While many businesses are sticking to holding meetings via video conferencing during the pandemic, Abdol Moabery thinks the key is meeting the clients in-person and being socially responsible while traveling. A lot of executives feel the same way but haven't actually acted on it, just yet.
While the coronavirus and closed international borders have resulted in a substantial downturn in business travelers for the world’s airlines and hotels, there is a South Florida man who is beating the odds and has flown to meet clients domestically more than three dozen times in the last few months at last count. He said he’s not alone.
A speaker at many industry conferences worldwide, Abdol Moabery is the president and CEO of GA Telesis, a medium-sized global company, headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. With 600 employees in the U.S., U.K., Turkey and Finland, his company provides a breadth of services to commercial and cargo airlines, from supplying replacement parts for aircrafts and engines, to repairing landing gears and jet engines to creating software for airplanes.
“I don’t mind traveling and I don’t believe in jinx. I was just telling my colleagues next door that, you know, we’re all talking about how quickly we can get the vaccine and I just pointed out, I’ve had 36 flights. I’ve had dinners, I’ve stayed in hotels and I don’t have Covid,” said the 53-year-old Moabery. “I’m careful, of course. I wear a mask, I clean my hands, I do everything I can to try to stay in shape. So, I keep my immune system up. But you know, other than that, I don’t know, I see a lot healthier people than me and a lot of people a lot more careful, perhaps than I am, going out getting Covid.”
Since September, Moabery has flown 36 commercial flights, but he first resumed flying in June on a chartered plane with Delta Private, a client of his and has flown an additional six times, for a whopping total of 42 business flights during the pandemic. The decision to fly charter or commercial depends on the location.
“For instance, flying to a place like Tulsa, Oklahoma, there’s just no non-stop, there’s no quick way to get there and back. So, you know, I ended up giving up a complete day for travel. So that just doesn’t make sense to spend seven hours each way trying to get to a location, as opposed to just flying there in two, two and a half,” Moabery said.
Considered an essential business, Moabery said his company has been operational throughout the pandemic with very minimal cases of coronavirus affecting its workforce.
In states that require quarantining, he has people on the ground to meet their clients’ needs in that region, while following local guidelines. It’s all hands-on deck, in the office and on the road unless an employee has a health issue and then works remotely, he said.
“I have quite a few of my team flying. Last week on my flight, I had two of our division presidents also flew not on the same plane as me, but they also flew to see the same customer. The week before about seven of us flew to see another customer,” Moabery said. “So, we are not forcing our team to fly, if they feel comfortable, and there is a good reason to go see a customer, or a customer asks them to come see them for a reason then we go and if they don’t feel comfortable flying, someone else does it.”
Business trips traditionally are quick turn arounds, 1 to 3 days tops and a return flight home, but with social distancing in effect nationwide, have clients expressed any trepidation about meeting Moabery and his team so soon after deplaning?
“We have certainly had companies say that they couldn’t take visitors over the last sort of few months. And in some of those cases, their people were free to meet outside the office. So we were in a hotel lobby or something in social distance … frankly speaking, how do the airlines make you feel comfortable getting on an airplane if they don’t feel comfortable meeting with you? You know, that’s their business, so for the most part, no, we haven’t,” Moabery said.
The trend for many companies since March when the global pandemic nearly paralyzed the world, has been to work remotely and meet via Zoom or other video platforms, but Moabery said that’s not part of his company’s culture and it’s difficult to negotiate in an hours-long, multi-million dollar deal meeting with someone via Zoom, so he and his team continue to fly across the country and as soon as the borders are open again will resume flying internationally.
“We’ve actually had a lot of airlines say we want to meet face-to-face. We’re tired of the Zoom calls. We want to have these longer discussions and Zoom limits us to an hour or whatever we schedule it. And then you know, you’re spending your whole day tied to a screen. And people don’t want that anymore. They’re really tired of it. It might work for some industries, [but] for mine, I don’t think it does.”
According to Moabery, hotel stays are a bit different from before. Gone are the days of room service, ice buckets, mini bars and coffee machines in your room. Upscale hotel lounges are closed and if you arrive late at night, Uber Eats is your best and only choice.
“I’ve done everything from a two star, nothing Hilton brand in the middle of nowhere to the Ritz Carlton. And it’s vastly the same. When you check in, it’s a touchless check in, where you insert your own credit card and, in some cases, you take a key card or they put a key card in front of you, and you program it yourself, they put the code in and give you a clean sharpie to write your room number down, so they don’t touch your keycard,” Moabery said.
