Meetings Today Podcast [Transcript]: Navigating Chaos - Travel Tips for When Your Airport Falters

September 12, 2018

Following is a transcription of the conversation between Tyler Davidson and Christoph Trappe featured in the Navigating Chaos - Travel Tips for When Your Airport Falters episode of the Meetings Today Podcast.

Tyler Davidson (T): Hello, everyone and welcome to our Meetings Today podcast. This is Tyler Davidson. I am the vice president and chief content director of Meetings Today. And joining us is Christoph Trappe, our chief content engagement director and frequent flyer of all time.

This guy is all over the place. And the reason we’re having him here today is because of the events in Frankfurt at their airport there today. There was an evacuation order. And really, it’s such a huge hub, really world-wide as far as airports go. So, you can imagine the chaos going down there with trying to evacuate the entire airport because of the security issue.

Maybe Christoph can fill us in a little more on the news and then provide some tips for us. Christoph?

Christoph Trappe (C): Yeah. Tyler, thanks for having me.

Of course, I’ve been following that news all day long. People are tweeting pictures standing in line and really just waiting. And what was interesting is I always try to get out of the lines of people. And of course, I said that on Twitter and somebody says, “Actually, Christoph, we can’t leave. The police are holding us inside a police line.”

So, people can’t actually leave. Of course, we don’t know how quickly that police line was established or if everybody was caught in that. I saw someone was tweeting that employees had left the airport.

T: Really?

C: So, now there was delay from the airline because all the employees were evacuated as well or had to leave the terminal. As far as I can tell, what happened is there was a French family that either somebody wasn’t screened, or a test came back or a false positive or something to that kind. But they were sent on their way.

And then when they realized whatever the mistake was that was made, now they had to go chase down this family and they re-interviewed them or re-talked to them and everything was fine.

But of course, everybody was asked to leave the secure area. And you might imagine that’s quite a big problem, just considering how long it takes to get through security, now you have to get back out and back in.

T: And that’s gonna ripple through the whole network in Europe too, I’m sure and cause delays in every major destination.

C: Well, and maybe not just Europe, right? But even…

T: Yeah.

C: …people traveling to other continents. I mean that’s a big problem.

But one of the things that I always find interesting, as we’re all traveling to conferences and we’re working with event planners, what do you do? What do you do when you can’t make it to your conference? So, now some people might argue if you’re an event attendee, if you miss a couple sessions, big deal. Well, it is a big deal, right? Because they’re spending money to come to the conference and now they’re missing something at the conference.

And then of course the other angle as well is for speakers. So, as I’m going out, I’m speaking at conferences for example, sometimes organizers ask me, “Oh, you could fly in the morning of and you can make it over and speak at this time.” And actually, I’ve done that a number of times.

One time I flew into New Orleans, Tyler. And I got there at noon. And I’m speaking at 1:30, right? So, there’s no room for any delay—let alone a delay like this, to make it there.

So, there are effects like that on conferences for sure.

T: Yeah. And I think that’s great advice to make sure you fly your speakers in the night before. I know we do that with our Meetings Today Live programs. And especially if you’re dealing with a conference and you have a variety of educators and speakers, and there’s major disruption like this, you really want to get them in there the day before.

C: I might actually wonder what would happen if a speaker doesn’t make it and let’s say it’s a workshop and they paid extra? Or you have standing-room only? I know those conferences where you have to register now for the sessions ahead of time and some of them are, I don’t want to say sold out, but there’s standing-room only, right? So, what about those attendees? What happens?

T: And especially for someone who’s a big key-noter. I mean say you have someone on the status of like an ex-president or a huge celebrity coming to do your keynote. A lot of people are attracted to the conference because of that. And just imagine their disappointment if they’re not coming in. And those people also are probably some of the busiest people there are.

So, might be hard to rope them into coming in early. But I guess that’s really something you should make sure you have in your contract with the speaker or the Speakers Bureau.

C: Yeah. I typically don’t mind at all coming in early. Especially the day before. Especially if it’s somewhere nice and warm and it’s in December here in Cedar Rapids, minus who-knows-how-many degrees. So, I usually don’t mind that. Plus, you can work anywhere nowadays, right? Bring your laptop, you can work at the pool or something if it’s somewhere warmer.

But what’s interesting, so the one person I was talking with on Twitter, she threw a wrench in my game plan a little bit. Of course, I didn’t actually have to do it because I’m not in Frankfurt, but I don’t know if you remember this, but I was in Chicago a couple years ago when the tower was on fire. Do you remember that story? They had a fire…

T: Yeah.

C: …at the tower, which is not on the airport property. It’s like in a different city. And I was coming back from a conference and all of a sudden, the whole airport was shut down because of this fire.

And so, I have a little bit of experience with it, but again, I was coming home, so it didn’t make a huge difference whether I was a little bit later or not. But typically my game plan, what I would recommend people do is looking for alternatives immediately.

Don’t wait for the airline, don’t wait for anybody. Look for alternatives.

So, what I usually do is, of course, in this case, there’s no other flights. But let’s say this was San Francisco area, right? And one airport is shut down, there’s two other airports nearby. Can you catch a flight out of one of the other ones? And then you call the airline and say, “Could you book me on this right away?” And if you can make it over with an Uber, which by the way, Uber I don’t think exists in Frankfurt. Last I knew, only Munich and Berlin had Ubers. So that’s…

T: Uber sounds like a German word. It should exist in Germany.

C: Well, funny story. In Berlin, when you call an Uber, most of them are taxis. So…

T: Okay.

C: …make sense of that. But do you see what I’m saying? So, look for solutions.

T: Yeah.

