chris finne

Reflections on Up In The Air

26 Mar 2010

I’m watching the George Clooney movie Up In The Air and before I’m 10 seconds into the opening credits, a lot of memories come back from my 8 years on the road. If you haven’t done regular business travel, this post will bore you to death and you’ll be confused why I (and other road warriors) obsess over mundane vignettes and boring habits.

Opening Montage

They show many familiar scenes of our country: San Francisco, Chicago, LA, the great plains, farm land with circular fields (from a particular type of irrigation system), Minnesota lakes, etc. Although I didn’t see the massive meteor crater in Arizona desert that I used to pass by weekly, nor did I see the Grand Canyon that even after hundreds of fly-overs, still warranted a peek.

Checking In at the Front Counter

He walks up to the American Airlines desk at LAX and it reminds me of one Sunday afternoon I had at that desk…

I handed the Agent my ID and she said “Where are you going?”, I stuttered, “Uhhhhhh, mmmmmmm, LAX”. With a tired look, she replied, “You are at LAX.” When you travel a lot you accumulate this long-term exhaustion and your whole life becomes fog.

“Oh. Uhhhhhh, JFK?”, I tried next. Tap-tap-tap on the keyboard… “Nope, nor are you on flights to any of the other New York airports”

“OK, must be Austin then.” Tap-tap-tap on the keyboard… “Bingo”

Hotel Keys

He’s frequently fishing through his pockets trying various hotel card-keys in the door. This is pretty realistic. For some reason, you just forget to throw out or leave the keys as you move through your week. Forgetting your room number is common; or going to the room you were in last week or the last time you were at that hotel.

Packing the Suitcase

He doesn’t have a Tumi? While not all warriors have them, it is a safe bet. I collected 6 Tumi’s in my 8 years. Now I buy their discount brand “Dakota”, as I can’t find Tumi’s on sale anymore.


I used to work for a woman that had his exact job in the Oil Industry. She had some dark, grim reaper-like nickname at her regular hotels that I can’t seem to recall. Lady of Death maybe.

Cheap Sushi in Lounges

Always a treat. Typically much better quality in International lounges rather than the ones in the States


They didn’t say he was President’s Circle. When they started that, you had to rent over 50 times a year or something like that. It was great because they always parked your car in the most convenient spot. After I lost that status, going back to hunting through the parking lot for your number really sucked.

Days on the road

Clooney claimed 322 days on the road, 43 days at home. During my peak years, I was probably home only 90 days.

Labert Field (STL)

Screw the history; I hate this airport. The runways are too close together, so when there is a cloud in the sky they have to stagger the flights causing cascading delays. Also, the terminals are dark and have these really low ceilings like the old Austin airport.

My Best 3-Way…

I certainly never warranted a personal line, but I did get the premium lines that skipped any IVR’s and always had someone answering quickly. One year American went on strike on a Friday, so my JFK-LAX was canceled. Of course there was a flood of people to the phone to re-book. The lady at the American Platinum desk (minimum 50k miles that year) couldn’t get a re-book through the Sabre system. She started calling the other airlines, but couldn’t get through. Luckily I was also 1K on United (minimum 100,000 miles that year), so I gave her the phone number for the 1K desk; we did a 3-way call and I was back at the beach 6 hours later.

The Best Travel Movie?

While Up in the Air did capture a lot of domestic lifestyle, Lost in Translation the sleeper hit from Sofia Coppola with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson still sticks with me. That movie totally captured the funk of jet lag you encounter when traveling to Asia. You can’t sleep day or night; you wander the hotel in the middle of the night; you feel disconnected from everything.