my employee was upset when I told him drive, not fly, to a conference five hours away

A reader writes:

This question is from an incident that happened last year, but I’ve been thinking about it.

I manage a team of four people. We work closely with two other teams, all within a larger department of a college. In pre-COVID times, staff from our department often went to conferences hosted by various professional associations. One of my staff members, Jeff, requested to go to a conference that was about a five-hour drive away. I approved the request as the conference would be good for his professional development and he’d be able to bring back useful knowledge to our team. Three other staff members from our closely connected teams were also going to that conference.

Jeff registered for the conference. A couple weeks later, he asked me about booking a flight to the conference. I was surprised by this request, as the conference was a reasonable driving distance and others were going too. I explained that since several people from our department were going, the department would rent a van and the attendees would drive there together. Jeff was surprised because he had flown to the other conferences he’d attended, and assumed he’d fly to this one. I noted that the other conferences had been further away (so driving wasn’t a reasonable option) or he had been the only attendee from our department (so the cost of flying was comparable to driving).

Our department wants to minimize expenses where reasonable, so the norm is to rent a vehicle and drive there unless it doesn’t make sense logistically or financially. Minimizing costs like this helps us be able to spend money when it is important — like being able to get each person their own hotel room.

He pushed back with a couple reasons why he wanted to fly, such as it would save time and he didn’t feel comfortable driving. I said that flying wouldn’t save time since the airport is at least an hour away from us, you need a time buffer to go through security, etc., and the flight is two hours. As for driving, I knew that Troy and Annie were also going to the conference and they had already said they wanted to drive.

He then said that he didn’t want to be in a car for long periods of time since he sometimes has digestive issues that flare up. I empathized, as I have a chronic digestive disorder. However, I felt it was reasonable that he could make up a reason as to why he might need more rest stops than usual and give the others a heads-up at the start of the trip. Something like, “Sometimes I get woozy when I’m in the car for a while” or “I have a tiny bladder so I need to take more rest stops than usual and I’ll let you know when I need one.” This was not acceptable to Jeff, and he ultimately decided not to attend the conference. It wasn’t a huge issue, but he was salty about it for a while and complained to a few other people.

I’m wondering what your thoughts are on the situation. Is it reasonable to expect employees to drive to conferences? Are there situations other than distance and cost where we should make an exception to our norm?

I think a five-hour drive one-way is a really long drive, and I’m not surprised he had expected to fly.

Some businesses, especially those with more limited resources, do use a five-hour rule — where if the drive is less than five hours, people drive instead of flying. Personally, it strikes me as too long. Yes, flying can take nearly as long when you account for security, delays, etc., but you can work on planes and in airports; it’s much harder to work in a car.

But this also varies by field and, in some cases, by professional level. I did five-hour drives without blinking as a 20something working at a nonprofit. I would not do it now.

But even if this is the norm in your field, I’d still make an exception for Jeff because of his digestive issues. Asking him to make up a story about why he’d need frequent stops wasn’t reasonable. Bathroom issues are private ones, and asking him to come up with a cover story while inconveniencing and possibly annoying his colleagues — and thus making that trip a lot longer than five hours — wasn’t fair to him. Plus, digestive issues can be urgent in a way that doesn’t always leave time to wait for a highway exit, pull off the interstate, find a place with a bathroom, park, etc. It’s very possible Jeff can only travel confidently if he stays within a few minutes of a bathroom.

I would be … not pleased if I told my manager I had a medical condition that made long car trips prohibitive and was told, essentially, “too bad.”

I’m wondering if at some level you didn’t fully believe Jeff and thought he was exaggerating to avoid having to do do the drive. That’s always possible when you’re talking to an employee about a health condition, but as a manager you really need to default to believing people about their own health unless you have a specific reason not to. Otherwise you can end up doing things that are really, really problematic — like denying people accommodations they actually need, or making them feel they need to disclose details that they should be able to keep private, or making them feel discriminated against. That’s not to say you can’t ever ask for more info or propose a different accommodation (you can and the law lays out when and how you can do that), but in general, your default should be to believe and try to accommodate a good employee with a health issue.

{ 726 comments… read them below }

  1. Library Lady*

    I also work for a college, and any time I want to submit a request to attend a conference I have to include full logistics and cost estimates – the cost of registration, airfare, lodging, etc. My director then takes the full cost into account before approving or not approving the request. It seems to me that the fact that this conversation was a surprise that came up after the conference was already approved is an indicator that you need to put a better process in place.

