Flight Pattern

Returning to business travel—safely

By Mariette Williams

Before the pandemic, Gabriella Ribeiro was flying over 100,000 miles a year for business and personal travel. A marketing professional and founder of TRUMarketing, a boutique sales and marketing firm, Ribeiro traveled throughout Europe, Africa, and Latin America, and extensively throughout the United States. As domestic and international business travel has restarted, Ribeiro, like many other professionals, has resumed flying, but she’s made a few adjustments.

Ribeiro is not alone in her mission to get “back to business.” Of more than 800 business professionals recently surveyed by management consultancy Korn Ferry,
76 percent miss traveling for work, in particular the face-to-face interactions and ability to create better working relationships.

However, the same survey found that 24 percent are still feeling hesitant because of health concerns. For professionals looking to get back to the skies, the following experts provide advice on how to navigate the new world of business travel.

Give yourself more time

Danielle Hu is the founder of The Wanderlover, a company that coaches creatives and early-stage entrepreneurs on how to create location-independent careers. Before the pandemic, Hu traveled at least once a month; she started business travel again at the beginning of this year. Her practical advice is for travelers to now give themselves more time before a flight.

“Budget for extra time at the airport as lines are very long and things will take you longer than they previously did,” Hu says. “People have to get numerous documents and tests checked, so lines are held up. Also keep in mind that not all lounges are going to be open, so you need to do your research beforehand on which parts of the airport are open.”

Get organized

With additional testing and screening required for international travel, Ribeiro advises business travelers to get organized.

“Get used to going old school,” she says. “While apps will continue to be generated and digital health passports may come online, you must get back in the habit of printing out health documents. It’s frustrating, but you never want to show up at a desk without your COVID-19 test printed in English, either leaving or entering the country.”

Ask questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, especially when it comes to cleaning procedures. Travel expert Claire B. Soares advises travelers to advocate for their own safety. Soares is the founder of Up in the Air Life, a multimillion-dollar international luxury travel company that caters to Black travelers. When the pandemic hit, Soares found herself grounded for the first time in a decade, and she says being able to travel again has been a breath of fresh air. Now Soares says it’s especially important for travelers to ask questions about their accommodations.

”Before you arrive, ask what safety procedures are in place at your hotel,” she says. “Is the room sanitized and sealed? Is the area cold fogged and how often? Ask if the hotel is taking the proper precautions to keep you safe. At this time, I also recommend a hotel over an Airbnb if possible, simply because procedures and internal checks will be at a higher, audited level.”

Take your own COVID-19 precautions

While airlines and hotels have instituted new COVID-19 procedures, travelers should plan ahead and prepare their own safety accommodations. Kem L. Marks, the founder and chief attorney of Just In Time Legal Solutions Inc., takes many precautions into her own hands.

“Conference organizers frequently tout that safety protocols or CDC guidelines will be followed,” says Marks. “In my experience, broad variations in how organizations interpret and apply safety guidelines will sometimes result in practices that are less compliant than what I deem sufficient. There might be one thin mask provided to registrants for a weeklong conference in a closed room, or a small supply of off-brand hand sanitizer. For this reason, I travel with an adequate quantity of masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer to last for the duration of my travels, and to offer to those in my vicinity if necessary.”

Marks says she keeps a small personal fan in her bag to control the air circulation in her personal space. She carries wipes for seating areas and hotel room surfaces.

Stay informed

As travel becomes more widespread, travelers would be wise to do their research. Each state or country may have different policies, and some areas may be harder hit than others. In addition, countries have been updating their entry requirements frequently.

So get familiar with your desitnation. Marks says, “A high infection rate has the potential to impact air travel, business operations, and the availability of emergency health care at your destination. In a worst-case travel scenario, a city might shut down businesses the day of your arrival and cause incoming travelers to quarantine indefinitely. Some states or countries might refuse travelers leaving an area in crisis. In the event of a non-COVID-related health need during travel, visitors might face limited treatment options or hospital beds, and risk COVID-19 exposure by even seeking treatment at a medical facility. A simple review of health department websites and local news relevant to the proposed travel destination will allow travelers to make an informed decision regarding whether it is best to proceed or postpone.”

Take advantage of flexible flight and hotel stays

Because of the unpredictability of travel right now, many airlines and hotels continue to offer flexibility on bookings. Soares says that since the travel industry was hit so hard, companies are being accommodating to help get travelers back on the road.

“So many companies are offering unlimited changes or cancellations without penalties. It’s great because when you travel overseas, depending on where you travel, you might need to adhere to COVID testing rules in order to enter the country. If you return a positive result, you’d need to act quickly and reschedule your flights, so airlines have really come to the party in that respect. The other big change is with hotel policies. Many hotels allow you to change or cancel your booking without penalties or fees attached. This is excellent if you have a positive COVID result and need to shuffle your arrangements at the last minute.”

Be friendly—from a distance

Business travel is often about client relationships and networking, but the best way to stay safe is to continue to social distance and avoid hand-to-hand contact when possible.

“I still recommend giving people a fist bump or elbow knock instead of a handshake,” Soares says. “Remember to socially distance yourself at all times. In a busy airport, you’re likely to forget to stay apart, so remember the six-feet rule and keep your distance.” DW


Mariette Williams is a freelance writer living in South Florida. She covers travel, culture, books, and wellness, and her work has appeared in many well-known publications. When she’s not traveling, she’s lost in a good book.

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