30 May 2006


The World is Flat and Other Truths

For the past 16 years, I've been doing training, consulting and research for the travel and tourism industry. As a former meetings & incentive buyer, I know I've found my true calling seeing the highs of truly creative business ideas and the lows of other ideas that just defy logic.

My work has brought me in contact with some wonderful travel agents who've shared some terrific stories that will make you laugh and make you cry at the same time. How can seemingly intelligent people be so dumb when it comes to travel and to geography in particular. I blame our public schools which quit teaching geography some years ago - something about it being too boring to memorize state capitols and major rivers. For many, it would be nice to just know the states, let alone the capitols.

Anyway, here are a few of my favorites. If you've got some you'd like to contribute, I'd love to see them.

Let's start with the two most common problems for geographic Neanderthals:
1. The world is round.
2. The world is divided into 24 time zones and not everyone is living in the same time zone you live in.

One time I was sitting next to a man on a flight from SFO-CLT. The pilot annonced that we were somewhere over Kansas at one point and this guy became very concerned. He had the map open in the airline magazine and pointed out the fact that we were way off course. I tried to explain point #1 (the world is round) which just didn't seem to convince him. Finally, I took his magazine and folded it back into an arc and had him draw a line on it to show it was actually shorter to fly north over Kansas than to go straight across.

Of course every veteran agent has had clients raise that baffling issue: why does it take so much longer to go from LAX to JFK than the other way around, howeve the best version of this story I've heard came from an agent in MSP. She had a corporate client (senior level executive, no less) making his first trip to Asia. He called in to have her check flights to NRT and asked an unusual question: which airline had the plane with the most northerly route?

The agent was was puzzled by the question and asked why he cared. His response: "I'm seriously pressed for time and need a flight that bypasses the international date line so I won't lose a day in travel. I don't have time to cross it on this trip." It's hard to come back after that one.

Please share your stories about geography, cultural "misunderstandings" or any other aspect of travel that makes us smile while wishing the kids were actually learning someting in school.

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