    1. Mama Bear*

      This. I think it shouldn’t have been approved without travel specified upfront, so it wouldn’t have been a surprise to either of you. Also, being in a plane is different than being in a van with coworkers for hours. I would have preferred the airport over the van and I hate to fly. I think on some level it wasn’t just about travel costs but personal comfort and you left your employee with the impression that his didn’t matter. If Annie and Troy had flown, but Jeff wanted a different flight, would you have had this conversation at all?

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        In a van with coworker for five hours – ugh. On a plane you can all do your own separate things, but in a car you are expected to entertain each other, make chit chat, agree on music. Driving with coworkers (at least one’s you aren’t also friend with) is pretty much the most awkward car rides ever.

        1. Autumnheart*

          Let us not forget that it’s 5 hours EACH WAY. So it’s actually 10 hours in a van with coworkers.

        2. Trout 'Waver*

          When I’ve driven with coworkers, I’ve felt no expectation to entertain them. Most of the time, people were working on their phones or laptops.

          1. A*

            Not a guarantee though and by the time you find out, it’ll be too late to do anything but have to suck it up.

            Once upon a time I would have said it in’t that big of a deal – but a few years ago I got stuck in a van with coworkers for a 4 hour each way trip. The colleagues I was traveling with just so happened to all be new mothers or pregnant. I’m single/childless but LOVE kids so I was all for looking at the pics and engaging in the conversation… but it literally went on the whole time. Both there and back. EIGHT HOURS OF MOMMY TALK.

            By the time I got home I broke down crying, because what they couldn’t know (nor would I feel comfortable sharing, especially in that enclosed setting) is that despite their assumptions that I’m single/childless by choice – I very much want a family I just haven’t met the right person yet. As I was about to hit my 30th birthday, I was dealing with a lot of anxiety and heightened emotions around the reality that this might not happen to me.

            Would my colleagues have been understanding had I shared that? Sure. But I shouldn’t have to, and especially not in an enclosed van where we will all be stuck together for many more hours.

            Obviously this is a very specific example, but my point is that you never know how those kinds of trips will go and I don’t think it’s a safe assumption that everyone will just be doing their own thing, or that the dynamic will be such where it wouldn’t be unusual (or in this case socially isolating /missing out on rapport building interactions) for one person out of the group to disengage with sound proof head phones.

            1. JJ Bittenbinder*

              That story makes my heart hurt for you. I’m very sorry that happened.

              I would hate to drive (alone or with colleagues) 5 hours away. First of all, it’s never just 5 hours. But that much time on the road would be really bad for both physical/joint health and anxiety.

              I think the longest drive I ever did for work was 4 hours and it really took a lot out of me. It’s tiring to drive safely!

              1. Valerie*

                I have driven for 12 and 14 hours before, but that’s me; I wouldn’t expect my employees to drive for five hours to attend a conference, particularly with a health concern.

                A compromise if several people are going might be to charter a bus with a bathroom. That would be cheaper than having everyone fly (probably very cheap now with so many trip cancellations due to the virus), and they can spread out on a comfortable tour-style bus.

            2. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

              Oh, my goodness. This would irritate me as a person who has chosen not to have children, but for a person who didn’t choose it? It’s akin to a thousand paper cuts (the 8 hours solid of it part), since you had no way to leave when it became too much.

          2. Zombeyonce*

            It really depends on the coworker. You might have some that are happy to entertain themselves. You might also end up with the chatty coworker that just won’t leave you alone and wants to talk the whole way when you just want some peace and quiet. Personally, no matter which kind I end up with, I don’t want to be around anyone I know at all because I get really bad motion sickness (yes, even heavily medicated) and am just trying not to throw up. I don’t want to deal with the sympathetic comments from people I know when I inevitably do (especially in cars).

            1. Alex Konigsburg*

              I used to have to take hour-long subway rides with colleagues and I always tried to avoid one in particular because she wanted to chat non-stop and play travel games the whole time. Being tired or wanting to look over work stuff wasn’t acceptable to her, she’d just push and push.

              1. Dr Rat*

                “I think I’m going to change my position on that whole Q tip conundrum we had…” for 10 hours. Yikes!

            2. DarnTheMan*

              + 100 – I shared an Air BNB with a co-worker last year when we were both staffing a conference for our organization and the only reason it went smoothly was because we were happy to do our own thing; we went out for dinner together the first night in town and for brunch on our last day to celebrate being done but otherwise we really only saw each other at the conference or shortly before bed and there was zero expectation of us spending our downtime together.

