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The Hidden Costs of Travel Delays

usa-today.jpgI just finished reading a front-page article in USA Today: “Friendly Skies Gone For Good? – Nothing upsets passengers more than flight delays, surveys show.” I read it during the 12th hour of another annoying delay in a flight home to Rapid City, resulting in an overnight stay, all courtesy of Northwest Airlines.

Anticipating and experiencing travel delays have become the norm for any airline traveler. Just as in planning a budget you need to factor in one-time unexpected expenses, as a traveler, you’ve got to assume you will not arrive at your destination at the promised time in the itinerary. In fact, the statistical probability that a flight to or from Rapid City with one stop will get you to your destination on time is around 40%.

Flight delays affect more than the person traveling and the airlines. They raise the cost of doing business to flight-delay.jpgboth the provider and consumer. Professionals, entertainers, and loved ones who don’t show up at the appointed time cost additional travel expenses, lost wages, increased staffing costs, rescheduled appointments, and lost revenue from refunds.

As a frequent business traveler and speaker, this presents me with an interesting dilemma. Whenever I am away from my office I lose revenue, so my speaking fee includes an amount for travel time. Naturally, the organizations to which I speak are always interested in my fee being as low as possible. Keeping my travel days and time out of the office at a minimum means booking either the last flight out of Rapid City the day before a morning speech or the first flight in the morning on the day of my presentation.

As any savvy traveler knows, if you want to have the highest chances of arriving at your destination on the same day of travel, you should not leave on the last possible flight that will get you to your event on time.

However, allowing time for travel delays means adding half a day at each end of my trip, which adds a full day’s travel cost to my speaking fee. The additional two hotel nights can increase my expenses to the organization by as much as $350. And by far the highest cost to me, which cannot be compensated in dollars, is an additional two nights away from my family.

This leaves me pondering several issues. I wonder what is more important to my speaking clients, assurance that I will show up on time at a cost of more than double the needed fees and expenses, or saving around 65% and taking a 50/50 gamble I’ll be a no-show? If you were the event coordinator, what would you choose?

It all comes down to two factors: how much does an organization want to hear what the speaker has to say, and how much does the speaker want to share the information? For example, if I am passionate about my message or believe the group I address may result in benefits (like book sales or new clients) that exceed the speaking fees, then I may be willing to absorb all the risks of travel delays myself. If there is no additional benefit in my speaking appearance other than the fee, and I am not evangelistic about my message, then it will be up to the organization to determine how badly they want me as a speaker. Certainly the higher costs will landing.jpglimit the number of audiences that will be able to afford my services.

I have more questions than answers around this at the moment, but it’s time to shut down. We will—at last!—be landing shortly.

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