Business Travel Was Terrible—and I Miss It So Much

A newfound appreciation for long waits at airports, bland rental cars and rooms without views

I keep hearing business travel may never return to pre-pandemic levels— Bill Gates suspects 50% of it will disappear—and it makes me sad. I should be grateful to have a job of any kind, and I am, but I miss those work escapes.

If I’m being honest, my family misses my business travel more than I do. My family has been saying polite things about how being stuck at home in 2020 has made us all closer, but I think they’ve had enough. They’d really prefer me out of the house. If I ever leave again, they’re going to celebrate like they won the Super Bowl.

I’ll be back in two days, I’ll say.

Take 20, my family will say.

I miss little things about work travel, like packing. I’d fold my clothing into a bag, and I’d think: I should bring my running shoes. Then I’d think: Who are you kidding? You’re never going to go running. Then: No, no, I really am going to go running.

So I’d always pack the running shoes. And I’d never go running.

I miss getting to the airport early. I got this habit from my father, the ultimate panicky early bird. My father wanted to get to the airport when the architect was still presenting the blueprints to build the airport. He liked to be the first person through the door, when the pilots were hitting the snooze button at the Hyatt. Even then, my father worried he was cutting it close.

I miss the hour it takes me to figure out how to turn on the hotel TV.

I don’t miss everything. I don’t miss the line for the only airport Starbucks. You could show up at 4:45 a.m., and there would be 80 people on line. And I’d always get stuck behind someone buying mochaccinos for an entire high school orchestra.

I admit: I kind of miss the Guy Doing a Long, Loud Conference Call That Everyone Can Hear. You know this guy. He’s pacing and gesturing at Gate 35D, bellowing away, like he’s doing Shakespeare in the Park. He’s got thoughts about the meeting. He’s got thoughts about the client. He’ll yammer away, straight through boarding, down the walkway, and right until takeoff, when the flight attendants beg him to hang up. I always think the other people on his call are thinking: I can’t wait for this guy to shut up.

I miss the pilot calmly talking about where we are on line for departure. I miss the boring testimonial for the airline featuring the airline CEO. I’m already on the plane, I think. I miss sitting next to a traveler who opens up a laptop and starts reading a big, complicated report, with lots of graphs. I’m always impressed: Wow, this person is really committed to their job. Then, 40 seconds later, they switch to a Bruce Willis movie.

I miss LaGuardia Airport. OK, that’s a lie. I don’t miss LaGuardia Airport.

I miss getting to my hotel room and dramatically opening the curtain—to a view of pigeons playing poker in an abandoned parking garage. I miss the hour it takes me to figure out how to turn on the hotel TV. I miss the hotel water, which I drink, only to later discover a tiny sign telling me it costs $11 a bottle. I miss the rental cars, which were always dull. I miss the rental car agent trying to talk me into a PT Cruiser for an extra $7 a day. Come on. Do it. Live a little, man.

I miss almost all of it. I have a feeling we’re going to get at least partly back there, not just because of the hopeful news about vaccines but because we probably need face-to-face contact a little more than we think. I don’t think work travel will ever vanish. Mostly because our families want us out of the house.

Write to Jason Gay at Jason.Gay@wsj.comManage Publishing