Rolling out a global air travel policy is no mean feat. It is a complex, multi-layered exercise. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Making it relevant to travellers in each marketplace should be the goal. Getting it right requires research and planning. It involves climbing down from a perceived Ivory Tower at company HQ and getting out into the field. If you don’t, there are a surprising number of pit falls. But it is possible.
Basing a programme upon data and trends out of head office is more prevalent than one might expect; and it’s not difficult to understand why one may take a blanket approach. On the surface, it appears consistent policy to which all staff must adhere. The problem: it does not actually create a level playing field at all. Regional nuances have to be considered.
For instance, take the time restrictions imposed on premium travel: a policy may permit business class for trips seven hours or longer from a London HQ but might not provide for journeys of similar durations elsewhere in the world. There is a need for clarification. There are occasions when competing services vary slightly on duration but drastically on prices. For example, London-Dubai may take seven hours and 5 minutes on one carrier, but only six hours and 55 minutes with a competitor. If you have a seven-hour minimum on premium, on which airline would you prefer travellers fly? Rather than set time limits with concentric circles emanating from HQ, think about naming destinations or city pairs on which business class can be booked.
There are times when business class could and should be permitted on shorter routes. Europe is, perhaps, the exception. There the need is not particularly evident. Employees seldom insist on business class from London to Frankfurt or Copenhagen because even they don’t see the value. However, there may be intra-Africa routes where a company would, arguably, demonstrate a duty of care to staff by allowing them to fly up front.
Low cost carriers create another conundrum. Their use in the US and Western Europe for business has proliferated in recent years. This is, almost without exception, about cost. If a cheaper fare can be found – one that will not increase the total cost of trip – travel managers include them in the programme, and even mandate their use. In China it’s a different ball game. Airline punctuality is notoriously poor. So it’s less to do with class of cabin and more about the flexibility of a ticket. The ability to switch is a business necessity.
Culture and compliance must also be taken into account. Will executives flying from Jeddah to Dubai settle for an economy ticket? And what if they are flying to Dubai for a global meeting where others in the organisation are arriving in business class? That’s not likely to sit well.
Policies designed with HQ at the core are more likely to focus on productivity, and it’ll more than likely work for the local market. But if you have a global purview, regional consideration has to be taken. And above all the policy must be clear and tolerant. If it doesn’t fit the organisation, you’ll have created a business inhibitor. If it does, you’ll have happy travellers and a happier CFO.