Sarah Prevette is the founder and CEO of Sprouter.com, a free social networking site for entrepreneurs. Ms. Prevette travels at least once a week by plane, in addition to short hops by train and automobile. In the past year, she crisscrossed Canada and visited the United States, England, France, Australia and New Zealand on business.
Here she talks about unwanted attention on planes, her favourite airlines and the time she was escorted off the plane by police:
What's your routine to get ready for travel?
I always have a bag packed. When I'm at home, my toiletries and things are still packed in their plastic bags. I use them and then they go back into the bag. So my travel routine really is living out of the suitcase all the time. It's a horrible thing to admit publicly, but I never unpack my suitcase.
How do you maintain your clothes?
When I get to the hotel, I immediately call the dry cleaning service, get them picked up, cleaned and delivered back to me by end of day. It works.
What's absolutely essential to you in that bag?
Two pairs of shoes. Dress-up shoes for meetings and evenings, but I need flats for running between cities. Whether it's Manhattan or San Francisco, I cannot do it in heels.
Do you have a favourite spot on a plane?
I like to be up near the front of the plane by the window. I don't like aisles. I hate people bumping into me. At the front, there's less noise and chaos of people going to the bathroom.
Is it sometimes difficult to be a woman travelling alone?
It's mostly fine, but there are some security issues. More than a few times I've been caught not being able to find a cab on the other side of Manhattan and trying to walk across the city at 1 a.m. That's not the ideal situation.
How do you deal with unwanted attention on planes?
I do get some unwanted attention. There's a lot of people travelling alone, but not a lot of women travelling alone. I recommend to any single women out there trying to meet people to get on a plane by yourself. It's definitely a way to connect. Most people are pretty good when you drop that you're in a committed relationship or meeting up with someone when you get there.
How do you make yourself comfy?
I'm not one of those people who has to wear sweatpants on planes. I think being comfortable means having everything that you need around you – your iPad and your laptop – so you're not having to get up and down to go into the overhead bin.
What's your best defence against talkative seat mates?
I'm the luckiest person on planes. If I get a talkative seat mate, they're usually brilliant. I recently spent four hours with an atomic physicist who told me all about what he's researching and the great inroads we're making here in Canada. Those conversations are exciting.
Do you always book the same airlines?
I usually fly Air Canada or Porter. I love, love, love Porter. I don't use anything to try and find discounted airlines or things like that. I like to accumulate points, and both those airlines are great about rewarding loyalty.
What do you eat on planes?
The food offered on planes is abysmal. I am a celiac so I can't eat gluten and wheat products, so that makes it really difficult for me, especially with having to purchase food either at the gate or on the plane. I hope that making healthy options available, especially for people with dietary restrictions, is something the airlines are working on. Being able to have a salad that's fresh and isn't drenched in some calorie-rich sauce would be fabulous.
Do you have a nightmare experience?
Coming back to Toronto with Spouter's community manager, there was a huge storm with a lot of turbulence and the plane had to make an emergency landing in Buffalo. We decided we'd had enough flying that day and asked the flight attendant if we could get off the plane. She told me that I'd have to talk to the captain and brought me right up to the cockpit. I introduced myself to the pilots, thanked them for not crashing the plane and said we'd like to get off and find our own way home. Adrenaline was running for everyone. The pilot was quite stressed out too, but telling me to shut up and sit down was probably not the best choice of words. And maybe my response in retrospect was less than kind. It resulted in police coming to escort us off the plane. Suffice to say we did not have to fly to Toronto but we got home safely, and I think more timely, than that flight made it back.
Advice to other business travellers?
Take advantage of points. A lot of people dismiss it, but they add up quickly. As a startup founder, free flights or hotels, or even discounted flights or hotels, make a huge difference in cost savings.
For women travelling alone, take advantage of the lounges. When you have points, you have access to lounges such as Air Canada's Maple Leaf lounge. It's a great way to connect and network with people.