On recent trip to Brighton in the UK I once again took the plunge of flying agile with my wife. On previous posts I have talked about the fun and games of flying non-rev, a benefit offered to employees of airlines, whereby you can fly cheaply but always on standby. I have referred to this as “Flying Agile” due to the parallel of being inserted into a standby list (backlog) and being prioritized against “seniority” parameters until you are applied to the limited resources (empty seats) hoping to be part of the release (flight).
In a previous post I talked about how Real Options thinking has helped me in the high uncertainty of non-rev flying. In hindsight, it doesn’t always result in the best travel experience. However it does make a game of it. One my wife noted that I take “pretty seriously”, just as good play should be. Real Options (think potential future choices) have value, do expire and you never commit early unless you know why to keep options open. I’ve covered the idea of creating options in traveling and I’ll do a bit here. I’ve looked at how deferring commitment helps with the high uncertainty. This trip to Brighton gave me pause to think about what the value of choices could be when monetary value is less important. Value is relative and transient. It is affected by the needs of those involved as well as the emotions they are feeling at the time close to commitment.
Not that the reader cares but why would an Australian living on the east coast of the US find the need to fly to Brighton, UK? Legendary in the minds of holidaying Brits but something out of a song from The Smiths for me. It so happens that my sister had planned a trip through the south of England for my mother. Even though very active for her age, the thought of my mother flying all the way from Australia to the UK, in coach no less, followed by a breakneck trek through the places of her early childhood was only something the planning talents of my oldest sister could pull off. The ask was could my wife and I join them on part of the trip. One early choice was that flying non-rev would allow The Plan to unfurl with limited constraints from us. All we needed to do was to would pick somewhere to stay in Brighton and get there. What The Plan was after that we would let my sister frame. We would pad arrival dates and times, and commit to getting to Brighton ourselves, allowing mum and sister to make the best use of their time.
Option building time! Flights from Richmond, VA to UK have several paths. Turns out the delay prone JFK, New York Airport had at least two flight we could make. Not great but Atlanta and other paths ended up having less options that worked. Oh well. The first flight was a stretch but still an option so we backed up our departure time from Richmond, VA while still letting my wife put in a full day so as to not lose a precious vacation day. Now how to get to Brighton. Trains, rental car or coach. Tripadvisor advice suggested the train were cheap, easy and gave the most options. Getting from Heathrow to Victoria station where trains to Brighton departed was a pain. Gatwick Airport, which was closer to that station, didn’t have flights. We would also be dragging carry-on luggage after maybe a frantic Atlantic crossing. A car meant I’d have to be on point for navigating the highways. Coach was looking better. A good number of trips. Cheap enough plus we could plonk ourselves in one seat and let someone else bother with navigating. I booked early knowing for a small fee I could always pick a later or earlier trip. Not a hard commitment and one that could be changed. It helps me to focus on a limited number of options to understand how different coach trips would now have a different values.
The day came and the trip over the pond started almost too well. We made the first JFK flight. We walked to the earlier UK flight and had no time to engage in the usual standby list vigil before being allotted two of last business class seats. Sorted.
We arrived several hours ahead of the planned coach trip. Almost inconvenient but when the conditions of my travel “system” change then so do the options. New ones appears. Old ones change value or expire. A choice – leave early and disrupt The Plan or remain in the dingy confines of the National Express lobby. Having made sure our phones could text in the UK, we probed disrupting The Plan. Turns out The Plan was on hold anyway awaiting our arrival. Onto the early coach with our bags neatly sorted in the storage by drop off but the option conditions kept changing. The text came in after we departed asking if we could get off at stop nearer the apartment (flat) outside of Brighton. Didn’t know. Seemed like other stops were being talked about. The brand new driver didn’t know. The instructor seemed inclined to say no to show to his trainee how in control he was. A nod and a wink from a fellow passenger suggested there were drop off options to discover. The target stop asked for by my sister was translated into something the instructor was willing to allow. We had no idea how close the stop would be but being comfortable with uncertainty goes with non-reving.
We arrived at the drop off and the instructor was none too pleased that his neatly ordered bags had to pulled out by him just to meet my need. Messing with the early commitment by command and control lovers just makes them mad. I offered to dive into the storage to retrieve our bags. This clearly horrified him because mere mortals are clearly too stupid to do so with hitting our heads on the door. Showing a little empathy to this disruption we had wrought seemed to placate him. The coach left and I’m sure the instructor talked ill of us the rest of the trip. For our part we turned around to see my sister trudging up from Sainsbury’s. After greetings and relief she pointed to the road sign. After all the randomness we had arrived within 200ft of the place we were to stay at. Not too shabby.
Schedules and practices have their place but trying to stick to them creates an illusion of their worth. When the schedule or process you follow takes on a life of its own often the outcome becomes a second class citizen.It’s delighting the customer with the flexibility of your service not the fact that the bags were sorted in the right order. Sometimes we find value not in an original product or service but how flexible it is to our attempts to bend it to meet our needs.Value then will always then be in the unique eye of the beholder. Learn to see through those eyes and you start to see the options available to further meet your customer’s needs.
What is valuable can change based on the conditions. Simply finding and sticking with one value model once you find it can become as dangerous as not having one at all.
Next time I’ll cover the not so rosy return trip.
Oh, and Brighton was nothing like its unwarranted stereotype. Eclectic and cosmopolitan yet with a proud connection to its past. If I had adopted the value others put upon it, I may have never gone.