On his most recent trip, Moabery had a conference call during dinner and was one of the lucky 25 people to get into the hotel bar.
“I had some fantastic gourmet chicken fingers, and a flatbread for my luxurious dinner at the bar. That was it, and they served everything in plastic containers instead of dishwashing, so they just throw it away. that was at a nice hotel,” he said.
Besides wearing a mask and constantly washing his hands, Moabery said he makes every effort to clean up after himself so the flight attendant on the plane and hotel room attendant don’t have to touch his trash.
“I think that the traveling during a pandemic is a shared responsibility with the airline. They have to do their best and I have to do my best. So, you know, the simplest part of that is the mask, right? I mean, they tell you in advance wear a mask and, for instance, I think Delta CEO said there’s 500 people on the cannot fly list for life because they wouldn’t wear a mask on airplanes. I mean, those people from my perspective are idiots and quote me on that, because it’s such a simple process. They tell you, if you’re going to fly for the health and safety not only you, but others wear a mask. It’s simple. And if you choose not to wear a mask, either fly private where you don’t have to, or don’t fly, simple, drive where you’re going,” he said.
Sneezing On a Flight
And what about that time he sneezed on a flight?
“Well, I immediately looked around, and I was wearing a mask. So, I sneezed into my mask and I was covered but everyone was around me, and at first, I didn’t know what to do. And the guy next to me said, God bless you. And I said, well, thank you. But you know, I think we all realize that these masks, I don’t know what made me sneeze. I certainly didn’t have a cold. But I I’ve certainly been in situations where I’m wearing the mask and just breathing my own oxygen and the carbon dioxide, whatever it is, I get a scratchy throat… and I’m really trying to hold it as long as I can,” he laughs.
Last year GA Telesis made a billion dollars, but according to Moabery, this year will be significantly less. He estimates that although their business is down about 60 percent due to the pandemic, they are still profitable and will make about 400 million in 2020, crediting it to being a well-structured company financially, visiting clients and the state of the industry right now. Moabery feels despite the difficulties of this year, his company isn’t at risk and is actually in a position for growth.
“Yeah, it directly correlates with the airlines getting back up, you know, when they start flying more, we will start doing more. But, you know, from my perspective, I think we’ll do better than before. And I think that’s because airlines have seen how we’ve performed during the pandemic. We’ve picked up a lot of new customers, and some of my competitors, frankly, haven’t survived, so they won’t be there to compete with me post pandemic,” Moabery said.
According to him, business travel is on the rise based on the type of travelers he sees in his travels getting on and off a plane. Moabery says that probably outside of Thanksgiving week about 60 percent of the people supporting airplanes were business travelers and 40 percent were leisure. And last Tuesday, he estimates it was probably more like 70 percent business and 30 percent leisure travelers on a day not known for leisure travel.
“I think business travelers are wanting to get out and get back to, look, if you’re a road warrior, you’re a road warrior, you make your money being on the road, right? Visiting in person and doing deals. So from my perspective, I think the business travelers will come back faster than the leisure travelers and I don’t buy into the concept that air travel will be permanently burdened by these types of calls,” he said.
What’s next for Moabery? A family cruise next summer through Europe, 4 in person conference speaking dates in Europe and the U.S. starting next spring and possibly flying on Delta’s first quarantine and Covid-free flight.
“If you don’t have something to look forward to, and you don’t start planning in the future, then you know you’ve got this sort of, they’re calling it that Groundhog Day effect where one day rolls into another and I could say, in the first few weeks of the pandemic. It was hard for me to figure out what day of the week it was. Every day was the same. And there was nothing going on. But, since then, my organization is just busy. And it’s fun to watch and great to see the energy coming back into our industry because airlines are planning for the post-vaccine era.”
According to the U.S. Travel Association, in 2019, direct spending on business travel by domestic and international travelers, totaled $334.2 billion including meetings, events and incentive programs and U.S. residents traveling overnight for business logged 464.4 million person‐trips, with meetings and events totaling 38 percent of those visits.
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Photo credit: Abdol Moabery is a hardcore business traveler like the one picture here. He has taken 42 trips so far during the pandemic. Kasto / Adobe