One Suicidal Employee, Thousands of Cancelled Flights. What’s Your Real Backup Travel Plan?

Early last Friday morning it only took a matter of minutes for one disturbed person to cause the cancellation or delay of thousands of flights throughout one of the busiest aviation hub regions in the world.  Granted, this was a special situation because the contractor, one who had been “thoroughly vetted” and held a security clearance, had easy access and was able to quickly destroy two-thirds of the physical equipment that manages the communication systems for air travel throughout the entire region.  And yet again we’re reminded of the “unimaginable” scenario that causes such disruption.

By Monday afternoon, computing requirements for traffic management were being rerouted through other systems and cancellations were beginning to taper slightly but officials believe it will take as long as two weeks for operations – and flights – to return to normal.  If your company has facilities in the region, or if there was a major event scheduled in that region for this week or next or if your organization relies on material shipped by air from or even only through that part of the country . . . or . . . or . . . or . . . your organization has a problem.

After September 11th, then-mayor Giuliani said that the city didn’t have a contingency plan for managing the impact wrought by two hijacked airliners bringing down the Twin Towers but that they did have more than 20 other contingency plans on the shelf.  So they grabbed what was applicable from each of several different plans and by doing so were able to respond to the situation as quickly and efficiently as possible.  In many smaller ways, the continuing situation in Chicago mimics the historic travel disruptions caused on 9/11, mostly because no one ever imagined either scenario occurring.  And if they did, they most likely lacked the internal support to allocate resources for such a contingency.

mindsetThe morning of September the 11th I was very early on the road driving a large truck full of computer equipment and trade show materials to New Orleans to start setup for, ironically, a large aviation convention that was to take place the following week.  By mid-morning I knew that a lot about our lives had permanently changed and that the convention would certainly be cancelled or postponed.  I kept driving anyway because I knew that I’d need to manage our assembly crew throughout the process of reversing course midway through construction of our very large booth as well as attend to contract situations with several hotels where we had reservations for 50+ employees and plans that had been made for events at other venues that had been made nearly a year in advance.  Four days later I was on the way back to Houston in the same truck.  It didn’t occur to me until I was almost back to Houston that I could have stopped at the airport and picked up westward-bound travelers who were stranded due to the continued full ground stop.  Maybe not a great idea but I’ve always kicked myself for not considering that option until it was too late.  In my updated mindset, figuring out how to maximize that kind of asset would now be a priority in my response to such a disruption.  But helpful as that may be, it’s still small potatoes in the scheme of things.  As a business continuity professional, I’d need something scalable for my company.  Something with a little heft behind it.  Surely there are people and organizations that have such things?

According to a senior travel management professional I spoke with yesterday who manages the global air program for a major corporation, the answer to that is not so much.  He told me that even with considerable assets in the Chicago area, they don’t have a contingency plan for alerting their travelers about such a disruption because they “categorize the Chicago situation as traveler inconvenience (such as bad weather or labor strikes) [and therefore] don’t get involved with managing it [for our travelers].  Unless there is a safety or security risk to the traveler, we wouldn’t contact those that could be potentially impacted with this information because with the size of our program it could be a full-time job if we took on this responsibility.”  Regardless, he said, “We are looking at ways to use our corporate social media product to, at a minimum, post information on situations that could cause travel interruptions such as the Chicago situation that could potentially impact our travelers.”  In other words, for many corporate travelers, because of the substantial yet very rarely implemented logistics that would be involved, you’re more or less on your own the next time something like this happens.  And applying that to each of our little worlds, that can equal business interruptions that are difficult to quantify.

So what exactly would you have done in this situation or, if you’re being impacted this week, how are you responding?  Plan B.  Regardless of the cause of the disruption, plan B.  Redundancy in your backups, whether it involves IT server equipment, cross-training for different roles, temporarily replacing face-to-face meetings with an online equivalent or even, as we’ve seen enough times now, your business travel plans.  At Continuity Housing, we’re experts when it comes to contracting and working through logistical issues with hotels, but the air traffic control situation in Chicago gives us pause.  What can people do?  What would WE do?  If you have contingencies in place to support this scenario, by all means, please share them with the group.


And since we’re talking about travel, a quick side note.  A few weeks ago we posted about hotels starting to tack on airline-style fees for services and amenities that have traditionally been provided gratis.  Evidently Marriott is now upping that ante by encouraging guests to tip the housekeepers.  I like the opening line on that article about the chain wanting the housekeepers to make more money but not necessarily at Marriott’s own expense.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m a huge fan of Marriott, especially their Residence Inn properties.  Regardless of your opinion of Marriott’s stance, I’ve always followed the advice of one of my corporate mentors from back in the day: the housekeeping staff knows how long you’ll be staying so, especially for a longer stay, tip decently and do so on the first day you arrive.


Continuity Housing helps companies enhance their business continuity plans by pre-arranging guaranteed housing and providing logistical support for mission-critical employees during disasters.  Subscribe to the Continuity Housing blog (in sidebar at right) and follow us on Twitter, on YouTube, on LinkedIn and on Facebook.  To subscribe to our mailing list and/or to find out about a free 30-minute consultation, let us know.

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