Need to Escape, Flights to Nowhere!

Need to Escape, Flights to Nowhere!

As I have discussed several times, we are struggling in the COVID world of working more hours, with more conference calls, little time to turn off and recharge. However, breaks are more critical as we need downtime from deadlines and stress and to recharge. Burnout is becoming a large factor and causing falling productivity among all of us. We work longer but are less effective. Thus while overall productivity may be ahead, the cost is enormous.

Furthermore, with Zoom, Skype, Teams, Hangout, etc., there is a belief that since you are at home, you are always available. One executive I know has been in the Azores for a couple of weeks with his wife as she is from there. A board he is on just rescheduled its board meeting, and he is facing a board meeting from 12 am to 3 am, which in my opinion, is ridiculous. We all need to understand that many of us are no longer where we were during regular times. Some are at vacation homes, some are with elderly parents, some are stuck in other countries, and some are homeschooling kindergarteners first thing in the morning. Thus, we need to adopt a much efficient approach and ask if times are convenient for all the call’s potential members.

The assumption that everyone is available at all times so we can put meetings on their schedule at any time is causing even more chaos and exhaustion. Further, while the new time might suit the most senior member of the call, if they need input from the others who cannot provide it due to the time, then the meeting is a waste of time, and burnout increases.

I took a week’s vacation about three weeks ago and failed miserably. The best I managed was one day with only one call and four hours of work. Looking at my falling productivity, burnout, and listlessness, my wife and I agreed on a do-over. This week we took another vacation, and I have done much better with little work and meetings. I can already feel my energy levels and thinking improve. We all need a break, and like on airplanes, when the oxygen mask comes down, take care of yourself first, so you can then take care of others.

Thus, finding time to create that quiet space where you can reflect and recharge your batteries is a battle that many of us now face.  Many executives say the most significant thing they miss in our new world is that time on aircraft when they were effectively out of reach and had that quiet time.

Naturally, markets responded, and some airlines, none in the U.S., are offering “Flights to Nowhere.” Thousands of people have booked flights in Brunei, Taiwan, Japan, and Australia that finish where they started and are called either “scenic flights” or “flights to nowhere.”

  • Royal Brunei, since mid-August, has flown five of these flights. As Brunei has had very few coronavirus cases, passengers are not required to wear masks, but staff members are.
  • EVA, the Taiwanese airline, sold all 309 seats on its Hello Kitty-themed A330 Dream jet for Father’s Day.
  • Japan’s All Nippon Airways had a Hawaiian-resort-themed, 90-minute-flight with 300 people on board.
  • Qantas sold out its flight to nowhere over Australia in 10 minutes last Thursday. Tickets ranged in price from $575 to $2,765. The flight will go around Australia, flying over the Northern Territory, Queensland, and New South Wales.
  • Qantas has also brought back its popular sightseeing flights to Antarctica that don’t land in Antarctica but allow passengers to walk around the aircraft and have different Antarctica views.
  • Starlux, the Taiwanese airline, is working to make the flight-to-nowhere experience a luxurious one by allowing people to buy packages for the flight and a hotel stay. Since August, the airline has run six flights to nowhere and has about a dozen more scheduled through October, and most of them have sold out within 10 minutes of being announced. The airline requires masks and social distancing on all fights.

For those that see flying more than as a method of getting from A to B, these flights provide either the exciting flying experience or the quiet time they have missed due to COVID. For those who need to escape being online always. I can appreciate the quiet time flying provided. I loved long-haul flights with no WiFi and considered them a great time to read and get “thought” work done. But the idea of a “flight to nowhere” has little appeal. I have my first cross country flight since March next month, and while I may change my view, I doubt it.

However, for those executives who cannot manage to find a quiet time without getting on a plane, I would suggest revisiting your priorities and finding that peaceful time once a week of at least two hours. Make sure that:

  • You have blocked out the time on your calendar, so you cannot be disturbed;
  • You have turned off your phone;
  • If using your computer, you have turned off your email; and
  • You are somewhere where you will not be disturbed by a spouse, partner, kids, or pets.

Furthermore, start considering all the others on your multitude of video calls to ensure that the times suit them and that they will be in a position to provide the most significant input. Otherwise, you are just increasing stress and burnout and doing nothing productive.

I believe quite times to be of great value, and if you can create that habit and space now, it should serve you well after COVID has ended without a need to fight your way through airports, security, and eat lousy food. I think we all would benefit from more of this time, especially as we are “busier” than ever but are questionably productive.

