Lately, I've been unable to relax at home. I put on my robe and slippers, sit in my overstuffed chair, turn my TV to one of its 144 channels, and a feeling of guilt washes over me like a wave. For the sake of all of us, I hope the same is true for you, and I hope the reason for your guilt is the same as mine: namely, the fact that, while we're relaxing at home, countless business travelers are out on the road, miles from home, risking their very comfort so that America's corporations may profit and thrive.
Even as we speak, an Atlanta ad executive is checking into the San Francisco Hyatt Regency, not knowing if there will be a telephone jack in his room that will accommodate his laptop. Not knowing if there will be any fresh-baked blueberry muffins waiting for him in the executive hospitality lounge when he wakes up the next day. Not knowing if there will be a wait to use one of the hotel's six color fax machines.
At that very same moment, hundreds of miles away, a marketing director is boarding a Delta Airlines jet in Dallas, headed for a three-day sales conference in Chicago. Like his compatriot in San Francisco, he faces many unknowns: Will there be enough legroom on the flight? Will the food he receives in first-class be the same as that served to the dross back in steerage, and, if so, will it be served by the same bovine flight attendants who serve the cattle? Will he be required to deactivate his computer—the same powerful tool upon which he charts the future course of our nation!—during takeoffs and landings?
And once this brave business traveler lands safely at O'Hare Airport, still greater uncertainties lie ahead. Will there be a deluxe rental car waiting for him? If not, will there be a special airport VIP lounge where he may recline comfortably and receive complimentary beverages while he waits for the problem to be sorted out? And, if so, will that lounge have televisions in each corner tuned to CNN Airport News so he is not cruelly forced to miss the latest financial news and sports scores?
Business travelers are, without a doubt, the most important people in America. Yet, sadly, they are taken for granted. We glorify our doctors, scientists, athletes, entertainers. But make no mistake: None of them would exist if a businessman hadn't traveled to make it so. Most people lack a business background, but believe me—without business travelers, we'd all be speaking Russian and worshipping President Hitler.
This is a fact freely acknowledged by no less an authority than business travelers themselves. And yet, for all they do for us ordinary civilians, do they, in return, receive complimentary copies of Business Week wherever they go? Do they have 24-hour access to conference rooms with slide projectors, so that they may prepare for "The Big Presentation" whenever they like? Do they receive free golf shirts, attractively embroidered with corporate logos, from everyone they meet? No, they do not. But despite all this, they forge ahead anyway, fighting valiantly to keep America number one in commerce.
There are an infinite number of other areas of concern. What about a businessman's vital link to important business information, the cellular phone? Is his carrier available in all markets? Is the billing convenient? Does it stop when the business traveler stops talking, or continue until the end of that minute? Is paging provided?
USA Today, one of the nation's great journalistic institutions, has relentlessly fought for years to raise public awareness of the terrible inconveniences that plague the modern business traveler. Sadly, few others have followed their courageous lead. To most Americans, the problems of business travelers are unknown, a silent scream, an injustice unheard. This must change.
I thank you for your time.