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Connectivity is Paramount When Lawyers Fly the Friendly Skies

When David Jacoby, a Partner with the Manhattan law firm of Culhane Meadows travels for work practically every other week, he strategizes when planning his trip just as studiously as he prepares for a client meeting.

“Connecting flights increase the chance of a delay on any given segment, in turn increasing the risk of missing the event you’re travelling for,” he says. But there’s another type of connectivity of concern to lawyers who fly often for work, and that is how connected to the Internet the attorney can be at any given airport.

Arizonian Larry Bodine, a lawyer and web and marketing consultant who also oversees the web site of The National Trial Lawyers, flies often for conferences, seminars and speaking engagements. As such, he is familiar with the best and worst characteristics of domestic airports for lawyers.

One of his favorite offerings is free Wi-fi at airports that is gaining popularity. Airports offering free Internet access include Columbus, Tucson, Denver, Dallas, Sacramento, Tampa and Wilmington (NC) International, to name a few. You can find a detailed list of U.S. airports that offer Internet access free of charge here

Bodine likens the availability of free Wi-fi to an intrinsic aspect of his business travels. “It seems to me that Wi-fi is a utility that should be free to travelers, like light and heat," he says. "Pay Wi-fi is like pay toilets.” 

Bodine labels himself an avid reader, so the availability of free Wi-fi allows him to enjoy his pastime without worrying about paying a bill. “Free Wi-fi would be such a reasonable and welcome addition to the hassle of airline travel,” he says.

Unfortunately, however, Bodine’s experience with Wi-fi on airplanes hasn’t been as positive. “Wi-fi on airplanes is terrible, specifically Southwest and American," he laments. "It’s so slow and weak that it’s not worth buying.” Bodine suggests that lawyers needing to accomplish “serious work” while traveling should consider flying business class.

He recalls when he flew Economy Class on American Airlines from Tucson to Miami, his knees touched the seat in front of him. When the gentleman sitting in that seat leaned back, the top of his chair was in Bodine’s face. “I asked him to move his chair up but he refused. I had to call the flight attendant who told me that man had a right to recline his seat. It was a terrible flight,” he says.

He finds seats in business class to be wide, deep and spacious. He especially enjoys when he finds an electric outlet under his seat. “If a lawyer has a layover, or expects delays because he/she is flying through Chicago/Denver/northern city, it is worth the $500 annual fee to get into one of the airline clubs. I used to belong and they're great -- coffee, snacks, workspaces and desks,” Bodine says.

Darrin Mish is another lawyer who travels often for work. The Tampa attorney counsels clients on how to reduce their IRS indebtedness, so between his work and his stature as a sought-after public speaker, he finds himself at airports often. He agrees with Bodine about joining an airport club. “I think that’s the key to a good work environment for lawyers in airports,” he says.

However, while not all airports and airlines offer them, many offer multiple clubs on each concourse. Mish says he enjoys the amenities offered in airport clubs such as free Wi-fi, cubicles, fax machines, a quiet environment “and, of course, complimentary food and beverages.”

He enjoys that the Las Vegas and Miami airports house American Express Centurion Clubs open to Business Platinum cardholders (with a $300 annual fee). “They offer very nice workspaces and food and beverage services that you would be happy to pay for (even if they weren’t complimentary,” he says.

For Mish, such clubs are the key to surviving long layovers. Their quiet, comfortable work spaces afford him the ability to get work accomplished so that valuable time is not wasted merely sitting around. “Almost everyone I know has a data plan they can use if they must get online to work, but in the clubs, Wi-fi is fast, free and easy to use,” he says.

Maybe it’s the hometown feel, but Mish’s favorite airport is the one in his own town of Tampa. “It’s so efficient. Very few steps take you from the gate to your parking area. It’s never crowded and the free Wi-fi in the terminal area at-large is great,” he says.

When he has a long layover in Atlanta, Mish does not limit himself to the airline lounge available in the concourse from where his departing flight leaves. He will often go to a different club lounge if its amenities are better or if it is generally quieter. “For example, the international terminals typically have fewer visitors in them than do concourses dedicated primarily to domestic travel,” he says.

Lastly, Mish urges lawyers to be vigilant with their client’s confidential information when completing work online at an airport. “You may want to be extra careful passing confidential client information over unprotected Wi-Fi," he says. "It’s easy to forget that prying eyes and be anywhere, even the airport.”

Attorney Paul J. Unger, a Columbus lawyer and partner with Affinity Consulting, a company that educates professionals how to maximize technology, travels 40% to 60% of his life. Not surprisingly, he is a self-described “massive technology geek.”

When Unger travels, the technology offerings of the greatest import to him are:

  • Power outlets everywhere
  • Free Wi-Fi or good cell data reception (3G or 4G) so he can use his smartphone as a mobile hotspot
  • An airline that offers Wi-Fi, especially when he doesn’t have to power down and back on during take-offs and landings
  • Airplanes with power outlets
  • Comfortable workstations in airports
  • Technology vending machines at airports so he can purchase something in case it got lost, broken or forgotten at home
  • Airport restaurants with power and Wi-Fi at every table

A bonus is eateries with iPads at tables to order and pay quickly. Unger has been to more airports than he can count, but some have stood out more than others. For example, he says the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport features the best restaurants in any airport in the country.

He labels New York’s LaGuardia, LAX, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Charlotte Douglas International Airport as “great technology-friendly” airports. The next tier of technology-friendly airports includes those in Columbus, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Nashville and Orlando.

He also says there are airports that “need a lot of work” when it comes to being tech-friendly to passengers. Those include airports in Columbia, SC, Cleveland and most regional airports. 

Tami Kamin Meyer is an Ohio attorney and writer.

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