What Journalists Can Learn From a Business Trip.

I’m finishing up a road trip, so this Friday’s installment of “What Journalists Can Learn From…” is all about business travel. When I’m on the road, I’m just looking to be treated humanely. But sometimes, it seems that companies forget to do even that.

The photo at right — me, standing next to an entirely-too-low shower head — will be addressed in a moment.

That being said, I’m thinking about three things that journalists can learn when traveling:

1. Serve the Public Good. On my Southwest flight from Baltimore to San Antonio, we’d only been waiting on the tarmac for 10 minutes when the pilot came over the loudspeakers. “So, we could be waiting here a while,” he said. “You can turn on your phones if you’d like.” Then, an hour later, he announced that we would be heading back to the gate, because the airport was probably going to shut down due to severe weather. So they allowed passengers to disembark.

Meanwhile, out the window, we could see that other airlines were leaving their passengers trapped on the plane during a thunderstorm.

An hour later, we reboarded the plane, and the pilot continued to keep us up-to-date about what was happening and why we weren’t taking off. The flight left some six-and-a-half hours late, but passengers didn’t complain. The Southwest crew kept the passengers informed, and they weren’t afraid to say that they were frustrated by what was happening, too. I’ve never been on a flight that was delayed that long, but I’ve also never been on a flight where we were so well informed about why the delay was happening. (The pilot even threw in a nice plug, asking passengers to write in to their Congressman about our nation’s outdated air traffic control system.) Southwest’s crew acted with the passengers’ best interests at heart, so the passengers were willing to cooperate despite the delays.

2. Be Easy to Reach. During the delay, I was trying to reach Enterprise Rent-a-Car to change my reservation. I called both numbers from my confirmation email; neither line got me through to a real human being. So I used Google’s 411 service to find Enterprise’s customer service line, and eventually, an actual person was able to direct me to the San Antonio Enterprise location. Still, if I didn’t have more than a few dollars at stake, I’d have given up. Any organization should be imminently reachable, especially by phone or email (but also via Facebook, Twitter, comments on blogs, etc). Meet your community, wherever they are.

3. Know Your Clientele. So that photo at the top of this post is of me in my shower at the La Quinta. Now, this is a hotel that gives you what you want: a clean bed, good air conditioning, and a nice bathroom. But the shower head is unbelievably low. I know that at my size — I’m 6’5” — I have to crouch to shower sometimes. But the La Quinta shower head would be too low for someone a foot shorter than me. La Quinta’s simply forgotten to do a basic thing really well, and the next time I’m considering a La Quinta, I won’t remember that the hotel had a free breakfast and a pool outside. But I’ll absolutely remember that I had to go to my knees to wash my hair.