On the rails, Off the air

Regular readers will be used to much commentary from me regarding air travel and very little on rail but today I’m experiencing how civilised and practical semi-long distance domestic rail travel can be. And it’s nothing to do with carbon footprints – I’m very happy with my aviation inflated one !

With my flight from LHR to GLA cancelled I opted for First Class travel on Virgin Trains so I could honour my speaking engagement.

The experience has been impressive. For about 2/3rds of the airfare I enjoyed a comy first class seat by the window at a table for two, free WiFi, enough coffee and free drinks to float a battleship, an excellent full English breakfast served silver service (almost) onto a hot plate.

We arrived into Glasgow 2 minutes early and the Conference hotel was 1 minutes walk away.

An afternoon spent with former colleagues still left time for coffee with two friends before the return journey. A decent sandwich, a gin & tonic, a passable glass or two of red wine and the miles sped by.

Door to door train works out at 5.15 and the plane 3.45 but that extra 1.30 disappears by the time on the train being more efficent than all the little stages from landside to airside.

The one downside ? The fact that the absence of jet engines means that the innane drivel that some corporate clones spout is all too audible.



If I was a Unite trade union official I would be very worried because the world just got a glimpse of British Airway’s CEO Willie Walsh’s steely determination to do what is right for his customers and shareholders.

His decision to load up 26 wide bodied jets with passengers from every corner of the globe on Wednesday and send them towards LHR was inspired.

I am sure that multiple alternative landing airports were planned should his gamble fail but no one but the flight crew needed to know that. As those planes sped ever closer to closed British airspace he knew that his actions were focusing the minds of the aviation authorities and government ministers.

Walsh got to land his planes – the first of which touched down minutes before the 10pm news programs – to a chorus of approval and the country gets its airspace back.

I’ve been tough on Mr Walsh in the past but this week he’s shown true leadership.

As for the next wave of industrial action by BA flight attendants – we shall see……

Without a trace…….not quite

It’s been a surreal weekend in London, the UK and most of Continental Europe. No aviation, no contrails, no distant sounds of jet engines as the wide bodied jets come along The Thames towards Heathrow. An entire mode of transport has just disappeared to be replaced by thousand’s of little endeavours as people came back to these island shores by ferry, train, boat, bike, taxi……..

So it was with a little irony that I sat outside having breakfast reading an excellent piece in The Times by David Bond who basically decided if he could disappear, first having employed detectives to try and find him, by fleeing to Belgium and Germany. This was all in the interests of drawing attention to the fact that so much information is held on an individual by governmental and commercial entities. It is a great article and well worth a read.

Like Bond, aviation has not disappeared for ever but this is only the most recent upset which brings into question our reliance on mass air travel.

Ashes to Ashes

I’m not sure if the erruption of a volcano in Iceland is a good sign but it’s certainly brought an air of calm to the UK – with airspace closed.

It’s almost ghostly and the London Underground has a new announcement telling us that ‘all London airports are closed’.

That it all happens today with the very first UK Leaders live televised broadcast occuring suggests a good omen.

A large natural object spewing filth and disruption into the atmosphere is a perfect metaphor for Prime Minister Brown.

But how will the country respond ? Grounding it’s votes until the storm is over or seeking a safe passage somewhere else ?

I had actually forgotten the debate was on – work is occupying most of my attention but that only means I can enjoy the post-debate analysis before dipping into the re-run.

Hopefully it will be a Krakatoa of a debate.

Change !

I suspect that my US friends will remind me of my cynical approach to Candidate Obama’s ‘change’ mantra and yet here I am positively giddy at the prospect of a new Conservative government sweeping aside a very tired and useless Labour administration in the UK.

Yes change is good. Governments must change. Organisations must change. People must change.

Change liberates us from the tyranny of complacency. Change injects fresh energy and idealism into the process. Despite the worry and uncertainty that change can bring embracing it and jumping on board can take you to new destinations.

The skill is to recognise change for the better, adjust to it and then be a force for change too.

What have YOU been doing over the last 10 years ?

The much anticpated news that Natalie Massenet the founder of Net-a-Porter had sold her 18% share in the business to Richemont was a lesson to all of us that those who ‘do’ succeed.

A company with a £120 million turnover and a staff of 600 borne out of an idea, a dream and a lot of determination.

It’s a lesson to all of us. Put up of shut up. Put our ideas into motion or drop them.


The return flight to Zürich allowed me to power through John Kay’s excellent book ‘Obliquity’. Short, sharp and smart this is a powerful read. You would be well advised to buy it for your next Transcontinental, Transatlantic or Transpacific flight.

John Kay writes for the Financial Times and the book has all the solid referencing you would expect (The bibliography serves as a great ‘what I should read’ list).

Essentially his argument is that major goals are best reached indirectly: “Happiness is where you find it, not where you go in search of it……The discovery of happiness, like the discovery of new territory, is usually oblique.”

This is another good quote: “Most people work, not only for material rewards, but for the satisfaction of the job and the respect of friends and colleagues.” I found this comment profound because in my experience of the workplace those who delivered maximum profit to the business actually exhibited this trait whilst those that lead in blatant disregard to the morale of their teams failed on every measure.

Towards the end he sums it up: “Obliquity is the best approach whenever complex systems evolve in an uncertain environment and whenever the effect of our actions depends on the ways in which others respond to them……Directness is appropriate when the environment is stable, and objectives are one-dimensional and transparent, and it is then possible to determine when and whether goals have been achieved. And only then.”

Go buy it – directly !