Thursday, August 4, 2016

FlightDelays & Contingency Planning in Real Life

Photo Credit: Trey Ratcliff

Last week, I had headed to a day long conference on Thursday in New York and was expecting to return home on the 7:20 flight back to Toronto.

However, things didn't goes as planned: La Guardia (LGA) had cancelled a number of flights due to weather delays.

I decided to haul it back renting a car through a one-way rental.

Originally, went to Hertz but they refused to rent to me because I was heading back to Toronto, Canada. If you can believe it, they advised me to rent to Buffalo and then take the bus back to Toronto. Yeah right!!!

Thank God, Avis did not give me such a ridiculous advice and instead gave me the car to  make my way back home. Ended up leaving Avis around 8:45 and made it home around 4:30 AM. One big advantage of travelling at that time of the night is that there is no traffic :)

Thinking about this after the fact, I realized it was a good lesson in "real life" contingency planning, so here's what I think I did right, could have done better and otherwise.

What I did right:
  • Call the travel agent instead of waiting in line to talk to the airline: I had already cleared customs and was lining up at the Air Canada desk inside LGA realizing that my flight was cancelled. However, I decided to call the travel agent (while in line)  to see what the situation was at other airports (JFK, Newark) and to see what my options were. That's where I learned that I would be flying out at 11:30 am on Friday (i.e. the next day). 
  • Avoided flying out on Friday: Didn't realize this at the time, but my chiropractor told me that after a major flight cancellation the airport is dealing with at least twice the volume the next day - especially since it was Friday and everyone would want to get home for the weekend. Consequently, how much rest would I get if I had to be back 3 to 4 hours earlier the next day to make sure I got on the plane? My fear at that time is that either the weather delays would continue or something else would force me on a later flight. 
  • Would any hotels be available? Given that many people had their flight cancelled, the hotels would likely be booked. Also, if I had to book outside the airport then I would have to battle morning traffic on the way back in. So it didn't seem like an appealing option. 
  • What's crazy to most, may be open to you: The 8 hour drive back did seem daunting. However, most wouldn't do such a crazy thing thereby making it a viable option - since everyone else would be trying to get on a plane there would be plenty of supply for me in terms of getting the rental. Or at least that's what I expected and it turned out to be right. Also, when I spoke to the travel agent she told me that someone else from Deloitte was looking to carpool back to Toronto. Unfortunately, I just missed him. However, realizing someone else is doing made it seem less crazy. And truth be told those cars were getting booked fast when I got to the car rental companies - many people were driving to Boston, Pittsburgh, etc. 
What I could have done better:
  • Monitoring for weather: When my flight got delayed on the way in on Wednesday that should have been a clue that there could be problems the next day. In the future, I should keep track of weather conditions and been mindful. 
  • Monitoring for cancellations: Although I had checked in via my mobile app, I had been using a low power mode for the iPhone. This prevent me from being alerted right away. The reason I was on lower power mode is that the conference organizers didn't have outlets at the table and so I wanted to make sure I had battery power to call/email/etc. at the airport. Next time, I should sit near an outlet or have portable power source to make sure that I can charge my phone at the airport or on the plane. 
  • Book a car sooner: If I had learned about the cancellation sooner, I could have made alternative arrangements sooner. At least I could have booked the car and procured it closer to where I was at, instead of wasting that time driving into the airport. 
  • Noticed airport irregularities: There were more people queuing up at the Air Canada counter outside the security area. However, I just dismissed this as volume. However, the lower volume in the security area should have been my second clue that something was awry. 
  • Check the rental for damage:  I was so focused on getting on my way, I didn't check. As it turns out, the car was damaged massively on the front. Fortunately, the guy letting me out noticed that and wrote it on the form. It's hard, but in an emergency situation it is important to make sure to keep a cool head and not make such errors. 
Otherwise: One thing that stuck in my mind is missing the fellow Deloitte colleague on the way back to Toronto. Was there a better of organizing ourselves so if something like this were to happen again, we could car pool? How can we trust each other if we don't work at the same company? I think that setting up an app and getting subscribers to sign-up ahead of time wouldn't be feasible because most people don't think about getting stranded at the airport - let alone finding a way to trust each other using user reviews. 

Contingency plans: test, test, test.

My biggest takeaway from this experience is that you can't know how good a contingency plan is until you actual do a real live test. 

And unfortunately most companies overall don't test their plans. 

As noted in this Business Continuity survey, Deloitte categorized managers as "aware" (i.e. those who know there's a problem) and "committed" (i.e. those that are willing to take action to resolve it). Out of the Committed group basically only 50% had tested their plans, while the aware group only 17% had tested their plans. 

With real estate it's location, location, location, but with business continuity plans it's test, test, test. As noted above, I realized a number of gaps in my contingency plan that I never would have known until I experienced this real-life emergency.

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