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November 13, 2006

Ben Stein's 21 Iron Laws of Business Travel

Ben Stein needs no introduction.

His laws appeared in yesterday's New York Times Business section, and follow.

    A Maximum Traveler (and His Maxims)

    I am your humble correspondent, and, as such, travel constantly. I am on the road more than I am at home, flying hither and yon to educate and amuse and pay for the vast army of men and women who depend on little me to keep them alive and able to spend time at movies and nail salons and in front of computer games.

    As I travel, I join many similar millions. We talk, exchange stories, make systems and create rules and laws of business travel. Because I have no better friends than you who are reading this, I now share these rules in the hope that you will learn from them and achieve the Zen-like state of acceptance that we maximum travelers achieve.

    Herewith, for your peace of mind and so that you will not be surprised, are the Iron Laws of Business Travel:

    • Look around the boarding area for the person talking the loudest on his cellphone, smelling the most of stale beer. The more obnoxious he or she is, the greater the certainty that he or she will be sitting directly in front of you.

    • The likelihood that your seat will not recline is a direct function of the certainty that the person in front of you will recline as far back as possible.

    • The chance that your plane will leave on time is an inverse function of the importance of reaching your destination on time.

    • The likelihood that your flight will reach its destination on time is a function of how much time you have to catch your connecting flight. That is, the less time you have to catch that connecting flight, the more certain that your plane will be late; the more time you have to catch that flight, the more likely that your plane will be on time.

    • Late arrivals will be compounded by incompetence. If your plane is already late, for example, you can be certain that it (a) will not have a gate when it gets in, (b) will not have a crew to make the jetway meet the plane and (c) will not have a crew that, once it appears, knows how to operate the jetway.

    • The chance that the plane’s galley will run out of any desirable entree just before it’s your turn to make a selection is a direct function of your hunger.

    • The likelihood of not finding a taxi, or of your driver failing to show up, is a function of the probability of measurable precipitation. It is also a function of your proximity to downtown Manhattan. That is, the likelihood of a car appearing when you need it is lowest in New York City, highest in Anchorage.

    • The chance that your driver will know the way to your destination is an inverse function of your fatigue and your need to use the restroom — and of the density of traffic between the airport and the hotel.

    • The chance that your room reservation will be lost is a direct function of your exhaustion and frustration before reaching the hotel. The likelihood of a desk clerk caring much about whether you have a room is an inverse function of the room’s price. That is, the more the room costs, the more contemptuous the service. This is doubled in New York City.

    • The chance that you will get the type of room you reserved is also an inverse function of the room’s cost.

    • The more that you detest tobacco, the less likely that you will have a nonsmoking room.

    • The more urgent your need to use the Internet, the less likely that the connection will work.

    • The probability of your getting a room next to the hotel elevator is directly proportional to how many times you tell the desk clerk that you do not want a room next to the elevator.

    • The earlier your morning meeting, the more likely that an amateur porn movie is being filmed in the next room.

    • The chance of having bedbugs is a direct function of the snootiness of the hotel. The same is true of the likelihood that your bed will not be made properly, with about three inches of bare mattress showing at the bottom of the bed. The chance that housekeeping will be available or willing to fix the problem is zero at any hotel where the room costs over $300 a night.

    • The likelihood that your bank will call to tell you that you are overdrawn is the cubic function of how many miles you are from your bank, and how far your spouse is from the bank.

    • The likelihood of insomnia is a quadratic function of how early you have to wake up in the morning.

    • The likelihood that noisy construction will start before 8 a.m. near your room is perfectly correlated to the sum of the room’s cost, your fatigue level and the hour when your day begins.

    • The likelihood that your teenage child will appreciate your business-travel efforts approaches zero as a limit; it is certain that the appreciation will be zero if you have recently bought that teenager a car.

    • It never gets any better.

    • You just get older.

    Now you know. And now that you do, remember that acceptance is power, peace and serenity. And it is never cool to yell at a flight attendant or a gate agent.




November 13, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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I don't care much for Ben Stein, but he sure got this right. Especially the part about the yelling -- not just uncool, but stupid. Amazing how sometimes the lowliest prole can make things deliciously embarrassing and briefly yet acutely nightmarish for the most high, most mighty and most puissant business traveler.

I remember a thing Garrison Keillor said about traveling -- the pleasure kind, not the business kind -- that I liked a lot. About couples traveling together. It takes two people working diligently to make a trip wonderful; just one can make it miserable, and it isn't even hard to do. So true.

Posted by: Flautist | Nov 14, 2006 12:39:05 AM


Posted by: Mattp9 | Nov 14, 2006 12:07:21 AM

And the whinier the person seated next to you, the more likely it's Ben Stein. Or Andy Rooney.

Posted by: Al Christensen | Nov 13, 2006 5:47:36 PM

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