Hey you! Yeah you, Frequent Flyer. You think you’ve got a few miles behind you? Circled the concourse a few times? Well, here are some travel adventures from David Rockland that may impress even your jaded self. Including bomb threats on the tarmac, meeting the inventor of the black box, and some first class awkwardness with a rock star and her bodyguard.
David Rockland lives in the U.S., heads global research and analytics at Ketchum, and has just completed a two-year term as Chairman of AMEC. He is a frequent speaker at measurement conferences and has clients all over the world. As a result he’s traveled to some 20 countries in the last couple years, including: France, Spain, Portugal, U.K., India, Turkey, Iceland, UAE, the Netherlands, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Japan, and Australia.
So, for The Measurement Interview: Travel Edition, we asked David Rockland a few questions…
The Measurement Standard: Thanks for talking with us, David. You travel a lot. How much is that, really?
David Rockland: On average, I probably give a speech a month that involves getting on a plane. Of course traveling for clients is much more the norm. As for how much that really is… Well, I was asked to appear in a training video for Delta Airlines employees on how to create customer loyalty. They told me they had picked seven of the top travelers from the New York market.
TMS: You probably fly first class a lot, eh? I’m one of those guys who looks at you with envy as I trudge back to my seat in Row 89 by the toilets.
DR: There are toilets at the back of the plane? Who knew?
TMS: Ha, ha, very humorous. Laugh while you can; Popular Mechanics says the seats at the back are the safest. So there.
O.K., so, besides flying first class, what is your one most important piece of travel advice, especially for measurement travelers?
DR: Get an American Express Platinum card. The travel benefits are more than worth the fee. But, more importantly, they can help you get out of a bad situation—which undoubtedly will happen if you travel enough. Once, I landed in Madrid with my wife, only to find out we needed to get to Phoenix immediately to be with her father. It was a holiday weekend and seats on flights were scarce. AMEX got us to Phoenix in time for her to spend some time with him before he passed. Without them it never would have happened.
TMS: What are the most unusual vehicles you have traveled in? I once flew as a passenger in an East African Airways DC-3. They had to shoo the cows off the landing strip.
DR: Landing in a Bell Ranger helicopter in the jungles of Papua New Guinea is probably it. That, and riding over lava fields in Iceland on an ATV after speaking to the Society of American Traveler Writers last September.
TMS: What’s your favorite measurement related conference or location of all time?
DR: The AMEC International Measurement Summit in Barcelona five years ago. When I was running the session that adopted the Barcelona Principles, my mother happened to be in the audience. She and my stepfather were coincidentally vacationing in Spain. After the session she said: “I think I finally understand what you do for a living.”
Second favorite, the AMEC International Measurement Summit in Madrid two years ago. It was my first as AMEC’s Chairman, and by remarkable coincidence the hotel for the Summit was right next to my favorite tapas restaurant in the world.
TMS: What’s your favorite part of measurement traveling?
DR: When my wife says, “Welcome home, darling!” Runner up: When the plane lands at JFK and the song “Living in the USA” starts playing in my head.
TMS: What’s your least favorite part of traveling?
DR: The delays and uncertainty. I used to work for a huge global mining company as head of corporate communications. I often had trips that involved several planes, helicopters, boats, my own security team, four-wheel drive trucks, etc. to remote places such as the jungles of New Guinea and the Altiplano of the Andes. Everything always ran like clockwork; never a delay. However, just try and get from Chicago, Atlanta, or Washington back to New York on an afternoon in the summer or winter. When you will arrive becomes entirely guesswork.
TMS: Most memorable measurement travel moment?
DR: Spilling my drink on the woman next to me, to learn later it was Alicia Keys. She was cool about it. Her bodyguard not so much. Runner up: Meeting the inventor of the black box in Doha and learning about everything that can make a plane crash.
TMS: Biggest travel nightmare ever? Longest wait on the tarmac?
DR: About ten years ago I was coming back from Chicago to New York on a Friday afternoon after seeing my client Dow. After the plane left the gate, a kid (who turned out to have mental health issues) announced he had a bomb strapped to his leg. This resulted in the plane being taken to a very remote area of O’Hare and being boarded by lots of people with guns, badges, dogs, etc. There was no bomb.
It took a long time to get that sorted out. When we finally got on line to take off, the pilot first said, “We are number 35 for take-off,” an artifact of them having shut down the airport for a bit due to our scare. A moment later, he came back on and announced, “Due to your long wait and the hassle you’ve been through, the tower has just moved us up to number one.” The cheering on the plane was pretty special.
TMS: How has travel changed in recent years? What’s better? What’s worse?
DR: Better? The newer airlines out of the UAE and Qatar, as well as the Virgin franchise, have created a travel experience you can really enjoy. And, the Delta frequent flyer program makes you feel truly rewarded for your loyalty. Of course, the bottle of Johnny Walker Blue they sent me with my name engraved on it didn’t hurt.
Worse? Maybe I am just getting old and cranky, but the continuous loss of manners is atrocious. Fighting for overhead space, people boarding when it is not their turn, screaming children, seats that recline into you so you can’t hold a book up to read it, loud headphones, people who seem like they dress to offend, etc. Whether it is a short hop or a flight to Asia, there ought to still be something special about a trip.
TMS: Thank you very much, David. Happy trails!
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