aircraft, and not that many people get out in time. Hardly unexpected.

Key takeaway: pick an aisle seat, and be within 5 rows of an exit door.

How about the reverse, the fastest way to get everyone on the plane? Letting people board randomly is better than grouping into rows,

…the common back-to-front boarding method is actually the second worst method possible, only slightly better than boarding front to back.

But a more optimal strategy, which would be 5x faster on a plane with 120 seats, is to start with the window seats, then middle, followed by aisle, with passengers doing first the odd-numbered rows and then the evens (to give more space to stand in whilst putting hand luggage away).

Fastest way to board a plane


Related Posts:

Cockpit conversation during last minutes of flight AF447

Stopping aircraft from being shot down in WW2

Happy holidays

Apparently don’t expect to be too happy on the first day of your holiday:

An article on holiday happiness, based in part on this study from which comes the chart above, offers these other bits of advice:

Take more short trips rather then a few long ones

… 2010 study concluded that two- to six-day vacations are the most beneficial to our well-being.

Don’t return on a Sunday

A study published in the Journal of Leisure Research shows that if we return on a Thursday or a Friday, we can insulate ourselves from the shock of job demands and prolong the holiday happiness boost