 

Copyright (c) 2020, Marc A. Borrelli

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As someone who didn’t grow up in the U.S., I have a different view of time and certainty. When I arrived, I was always amazed at how people planned for longer and longer events that were way out into the future, but with a certainty that everything would go to plan, e.g., in estate planning, using generation-skipping trusts.

For me, the U.S.’s long-term view reminded me of Issac Asimov’s trilogy, the Foundation, when the Mule appears, unforeseen, and topples the Foundation contrary to expectations. In the U.S. I see the overwhelming belief that everything will fine in the long term, and while there are outlining events, everything reverts to the mean. However, there are always unforeseen events that can disrupt the trend and cause it never to return to the prior norm.

I grew up in South Africa, and many of my parent friends had done the long constant migration south. They lived in the Republic of the Congo, today the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With independence in 1960, the military revolt, the succession of Kantaga, and the influx of mercenaries and paramilitary troops to protect mining interests, they fled, many moving to Zambia where their mining skills were in demand. Zambian independence in 1964 and the fears over privatization starting in 1968, they moved onto Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. With Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence “UDI” from the United Kingdom in 1965, the civil war began, which lasted until 1980 with free elections.

Many decided to move further south to South Africa, a country bound to be stable and prosperous. These moves were often made in a rush, as power structures changed, and in most cases, they lost everything they had during each relocation. Unfortunately, in South Africa, the 1976 Soweto uprising was the beginning of the end for the minority white government; it would take nearly twenty years for that to occur. My parents knew many of these people were too old to move once more and stayed on, seeing wealth evaporate with a declining economy, currency, and sanctions.

I know of a family in Zimbabwe where the patriarch was a multi-millionaire. On his death, he left everything in trust for seven beneficiaries – each receiving over a million, with the trustee’s stipulation to invest the funds in Zimbabwe. As Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed in the 2000s, with hyperinflation hitting its peak of at an estimated 79.6 billion percent month-on-month in November 2008, the value of the trust’s assets declined. The trustee, a corporation, could not move the funds overseas due to currency restrictions and would not disburse the funds to the beneficiaries because of the terms of the trust. Today each beneficiary’s interest will buy them less than a tank of gas for their car.

Finally, I attended boarding school in Switzerland in 1973. A Lebanese friend of mine’s father had interests in Lebanon and started a new business in Iran because he thought diversification was a good idea. In 1975 the Lebanese Civil war started, which was to continue to 1990, but the troubles continue. That war cost them nearly everything they had in Lebanon; however, the Iranian business did well. Having seen what had happened, he bought properties in New York, London, and Cayman as further diversification and protection. January 1979, his father was in New York watching the Shah leave and the riots and saw the bank, which held his accounts, burn. They never returned to Iran, but thankfully the portfolio of properties kept them financially afloat.

Why these stories, well, we have seen in the six months with COVID, how the world has changed. What we took for granted is no longer sure. When will return to “normality,” who knows, but according to Dr. Fauci, sometime in late 2021? As I have said in this newsletter many times, your old business plans, strategy, and financial models need to go out the window, and new ones prepared in light of what is happening.

I would add to that, as you consider the long-term outlook and your business and investment portfolio, I would look for hedges to protect for large unforeseen events. Following Nassim Taleb’s barbell strategy – you avoid the middle in favor of a linear combination of extremes across all domains from politics to economics to one’s personal life.

There is talk of the dollar falling in value and possibly losing its reserve country status. How long it takes the U.S. to recover from COVID is another uncertainty as we have yet to find a strategy. Will the U.S. and China go to war over Taiwan? What will these events do to your business? Thus, I would consider other parts of the country, other countries in supply chain protection, concerning investments, international assets as a hedge.

As for looking outside the U.S., I would not claim the authority to recommend any particular country. I definitely would not follow the Englishman’s steps in 1980; deciding the world was unsafe, moved to the Faulkland Islands as he determined the safest place to be. Less than two years later, the Argentine invaded, and the Falklands War got going.

However, realize nothing is certain! Trends don’t last forever, and while things revert to the mean, there will be a new mean after massive disruptions. Take the lesson from COVID to reexamine everything and do it regularly. Complacency has enormous costs. As David Mitchell put it so well in Cloud Atlas, when two people are discussing revolutions,
“Fantasy. Lunacy.”
“All revolutions are until they happen, then they are historical inevitabilities.”

I am not saying revolution is coming, but large, unpredictable things are, and like revolutions, most will all be historical inevitabilities, as COVID was!

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