AFTER 6 MILLION MILES IN THE AIR, FEW COMPLAINTS

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

c.2013 New York Times News Service

I have traveled my entire career, and now I am traveling more than ever. All these miles for business have helped shape my worldview. I think anyone who travels learns a lot about different cultures, and that’s never a negative.

I work at the technology company SAP, and I’m head of global sponsorships. That means I have to get out in the field and immerse myself in the needs of our customers and target audiences. It’s good that I think travel is fun; otherwise I would have some big problems in doing the work I do.

I am the guy that you want to stand behind in the security line. I have never had any issues. I’ve got it down to a science, and I never deviate from my routine.

But for me there are two kinds of luggage: carry-on and lost.

However, here’s a third possibility. I was in Bahrain for a motor sport race that was using SAP technology. When I landed, I was told my luggage didn’t make it. It was a four-day race and the only clothes I had were my jeans, a shirt and a jacket. I could have bought new clothes but I was told my luggage would be arriving shortly. Every day I would buy another pair of underwear. My big splurge was a new shirt. As I was set to leave Bahrain, I asked about my luggage again. I was told they were misinformed; my luggage actually did arrive with me when I first landed. Since then, I only travel with a carry-on.

Sometimes I do think I travel too much. When Delta was putting in its new Terminal 4 at JFK, their marketing people called and asked me if I would be willing to have my name used in a billboard promotion. I think they did it with some top frequent fliers and some employees, too. I gave them my permission.

The billboard said “Chris Burton, thanks for 6,343,603 miles. May the next one be out of JFK’s new Terminal 4.” When I saw the billboard on the Van Wyck Expressway I took a picture. Delta made a poster for me and I have it in my office. It was cool, but it was also unnerving to realize I traveled that much.

Every time I go somewhere that takes more than 12 hours, I do have to say I get a little anxious. I am not afraid of flying, but some things make you realize how far from home you are.

My dad had a serious heart attack while I was flying across the Pacific for business. There were many urgent voice mails from my family that I heard when I landed in Sydney. I was distraught and immediately booked a flight back to the United States on the same plane. Before I boarded, I was on the phone with my dad.

Sydney to Los Angeles is a lot of flight time, and then getting from Los Angeles to South Carolina added a few more hours.

Delays, cancellations and horrible layovers can make frequent travel a nightmare. But sometimes you get your faith restored. I have never forgotten the kindness of the United Airlines crew and staff or the kindness of the Air New Zealand lounge staff at the Sydney airport. They went above and beyond.

My dad survived and he’s doing really well. I have a lot to be thankful for. Since that time I really try to be that guy who doesn’t complain about airline issues, but I’m still not checking my luggage.

Q: How often do you fly for business?

A: At least twice a month, sometimes about once a week, mostly international.

Q: What’s your least favorite airport?

A. La Guardia. It just hasn’t kept up with the times, especially when you compare it to beautiful places like Terminal 5 at Heathrow.

Q: Of all the places you’ve been, what’s the best?

A: Antarctica. It was a dream of mine to go there, and I finally made it in 2006. Seeing the seals, penguins and other forms of life that have adapted to the brutal cold was amazing, and seeing some place that is untouched was just incredible.

Q: What’s your secret airport vice?

A: Ice cream, which is pretty crazy since I’m lactose intolerant. I don’t care. I’ll pop an over-the-counter remedy and head right to the ice cream place.