C: It’s the big jigsaw puzzle, right?

T: And you’re going to have competition too, right? So, do you jump on the internet? Should you have these numbers in your phone already? How can you just really turn on a dime and do that in such a stressful situation?

C: I hop on my phone right away. And then also, I have a lot of the apps on my phone, right? So, for example, if I need a car, I have all those apps in my phone. I’m looking for a car on Hertz. Or Enterprise in Europe, for example. And I’m just looking, who has a car? Who has the best deal? And then if you’re in the US, also look for Ubers.

I’ll give you an example. I was pricing something the other day, driving an Uber from Cedar Rapids to Chicago O’Hare, which if you were to ask anybody in Cedar Rapids if they would ever do that, they would think I’m crazy to even mention that as an idea. But it’s like $300 or something like that, including tip. So, guess what? If you have a big speaking contract on the table and you’re not going to make it, $300 is not going to make that big of a difference, right?

T: Right. And then I would suppose if you’re traveling, you’re an attendee, you might have a corporate travel agency. So, a lot of times, I know I’ve thankfully haven’t had to access ours too often, but there’s an 800 number. And I have been at the airport at midnight or one-in-the-morning and something bad happened and the flight wasn’t going, and they made it happen. So that’s one thing.

And I’m guessing the meeting planner ought to be on it too.

C: Yep.

T: So, through the meeting itself…

C: Google Flights is always a good one too. You can see what’s still available for other nearby airports. I’ll give you an example. This is actually, Tyler, I was out seeing you and some other team members in San Francisco and I was delayed flying out of there because of winds.

So, I think what they did is one runway I think faces one way and the other one faces the other way or something like that, right? And so, they were going to take off one way, the winds turned. So, now everybody had to reposition to a different runway—or the other side of it. I don’t know exactly.

But anyway, it took forever. I missed my connection in Dallas. Last flight out back to Cedar Rapids and so I missed it. And I had a big meeting the next morning, so I had to present to maybe 150 people or something like that. And American rebooked me on the first flight out of Dallas. I went on Google Flights and I said—I looked—how can I get to Cedar Rapids from Dallas, which is about a 12-hour drive if you wanted to do that, which I don’t. And I looked. What are my options?

How can I get there in time for this meeting at 10 a.m.?

And there was an option available to fly from Dallas to Chicago, spend six hours in Chicago—and when I say spend six hours in Chicago, there is a hotel in the airport that you can book—and then take the first flight at 7:00 am, get to Cedar Rapids at 8:00, go take a shower, go give your presentation, go to bed.

American, as helpful as they were, they didn’t do that by default, right? I had to look. And then once I brought it up, they did it. They were like, “Oh, are you sure?” “Yep. Please.” Done.

T: I think anything beats standing in that big line in the terminal probably, right? I think we’ve all seen that horrific line with about 100 angry people at the customer service desk.

C: So, what I would recommend is, yes, if you can avoid the line.

Now, the bottom line is in a scenario like that, what I would probably do, even if you’re allowed to leave, stand in the line early on and then do all those other things…

T: Yeah.

C: …on the phone while you’re waiting. Right? Because if for some reason you can’t get through, at least you’re still waiting in the line and you’re keeping your options open. Unless, remember in Europe, they have a really good train system, right? East Coast in the U.S. too.

T: Yeah.

C: I mean maybe there is a train that can get you wherever you’re going or get you somewhere else that you can fly out of.

T: So, what’s the bottom line then, Christoph, as our resident frequent flyer and frequent traveler? What’s your sort of key points and advice?

C: For event planners, have your speakers fly in the day before at least to have a little bit of cushion in case something happens. Even for speakers flying to a conference or event attendees, yes, you have to listen to what the authorities are saying certainly.

But also, take your fate into your own hands. There’s so many apps out there. And I know you have to kind of learn how to use them but use Google Flights. See if there’s other flights from nearby. See if you can get a rental car. See if you can get an Uber. See if you can take a train. Whatever it might be.

Take it into your own hands and run the options.

And the options are sometimes endless, right? So, just keep that top of mind.

And then the final thing is, relax. Take a deep breath. Because when people are all upset about it, it doesn’t get them anywhere, right?

T: Yeah.

C: Try to be as calm as you can be.

T: And I think dealing with the people from the airlines, you don’t want to be rude with them. I mean I think a little bit of niceness probably goes a long way when you’re in a stressful situation.

C: That’s right. So, this is actually a tactic that a lot of frequent flyers call a “HUCA”—Hang Up, Call Again. I wouldn’t recommend this in necessarily a case like this, but what happens is if you call somebody, instead of being rude and they can’t help you and you know they should be able to help you, just hang up and call again. Now, when everybody’s calling the airlines, I probably wouldn’t recommend that, as much as you might do that…

T: Yeah.

C: …in a routine…

T: You want your place in line, right?

C: Right. But take it in your own hands, see what you can do, and then think about your goals. I mean there was somebody I was talking to and she says, “I’m stuck. I’m on a vacation.” Maybe it doesn’t make any difference if you get there half a day later, you know? You can ask for compensation. But if you have a big conference on the hook or you’re speaking or even if you’re attending, your company invested in you going. So, you certainly don’t want to not use that investment.

T: All right. Well, thanks for joining us, Christoph.

And make sure all of you out there in listener land to check out our other podcasts on We got one we just taped and are ready to broadcast on Duty of Care and Disaster Management. And got some others brewing up for you.

So, check out for our podcasts. And also, we got a great book coming out, on Disaster Management and Duty of Care by Brenda Rivers, who is the presenter of our first podcast coming up here.

Thank you for joining us.