Traveling interpreters, getting to the assignment, and the complexity of their work.

March 14, 2016 § 1 Comment

Dear Colleagues:

Interpreting is an exhausting, mentally and physically demanding task that can only be performed at the highest level when the interpreter is recharged with energy and has a rested brain.  Once we start interpreting, there is no room for any down time.  We need total concentration and full awareness through our five senses, and then some.  To make my point even clearer, I ask you to go back to the moment when you get home after a full day of interpreting.  You are extremely tired and ready to fall asleep on the couch without any warning.  Your brain is shutting down the same way a computer does when it is overloaded.

Interpreting is not an easy task, and the topics we work with are usually difficult, highly sophisticated, and complex.  The last thing we need is to show up to work tired or stressed out.  We need to be in top mental shape to deliver the kind of service our client expects and is paying for.  Interpreters need to rest before an assignment.  We do not need to be distracted with any “sideshows” or situations that can affect our concentration or drain our energy right before we get to the booth, courthouse, hospital, or table of negotiations.  The risk of not showing to work rested and stress-free is even higher for those of us who constantly travel to do our job.

Add two, five, twelve hours of travel time to the enormous task of researching and studying for an assignment. Factor in jet lag, changes of season (going from a summer weather in the southern hemisphere to a winter weather up north), altitude, local food, and cultural differences. All happening within a very short period, usually from the time you get on an airplane to the time you land at the point of destination. The results could be devastating. A tired interpreter could be the start of a disaster.

Because of the huge responsibility that is riding on our shoulders, and because of our professionalism, it is our responsibility to always bring our “A” game to the booth; but, how can we do it when facing these long trips?  The answer is relatively simple: Turn the trip into a relaxing experience; try to make it as pleasurable as possible. Rest, sleep, and try to keep a “normal” life despite of a traveling schedule.   It all starts with the way we travel.

We should always try to travel as comfortably as possible.  To me, the golden rule is to travel in style so you can recharge the batteries on the way to the assignment. Whether you get there by train or airplane, try to travel first or business class.  Leave economy to the tourists. Business class got its name from the idea of delivering a transportation service to the traveler who has a reason to be at the point of destination that is definitely different from going to the beach and drinking a piña colada.  When you travel by train on a first class, or private dormitory car, you can sleep, study, relax, and get ready for the job ahead. Flying first or business class is the difference between sleeping on your back, eating a fairly decent meal on the plane, and showering at the port of destination’s airline club before meeting your client and going to the venue.

Granted, traveling first and even business is not cheap. Fortunately, because we travel so much, we can do it if we are a little smart. These are some of the things I suggest you do to be able to travel as you should without having to pay an arm and a leg.

First, get the client to pay for it whenever possible. You will soon find out that in many cases, most clients are willing to pay for a business class ticket when you are traveling a long distance. It is not that difficult to explain how tiresome it would be to fly economy from Chicago to Sydney or even from Seattle to New York City.  Educate your client. Explain the advantages of having a well-rested interpreting team. You have nothing to lose.

Second, find out what airline has a hub, or at least has the most flights out of your hometown, and join their frequent flyer program. Most airlines will give you a bunch of miles, or kilometers, just for joining their loyalty program.  This will be your preferred airline from now on.

The third thing you need to do is to get rid of all those credit cards that you have, and switch to one or two cards (depending on the place you live) that give you air miles in the main airline that serves your hometown. Once you have it, pay for everything with that card, even those things you usually pay with cash. Pay your credit card bill in full at the end of the month, and there will be no interest to pay, and you will be accumulating miles.

Once you have taken the steps above, book all your flights on your preferred airline.  Don’t succumb to the temptation of saving twenty dollars on a cheaper flight with a low-cost carrier. You are now in the business of accumulating miles (or kilometers).  You can earn miles even when you travel to places that your airline does not serve. Find out what airlines partner with your preferred air carrier, and fly with them. Most airlines in North and South America, Asia, and Europe are members of the One-World or the Star Alliance.  You just need to find out which one of these alliances your airline belongs to.

Research what hotel chains, car rental companies, and restaurant programs offer miles on your preferred airline carrier and do business with them exclusively. You are now adding up miles (or kilometers) every time you buy a plane ticket, pay your cable TV, buy groceries, or go to the dentist.

Once you have enough miles, do not cash them in for a trip to Cancun. Instead, apply them to a yearly membership to your preferred airline carrier’s airport lounge.  In fact, if you believe that you can afford it from the start, when applying for the credit card that works with your airline, get the more expensive credit card. It will cost you some five hundred U.S. dollars a year, but it will let you travel with two bags at no cost, and will get you to the airline lounges for free. Do the math. I think it is worth.

Why are you accumulating all these airline miles if you are not going to use them to go to Cancun? Because not all of your clients will be willing to pay for a business class airplane ticket.

Many clients, especially international organizations and government agencies, do not pay for business class tickets because it is against their policy. They are mandated by law or charter to wisely disburse the monies of the taxpayers, members, or donors.  They will get you the cheapest ticket on the plane, because they have a deal with the air carrier to get the unused seats for a very low price.  You will get these seats, but once that you have them, on your own, without the client’s involvement, you will switch seats to a more comfortable place on the plane a little farther away from the lavatories, with more leg room, and you will not have to endure the middle seat from Toronto to Buenos Aires.  You will be able to do this for free because you will be an airline Gold member, Platinum member, and so on.  Next, you will ask your client to book you on a plane that leaves at odd hours.  These flights tend to be somewhat empty on the first and business class cabins because most business and rich people travel at more convenient times of the day.  The reason why you want to be on this flights is that once you have an airline member status, you can request an upgrade to the next higher class for free. There are many empty business class seats on the 5:00 am flight, and one of them will be yours.   This will be a deal between you and the airline. It does not affect your client, and you will be able to take care of your health and professional reputation by getting to the booth rested and ready to work.

