Getting Clubby

Seasoned traveler Nick Topitzes of PC/Nametag compares Madison to the cities he visits - and reports back on his findings.

Each year, I rack up 100,000 miles of travel, visiting primarily major cities. Most of these areas are major airline hubs or travel destinations with airports jammed with peopled, particularly at the end of the day when people are trying to get home or to their next business destination. Throw in a little bad weather with delayed and canceled flights and you’ll find people sitting on the floor in the aisles — resulting in the “airport weave,” dodging people who are running to their flights, airport carts, leaky roofs, food carts, etc.

Fortunately, with my 100K mile status I get a discount for the United Red Carpet club. It is my refuge. Comfortable chairs, electrical outlets, wireless service, television, and free coffee and snacks. No crying kids, no people screaming at the desk agent. It is a sanctuary.

Now before you start saying “Topitzes is a spoiled, wealthy, elitist who doesn’t travel like the rest of the world,” let me remind you of the stress that comes with traveling 100,000 miles each year and spending over 100 days on the road. That is a lot of uncomfortable airplane seats, backaches, and Chicago-style hot dogs.

The Red Carpet room is where I get my chance to sit down, make some calls, and log on to view the e-mails, spreadsheets and dashboards of the day — or simply get a chance to read the newspaper and get caught up on the news. Since most of the people in the room are elite fliers, the airlines put in their most experienced ticket agents, giving members quick access to information about alternative flights or seating preferences.

I can also bring in two guests free of charge. Occasionally, when flying to a convention or meeting planner expo, I’ll spot customers or colleagues and invite them to join me. They enjoy the comfortable perks — and I get a chance to build a relationship.

I’ve averaged out the membership cost to about $5 per visit, with around 100 flights each year. It’s the price I’d pay for that free coffee if I had to buy it in the terminal. It’s a fairly good deal.

United has the Red Carpet Club, Continental has the President’s Club, American has the Admiral’s Club. All major airlines have these clubs in their major airports.

Sometimes, I wish Madison’s airport had a club. A place where you could more easily log in and enjoy the coffee. But with the renovations that were completed recently, MSN is a great airport: comfortable seats, lots of room, clean restrooms, seating areas in the restaurants and reasonable prices. Yes, it would be nice to get that free coffee or soft drink, but I don’t mind paying for it as long as I can still have a comfy chair and some space before I get into the flying bus.

Some cities, like Savannah, have put in a common club room that honors all clubs. An attendant swipes your card for the airline to help pay for it. I am not sure how it all works, but it is a nice feature in a crowded airport.

Madison could use better cell phone signals and wireless access. Hopefully that will come soon. And if we could get the airlines to lower those fees to make the city more competitive, I really think more people would take flights from Madison instead of Milwaukee and Chicago. (I hope they are reading this.)

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