Like many Americans, John Clifton spent Sept. 11, 2001, in a panic.
As travel manager of Houston-based global engineering firm KBR, he scrambled for hours trying to determine whether his company had anyone on the four hijacked planes. KBR often has dozens of employees traveling on a given day. It wasn't until 6 p.m. that Clifton learned that KBR had suffered no losses.
If such a catastrophic event were to happen again, however, Clifton would be able to divine the same information in about 10 minutes, he said. Of the many things that have changed since those terrorist attacks, one is a far tighter rein on the movements of business travelers.
Several travel-security companies, with the help of travel agents, now offer careful tracking of employees as they move through the world. It's not unusual for information to be funneled back to a central database with every plane boarding or hotel check-in.
Corporations are taking many steps that weren't on the brain before 2001.
Now when a disaster strikes, such as the Haiti earthquake or Iceland's volcanic cloud, it makes caring for employees easier when a company knows exactly where they are.
That's not to say all business travelers are comfortable with that. I understand concerns from some who object to having their movements tracked so closely. But I also understand the sentiment of John Rendeiro, vice president of global security and intelligence for International SOS, a Philadelphia-based company providing health and security for companies with overseas travelers.
"The issue is that American companies have more people out there than ever before," said Rendeiro, who spent 21 years with the State Department in various global security roles. "And the expectation for duty of care has evolved."
Many things can be done upfront, such as making sure a traveler has been well briefed, knowing whom to call in a pinch.
He said he was sitting in a client's office in Newark, N.J., when a US Airways plane crash-landed in the Hudson River in January 2009. When the news broke, the client began scrambling, saying he needed to find out if the company had anyone on the plane. With one e-mail, Rendeiro said, he was able to find out within minutes that that company had no one on the plane.
Interestingly, even since Sept. 11, Rendeiro said he doesn't think the world is fundamentally more dangerous.
"There have always been dangers out there," he said. "It's just that in the last 30 years or even the last 10 years — basically since 9/11 — people have become more aware of the pitfalls they can face."
Do you have ideas or suggestions about business travel? Write to Josh Noel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include "Business Class" in the subject line.
Countries on the U.S. watch list
As of the beginning of September, the State Department had issued travel warnings for the following countries. Warnings are issued if "protracted conditions … make a country dangerous or unstable."
Afghanistan, Algeria, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Congo, Eritrea, Georgia, Guinea, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Israel (plus the West Bank and Gaza), Ivory Coast, Kenya, Lebanon, Mali, Mauritania, Mexico, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Uzbekistan and Yemen.