My final piece of advice: Avoid discount airlines at all cost. You will never relax on these carriers. I truly suffer when I find myself on one of their planes (fortunately a rare event). I remember once around Halloween, when I was traveling from Washington, D.C. to Seattle Washington, a flight that takes around seven hours, and a flight attendant decided to wake up the passengers , many of them were asleep, to “animate them” by organizing several games. Even one of the pilots came out to the main cabin (these airlines have no first or business class) dressed as a wizard, and they started to play these games, interrupting, in my case, the work I was peacefully doing on my computer. You should also keep in mind that most passengers on these carriers are not very savvy travelers, making the getting on and off the plane a very long process, wasting precious minutes that you should be spending taking a shower at the airline club.

Smart traveling is more than a mimosa before the plane pushes back. It is having a work and rest space while traveling to your destination. It is having access to the internet, eating a quality meal, to be able to shower or use the gym at the airline lounge at the airport; it is also getting to know the flight crew when you travel all the time and getting little perks from them during your trip.  Remember: it is called business class because it was meant for people like you who travel as part of making a living.  I now invite you to share your comments and suggestions as to other ways to make traveling more pleasant and relaxing for the interpreter who calls planet earth “my office”.

Airports: An interpreter’s other environment.

August 3, 2012 § 1 Comment

Dear Colleagues,

Unlike other professions where a person works in an office, a hospital, or a school, we as interpreters work wherever there are people in need to communicate.  Our “job description” includes work in many courtrooms and law offices for the court interpreter, services in many hospitals and doctor’s offices for medical interpreters, participation in many events that take place at schools, community centers, and churches for the community interpreter, and so on.

Sometimes court interpreters and interpretation instructors have to travel out of town to do their job, and most of the time conference interpreters work hundreds of miles from their home.

Last year I was on the road for work 240 days, and when you travel so much, it is a fact that you will spend countless hours at the airport.  Because we spend a significant part of our lives in these facilities, we have no choice but to learn how to “live a life” as comfortable and normal as possible in a place designed for a few hours’ stay.  My tips for a good experience at the airport are as follows:

(1)    Always check in on line. Get boarding passes, and if needed, pay for your luggage ahead of time. This will allow more time away from the airport as you can arrive later and get the job done.  In my case, I do this so I can spend more time with friends or enjoy a few more minutes of sleep in the hotel room before I head to the airport.

(2)    Become a member of a frequent flyer club, and always pay with a credit card that gives you miles.  If possible, get a credit card that gets you priority airport security lines and priority boarding, even when traveling economy.  I have discovered that to me, the biggest benefit of being a frequent flyer is the possibility to upgrade a seat when the client only paid for economy.

(3)    Get a membership to an airline club. This will let you relax at the airport and enjoy a drink at a less crowded bar, workout at the club’s gym, grab a bite to eat, and most importantly: You will have a place to shower and change after a long trip or before a long overnight flight after a long day of interpreting. Not all clubs offer this service so it would be a good idea to do your homework before booking a reservation.  What a difference it makes to shower in Honolulu after a flight from the Midwest before going straight from the airport to a booth at the convention center!  A shower at Tokyo Narita airport helps me to sleep better during the long flight to Chicago.

(4)    If there is no time to go to the airline club, or there is none, find a bar with a friendly bartender and an internet connection.  Sioux Falls South Dakota’s airport has no airline clubs, but has a friendly bar. La Guardia has a bar next to the Southwest Airlines gates that serves the best Bloody Mary. The Albuquerque New Mexico Sunport has excellent free Wi-Fi all over the airport.

(5)    When you take food on the plane, do not take chain restaurant food. Find the good local restaurant at the airport and take that meal with you.  To me it is essential to get Rick Bayless at O’Hare in Chicago, sushi to go when flying from San Francisco, or Texas BBQ at Houston Bush Intercontinental. Yum!

(6)    If you are a smoker (like I used to be) you will enjoy a long flight a lot more if you take nicotine gum with you. You will get your fix and your airplane neighbors will appreciate it.

(7)    If the client is willing to pay for it, or if you can upgrade with miles, always go for business class or at least extra leg room seats.  The best economy seats are window seats.  Nobody will ask you to move during the flight whether you are going to work or sleep.  If you are flying a regional jet, then get the “lonely” seat on the left row (unless your briefcase is too big as the space under the seat in front of you is smaller than across the hallway) If you have a tight connection (and I advise against it if possible) get your seat towards the front of the plane or near the gate on those big planes where you board at the middle.

(8)    When available, always pick the newer and larger plane as they are more comfortable. A Boeing 777 is always better than a Boeing 757 and many times they both serve the same route. Do your research.  Also, if possible, get the flight that goes to the airport closer to your event.  There are many cities with two or more airports, and a closer airport means less time on the airport shuttle or taxi and more time at the hotel.  Usually older airports are closer to the city. Many of them are serviced by low-budget air carriers only.

(9)    Unless your schedule is very tight, always do check in luggage.  Only take your computer and overnight essentials in a carry on bag.

(10)  Finally, read the airline magazine! Many times you will find a good referral to a restaurant or local attraction, and yes, they have some good sales every once in a while. I even “practice” my Spanish with the Spanish magazine on board of United or American.

I hope you found some of these tips useful. I encourage you to use them on your next interpretation assignment, and if your interpreter career does not take you out of town that often, try them on your next vacation.  Finally, as a constant traveler, I am always open to new suggestions. I would greatly appreciate your tips to make my travels more enjoyable and stress-free.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with business class at The Professional Interpreter.