Fog misted the ordinarily firm boundaries of sky and earth. Flocked pines provided the hint of a darker border, the only change in color between gray sky and snowy field.
"How does it look today?" Gordy Lusian asked with the casual demeanor of a seasoned traveler who has lived through fog delays and canceled flights before. The woman behind the airline's counter recognized him and smiled. Everything looked on time, at least until the update from Hibbing, she said. A quick click of keys confirmed the flight's arrival.
Lusian moved to his regular waiting spot by the chairs in the corridor just outside the painted glass barrier that separates the corridor from the larger waiting room. On the other side sounds of a daytime soap opera drama filled the silence. Other travelers trickled in, checking bags and taking their turn looking out at the white world beyond the window. They settled into plastic cushioned chairs to wait.
For consultants who take area business expertise to far-flung offices across the nation, it is a familiar ritual.
Lusian regularly leaves his Universal Pensions Inc. office in Baxter for the Brainerd-Crow Wing County Regional Airport, catching the 34-seat turbo prop Mesaba plane to reach Minneapolis and points beyond. He is part of a group of UPI consultants who export product knowledge and training expertise to every corner of the nation.
Training sessions last for days or months. Regardless of technology, or perhaps because of it, use of consultants to impart information in person, face to face with clients continues. Lusian is there to see information on Individual Retirement Accounts reach the clients as the lights go on inside their minds.
"There is a sense of achievement, especially in a training session," Lusian said. "... And you don't get that when you are on the phone."
Lusian began working for UPI in 1985 and watched the business change with technology and the Internet. Initially Lusian worked on training seminars. Now he often works with a particular client for longer time periods -- weeks or months. He's been in every state in the union. The orderly airport northeast of Brainerd is the smallest Lusian will see.
"So I've seen every airport in every state, or it sure seems like it," Lusian said. He is familiar with every gate in the nation's major airports. Newark, N.J., is on his worst list with nearly constant construction. Denver is a nice airport but it is a long way from the city and even a considerable distance from the car rentals. And getting stuck in Detroit could be a refrain for a Midwest air travel song.
"You always have to expect some situation," Lusian said. "You just can't get too excited about it. ... Knowing just where everything is in an airport -- that just gives you peace of mind."
Favorite destinations include Manhattan, Boston, Seattle and San Francisco. Places Lusian said he would not want to live in, but enjoys visiting. The travel increases the importance of time at home.
"Weekends at home are pretty precious," he said.
With tight connections, Lusian has missed baggage but has never been on a plane with a mechanical problem or had a flight scare. He's run through airports to make a connection and spent time waiting. An hour and a half between flights is considered ideal.
Lusian has been asked for his weight on a commuter plane out of Boston. When he arrived first on what was sure to be a full small plane in Hartford, Conn., he was seated up front -- in the co-pilot's seat. It was a different kind of experience. And just one in racking up about 70,000 actual air travel miles in a year's time. Three or four people in UPI's consulting area travel as much. Fellow traveling trainer, Bob Skomars said consultants have to be independent. Duties include catching flights, managing details and traveling logistics, as well as keeping up with paperwork back at the office.
"You can't be flapped easily," Skomars said.
While he has wondered a few times about turbulence or a bird sucked into an engine that caused an immediate landing after take-off, overall Skomars said he does not think about plane crashes. When sleeping on a flight there are times when he is not sure if he is taking off or landing. There are occasionally famous faces on a flight and seat companions who will share personal thoughts they might otherwise only reveal to a therapist.
And there are friends back home who think the job is overly glamorous and say consultants "get to travel."
"We say 'I have to travel,'" Skomars said. Even visits to Times Square are solitary with no one to share the view. "On the other hand there are so many things I wouldn't have gotten to see on my own."
Lusian said the job is a trade-off, travel opportunities for time away from family and friends. He tries to take advantage of the traveling experiences by seeing the country. Experienced travel includes ways to make the most of saving time, like taking the ferry on Lake Champlain to get to Long Island. Once the plane trip ends, driving to business sites can be the real challenge especially in New York or New Jersey.
Everyone has a unique way of packing and dealing with traveling challenges.
"The longer you do it, the lighter you want to travel," Lusian said. Casual attire has also helped as space for suits has given way to neat but more relaxed clothing styles. Knowing how to pack is one job necessity. So is knowing how to deal with last-minute changes.
Canceled flights along the route entail a call to the next hotel to notify them of the delay. Then Lusian calls UPI to get reservations in the city where he is stranded. That solves the problem of waiting in line at the airport only to find accommodations are booked by the time he is at the front of the line.
Frequent flyer perks also help. So does a little ingenuity in finding alternative routes to get to a seminar on time.
A loud speaker announced Mesaba's arrival before the red Airlink plane is visible from the terminal. Those waiting reached for bags and began final farewells. The almost shockingly red plane was in sharp contrast to the white surroundings as it taxied in front of the waiting room windows. No fog delays or missed connections this trip.
Lusian gathered his coat to prepare for boarding. Like other consultants, he almost always travels alone.
"There are a lot of consultants traveling around," Lusian said of flight companions. Many people have heard of Brainerd. "You meet and talk and share experiences. It's a lot better time than spending time in the office."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.