March 24, 2023

You’re the Boss Blog: My 6 Biggest Complaints About Business Travel

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Although TerraCycle still has less than $20 million a year in annual revenue, it operates in 21 countries now. That means that my intense domestic travel — Minneapolis to Racine, Wisconsin, to Chicago — has morphed into intense global travel — Newark to Bogotá, Colombia, to Tel Aviv.

No matter how you do it, travel is a strain — made worse, I believe, because airlines seem to have a hard time with customer service. Maybe it’s just because there are always so many exhausted travelers complaining. Or maybe it’s something more systemic. Who knows? But I continue to believe there are some easy fixes that airlines could make. Here are my top six.

Outlets: How often do you wander an airport looking desperately for an electrical outlet? When I find one, I will even sit on the floor, beside a smelly bathroom, if that’s what it takes. But why is this necessary? Why not put them everywhere? Why don’t the airlines and airports make it something they market: Never search for an outlet!

Nonreclining seats: This is almost insulting. The chair has a recline button built into it, but when you push that button and try to recline, it moves half an inch. And then the best part is when you are landing and the airline attendants make a fuss about moving your seat back into an upright position.

The cabin P.A.: The cabin public address system, I believe, should be reserved for truly important messages, and they should be made quickly. No banter, no talking slowly, no pressing the button and then not talking. I don’t really care what the wind speed will be where we’re landing in eight hours or even what the weather will be — it will be what it will be. Not only is the chatter annoying, it cuts off whatever entertainment you are trying to enjoy. I’ve had flights where my movie seemed to be interrupted by sales pitches every 10 minutes — in three languages.

Checking in: Depending on the airline and the destination, the cutoff time for check-in booths and kiosks to stop giving boarding passes is generally 30 minutes to 60 minutes before departure. Why? Honestly, just give me a chance to run to the gate and make it. I understand that the security and immigration lines are my obstacle – but let me try, especially if I have no bags to check. (Here’s a tip: If you ask nicely, they will often call the gate and have the gate authorize a boarding pass.)

Lounge rules: Some airlines let you into the lounge only if you are flying internationally. But since when do Mexico and Canada (my homeland) belong to the United States? Most airlines apply domestic rules to destinations in Canada or Mexico regardless of the length of the flight (Miami to Vancouver, for example, is quite a bit longer than Miami to Bogotá). If you haven’t been to an airport lounge, it’s basically a bunch of nice couches, lots of outlets, free snacks and an open bar. Sometimes there are showers (but rarely). You can get in based on your loyalty-card status or with certain credit cards. But it’s rarely clear. For example, with Star Alliance, if you have a gold status, you can get into the lounge (in certain airports) if you are flying international. And you can bring a guest, but the guest must be flying Star Alliance, as well. These strange policies are especially annoying because you just never know. And, really, what is the incremental cost of allowing one more person into a lounge?

Alcohol policy: Having a few drinks can be a nice way to knock yourself out on a long flight and ward off jet lag. But why is it that you can bring a sandwich and a Coke on board from an airport shop but you can’t bring a beer?

I don’t think I’m asking for a lot here — although a free snack every now and then would be nice. What would you like to see?

Tom Szaky is the chief executive of TerraCycle, which is based in Trenton.

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Gains on Colombia Send Trade Pacts to Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) — Progress on a free trade deal with Colombia has cleared the way for the White House to seek Congressional approval of a package of trade agreements that includes pacts with South Korea and Panama, as Republicans have demanded.

Obama administration officials said Wednesday that they expected technical discussions about the agreements to begin Thursday with Capitol Hill aides, the first step in the approval process.

President Obama has made increasing American trade a top goal of his economic agenda. The White House had hoped for quick approval of the largest deal, the South Korean agreement signed last December, but Republican lawmakers threatened to block it unless the White House also completed negotiations with Panama and Colombia.

After months of talks, the administration settled with Panama last month after the Panamanian government passed a law permitting greater tax transparency.

Officials from Washington and Bogotá reached a tentative agreement in early April, when Colombia outlined steps it would take to address American concerns over its high rates of violence involving labor leaders and union members. But the administration decided to wait until April 22, when the first of those steps took effect, before sending the agreement to Congress.

In a letter to lawmakers Wednesday, Ron Kirk, the United States trade representative, said that while Colombia had more work to do, it was effectively putting in place the initial phases of the agreements on labor. Therefore, Mr. Kirk said, the administration felt confident in starting talks with lawmakers.

The House speaker, John A. Boehner, who has long pushed the president to send Congress all three trade deals together, applauded Wednesday’s announcement.

“Now it’s time we move to expand market access for American-made goods in all three of these nations,” said Mr. Boehner, an Ohio Republican.

The administration also said it would act on concerns over access for American beef producers to the beef market in South Korea, an important issue for Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and other lawmakers.

The Agriculture Department will spend more to promote United States beef sales in South Korea and Mr. Kirk will request additional consultations with the South Koreans on opening their market once the free trade agreement takes full effect.

Mr. Baucus has demanded that South Korea allow the United States to export beef from older cows. South Korea is reluctant, partly because of concerns over outbreaks of mad cow disease several years ago.

The South Korea deal would support up to 70,000 jobs in the United States, the Obama administration said.

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