I just finished listning to the 3-part Working on an Airplane podcast, and must say I pretty strongly disagree with this podcast's message! Usually MT/CT has great stuff, but listening to this episode was frustrating enough I just had to sign up to the forum here to vent about it:

The main complaints:

1. The show hosts are extremly judgemental of anyone who's on an airpplane for a business trip, but isn't working. There are a number of legitimate reasons why someone may not be working on a flight:

  • They may have just transferred from a long-haul international flight, been awake for 20+ hours and be extremely jet-lagged.
  • They may experience motion sickness in flights and not be able to read/write whilst on planes.
  • Their company may have a policy that you're not allowed to work on a flight, due to confidentiality concerns.
  • Any of the dozenes of reasons given in the show for why wokring on an airplane is suboptimal may apply to them, and they may prefer to work in the evening at the hotel or at other times, rather than in the cramped conditions of an airplane seat that are unsuitable for most kinds of work.

It was pretty clear that the show hosts thought that anyone they see on a plane who's not working had "better be" retired or on vacation. Really a very inconsiderate way to be thinking about other people.

2. Mentioned in the list above, but to go into more detail on one in particular: I've had multiple employers who have had an explicit policy disallowing work on airplanes. The show says not to look at any confidential materials on the flight, but in many organizations, all buisnes data is consiered confidiential by default. This includes employee names, customer names, any projects you're working on, diagrams, software, unannounced products, etc. etc. For a lot of job roles, there's vanishingly little work you're expected to do that isn't considered confidential.

3. The show hosts seem to have the view that all employment entails a fixed number of hours as the baseline expectation for the job. They said if you have a 3-hour flight during business hours and you don't work on it, your obligation is to "make up" those 3 hours on your own time.

This is not how salaried employment works! In every job I've had, I've (thankfully) been evaluated on my overal output and effectiveness, not the number of hours I put in. Some weeks I work 30 hours, other weeks I work 50 hours, based on the business's needs at the time -- what matters is my / my team's deliverables for the business. Someone who works more efficiently and whose employer is satisfied with their performance doesn't have an obligation to work extra hours just because it's possible to do so. This kind of petty accounting is what creates a workforce that's more interested in keeping up appearances and "looking busy" rather than actually focusing on what's most valuable. Taking breaks and going in mentally refreshed to a series of meetings at head-office or at a conference may, for some people and in some circumstances, make their overall week more valuable for the company. If watching a movie on your flight rather than trying to cram your head with contact lists gets you in a better frame of mind to represent the company at the conference for the next few days, what on earth is wrong with that?


Did anyone else have impressions or feedback on this podcast? Agree or disagree with my comments here? Thanks, and happy travels!

pucciot's picture
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Thanks daave, I agree that this set of casts is unnecessarily judgmental.

The perspective that is put forth is that, in general, you are "working" when you are on the plane.

This is shortsighted.

I believe that, in general, you are “working” when you are traveling, not just when you are on the plane.

Even if MT wants to take a "hours for work" attitude, they aren't counting correctly.

Their view totally discounts the preparation for and stresses of travel as also "working" efforts and hours.

Taking extra time the night before to pack and complete chores around your home in preparation to travel is more time, physical, and mental effort that would not otherwise be conducted.

Many people are caretakers and need to pre-cook meals and pre-clean the house, do grocery shopping, laundry etc..

The act of packing is also stressful and time consuming for many people.  Especially, if they  have to put the family to bed first.  They may go to bed later than usual.

Travelers often get up earlier than normal to take a ride to the airport.

The process of checking-in and checking luggage, going through TSA and getting through the airport to the gate, this is very much full of stress and anxiety for many people.

Sitting in a crowded plane in a small seat, with the rumbling and noise of the flight and people is also stressful for many folks.

This is all also "working" that would not otherwise be done for a day in the office.

The same applies to the process of arrival, baggage claim, cabs to the hotel, checking-in, finding a place to eat and finally settling into a hotel.

All "working" that should be considered.

A traveler often needs to take their time during a flight to nap, meditate and recreate in between all of these stressful activities.

I love MT, but on this topic, they need to get off their high horse and trust the employee to know what will maximize their overall performance during travel.  And if that means chilling out during a flight, then leave them alone.



wendii's picture
Admin Role Badge

Thank you both for taking the time (and creating an account) to share your thoughts.  I'm sorry we sounded judgemental.  

You're right that in many circumstances there are reasons why someone may not want to, be able to, or be allowed to work whilst on the aircraft.  We always say that the guidance applies to 90% of people 90% of the time, and that we never recommend something we believe would harm your career. 

To answer Daave's question: "If watching a movie on your flight rather than trying to cram your head with contact lists gets you in a better frame of mind to represent the company at the conference for the next few days, what on earth is wrong with that?" Nothing.  If this activity is the best one for preparing you for the representing the company, you're doing the right thing.  And if as TJ says, chilling out during a flight means maximizing overall performance during travel, then that's great, do that. 

What we wanted to get away from was the idea that travel meant a "work free day" and that no work could be done while traveling.  I'm sorry we didn't say that clearly enough.


pucciot's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

Thank you very much for your thoughtful reply.  I appreciate your response. 

And I thank you and MT for the 90% / 90% Guidance that I have appreciated over the years.



tplummer's picture

I totally agree that one should try to maximize productivity while traveling. But that doesn't mean work 100% of the time while you can. If MT ever redid this cast, it should be "how to maximize productivity while flying." That would be much better and be helpful. I did find some of the tips to be very insightful.

I work for a defense contractor and here are a few other considerations:

- Working on a laptop in coach is near impossible. At 6'1" and slim, my arms are completely crammed while trying to type. And if the person reclines, forget it. Impossible. And if I were larger stature, also forget it. A laptop just isn't possible.

- I can't book economy plus to get more room either

- I can't book business class ever

- until recently, any travel time outside your normal work hours were unpaid. So no expectation of working. That was changed recently given everyone hated it for literally decades as a policy. The revised policy explicitly gives examples of not working vs working while traveling and how to record that time.

- As stated above, I deal with a lot of priorprietary and restricted info. That really shouldn't be worked on in public

- I can work on my cell phone to do email, teams, etc. But 99% of the people in my company don't get cell phones

- Besides taking some handwritten notes, nobody works with paper any more

- Nobody except execs get tablets so that's not an option