An air for business: Frequent flyers make the most of their miles

TRAVERSE CITY – A tall, stylish publishing professional, Anne Lewis has learned a few things about air travel after logging in up to 60,000 miles a year. Her best tips for air travelers are these: avoid Chicago with every fiber of your being (delays); and, anyone with long legs will be more comfortable during their flight stretched out in an exit row (more room). Also, when traveling by air, you might not automatically think about your feet, but that would be a mistake. Give some serious thought to your footwear.

"I've learned that high heels have no place in an airport," Lewis said. "They're not good for running in when your first flight gets delayed and you barely make it to your connecting one."

Lewis is an award-winning picture book author and illustrator as well as publisher of Mackinac Island Press, a children's publishing company in Traverse City. She uses air travel to attend industry trade shows, book signings, and sales meetings that are usually scheduled outside the Midwest.

Adam Martin attends at least 30 sales meetings every year in his role as sales manager of Hagerty's Private Client Services division. He logs about 80,000 miles a year visiting clients, making presentations, and attending trade shows. Most of these flights are routine, with routine irritations. But one incident was a bit more startling.

"We were delayed because of mechanical issues and had to wait in the terminal for three hours while they serviced the plane, which meant they had to fly in the part and the mechanic to fix it," Martin said. "We were then at the mercy of available seats from Detroit to Traverse City. This was not the last of our troubles, however. Once our aircraft was fixed, the crew was going about their usual boarding routine when the mechanic who had just fixed the aircraft came running up the aisle and out the open door. Two seconds later the pilot swings open the cockpit door and exits the plane right after him. I looked out the window toward the wing and saw a fire hose stream of jet fuel pouring out of the wing."

That trip ended safely for Martin after airport crews cleaned up the spill without incident and he returned later that same evening to Traverse City. It was frightening, but Martin maintained his status as a frequent flyer, and says a good flight is simply one that arrives on time.

Jeff Corbin, who sold Corbin Design to his employees in 2005 and still chairs the TC Area Chamber's Air Services Committee, was once a major frequent flyer out of Traverse City. He has fond memories of the many air companions he encountered.

"During my heyday I particularly enjoyed my flights in and out of TVC because on any given day I might be sitting next to a world-class jeweler, a world-class designer of roller coasters, or a world-class plastic injection engineer," he said. "It reminded me of the importance of air service to Traverse City and caused me to redouble my efforts to keep (the air service) as close to world-class as possible."

The new president of Corbin Design, Mark VanderKlipp, wings it once a week on average, usually with Northwest through Detroit or Minneapolis. He sees many of the same people on business flights.

"Last week I flew to Akron through Detroit and saw others who had done a down and back in one day. Those are brutal-and all four legs of my flight were delayed."

He says flying in and out of TC is "much improved" since the new terminal opened.

"The security check-in is always quick and courteous, and very thorough."

His pet peeve is with the lack of Northwest and United flights during off-peak times.

"During the summers there are more flights, especially on Northwest, but other times during the year we are often forced to wait in O'Hare or Detroit. I have no idea how many hours of my life have been spent in purgatory in either of those two places, but if I had a nickel for every one, I'd be a rich man!"

Cindy Warner, vice president of Salesforce.com, a San Francisco-based software company, and managing partner of Northpointe Food Ventures, which owns J&S and The Boathouse in Traverse City, and the Village Inn and Zaccaro's in Charlevoix, has learned to deal with delays. Her latest definition of a good flight is one where they've saved her a seat.

"The issue that just irritates me to no end is when you buy a full fare ticket and they don't have a seat for you," she said. "When you buy a car you wouldn't go to the car dealer and have them say, 'Sorry, we don't have your car. We sold too many.' The airlines oversell flights because they have no-shows. But if someone pays for a seat, they should get a seat."

Warner regularly clocks 250,000 air miles a year. That's about the distance from the earth to the moon. Or 20 trips to Australia.

"I had a house in Florida," she said. "I sold it because I just didn't have the need to get on a plane and fly down there. In all fairness, I'd really rather just stay home on vacation and relax."

Though Salesforce.com is focusing more on efficiency and may substitute a web cam for some of Warner's air miles, she might want to consider the recent decision made by the leaders of Salamander Technologies. Founders Russ Miller and Mike Whelan were spending so much time waiting around in airports, they bought their own plane, a Cessna Centurion. It seats six, four comfortably, and is used primarily for trips under 750 miles.

"It has saved us a huge amount of time that we used to spend just waiting around," said Whelan. "For example, you can drive to Green Bay in eight hours or fly there in five if you count airport time. With the plane and our pilot, I can be there in 45 minutes."

Cessna Centurions go for anywhere from $125,000 to $350,000, approximately. For Salamander, the break-even point of owning their own plane came when it was used for 100 flight hours a year. "More and more though, the dollar isn't the only factor. People's time is just as important." BN

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