Friday, July 1, 2011

What I learned from working in a nuclear power plant...road warriors

I left Dallas for Rochester on one of those tiny United Express Jets. We connected through Chicago, with delays along the way. What should have taken 8 hours, door-to-door, took 12. I have done a lot of business travel and know that this is the norm. DFW and ORD are particularly bad airports for delays.

During the layover at O'Hare, I got to meet one of the “guys.” I was not sure what to expect, but he was very good natured and talkative. He even seemed a bit excited. He'd just finished another “outage” and was glad to have back-to-back jobs.  I learned later that the men who rewire generators do not make very much money. They fly all over the country, working primarily at power plants. When times are good, they rarely go home. They are true road warriors. When times are bad, they have to worry about making rent. Right now, times are good.

“Outage” is a term I was going to hear over and over for the next several days. This made reference to the planned “power outage” that the Ginna Nuclear Power Plant was going to undergo. This was a time when every employee was reassigned to new duties while maintenance was being done on the major  equipment. The turbines, generator and nuclear reactor would all have maintenance done during this outage. It occurs every 18 months and, as I would soon find out, disrupts the lives of everyone working at the power plant. You can just image. You do something every day based on the fact that electricity is being produced. When electricity stops being produced, your job stops and you start doing something else.

I said that these generator rewiring workers are true road warriors.  Most people who call themselves “Road Warriors” are very pampered professionals who travel a lot. They earn millions of miles on major airlines and millions of points at major hotels...and, therefore, get plenty of upgrades and perks. I see these traveling professionals at first class check-in, every time I go to the airport. They are getting the ticket agent to give them some sort of extra concession. These “Road Warriors” are premium class travelers who get the first class seats, access to the airline lounges, upgrades to nice rooms at nice hotels and eat dinner on fat expense accounts.

The guys I would soon meet are true road warriors. They fly on dozens of cheap, cramped airlines and stay at dozens of cheap hotels. If they are organized enough to keep track of the sundry customer loyalty programs, it will take them years to earn enough miles on any one airline to get multiple free tickets for a family vacation.  It is true that they will stay a month at a hotel, but that is enough to earn them a night or two. Next outage, a different chain and a different frequent guest program. They have all the pain of travel with none of the rewards. They are not treated as one of the privileged premier travelers. Why in the world would they want to travel when they get a week off? And how would they afford the vacation once they got there? The money they make has to go for basic necessities.

Upon arriving at Rochester airport, Joe, my traveling companion, kept pointing to guys and saying “He is one of our guys...” I was never sure, exactly, to whom he was pointing. In a few minutes, I would see the whole crowd at the hotel and get my next glimpse at what I was up against.