          3. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

            I get nauseous if I try to read/do work in a car. At least I can get work done on a plane. I’m sure a lot of people are like this.

            1. Peachkins*

              Me! I still get queasy at take-off and landing, but once in the air I’m usually okay. I would much rather fly than spend five hours in a car.

              1. JessaB*

                This so much. Give me my ginger ale for my stomach and put me on a plane. I get crazy car sick and have stomach issues. I also can’t read or do stuff, and you can’t stuff me in the back seat, because it makes the car sickness worse. I am NOT someone you want to travel five hours with by car.

            2. VanLH*

              I am the same way. I cannot read at all in a car or bus and not get sick. Trains and planes are fine.

              1. Sleepy*

                And I’m the person who doesn’t get carsick on my own, but I do have a phobia of other people vomiting and when I hear that other people are nauseous, it makes *me* dizzy and nauseous! Save us all from each other. No car rides.

                1. Anonymous Emetophobe*

                  Yup, same for me. The idea of spending 5 hours in a car with someone who gets car sick sounds like my idea of a pure nightmare, even if they don’t end up getting sick, because I’d be struggling to not have a 5 hour long panic attack from ANTICIPATION of someone MAYBE getting sick, and struggling not to interpret every weird noise or comment as, basically, “brace yourself, I’m gonna vomit”. I get anxious enough about this on planes, but at least there I can easily pop in noise-cancelling earbuds and distract myself.

            3. Lavender Menace*

              Me too! I would be miserable on a 5-hour drive with coworkers because I can’t read or do work, so I’d be forced to take the chit-chat. I’d take the plane every time.

          4. M-C*

            Working in a van? Would they want to stop every 15mn to let me throw up on the side of the highway (if they were lucky)?

        3. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

          One of my least favorite work experiences was a lengthy carpool to a work function (about 4 hours), and one of the carpoolers had a loud voice and would not. stop. talking. Add in a twisty mountain road that made me nauseated. Good times!

    2. vampire physicist*

      I don’t work for a college but the same is true for me – I’ve had coworkers who ended up going to a conference across the country rather than one a 3 hour drive away because when you accounted for hotel pricing differences and seasonal airfare deals, the total cost was roughly the same. It would make more sense to see if Jeff could have found a cheaper hotel, or gotten a deal on registration, or otherwise kept costs down while still traveling in a way that was comfortable for him.

      1. Jessica Fletcher*

        This is a good point – many conferences give a registration discount if more then 2 people from the same company are going, so that savings may have covered the flight.

    3. Driving Everywhere*

      I agree with needing a better process to be in place.

      When I worked for the provincial government, all of our travel policies were very clear. I regularly drove 5 hours one way to attend work conferences. Other coworkers had to drive up to 8 hours due to their remote office locations. We were, of course, always given work hours for traveling. Our mileage policy also encouraged carpooling, to the extent that you can only get full mileage if you had 3 people in your vehicle. If you drove yourself, you’d be entitled to 1/3 of the mileage. I never had out of province travel, but it was available as long as very strict guidelines regarding costs were met.

      At my current job, I fly quite a bit as long as it’s a morning meeting and it’s over in a day. If it’s an afternoon meeting with at least one overnight, I’m expected to drive and ferry over.

    4. Claire*

      That’s doubly true because apparently Jeff has gone to other conferences and he’s always flown before, and judging by OP’s wording, some of those conferences have been a comparable distance, so there’s evidently not a clear policy of when you drive and when you fly. I’d understand if OP had told Jeff that their policy was to drive that distance if multiple people were attending, but I’m confused about why she’d be surprised that he’d expect to fly.

    5. Smithy*

      I think that this is a huge piece – both in regards to managing expectations, but also not seeming capricious. Presumably there is an overall travel/ongoing education budget that either the OP or someone manages every year. And while that budget may be smaller than desired, or the year just happens to have more industry specific opportunities that are valuable to attend – if decisions are being made without seeing a full budget, then push back often can get very personal about what is/is not a reasonable expense.

      I’ve worked in nonprofits, and the one place that never had budgets submitted in advance was also the place where there was heavy pressure to spend as little as possible and only expense what you thought was appropriate (and subject to potential debate later).

      When you’re in the middle of that system it can be easy to adopt the mindset of everyone trying to save money and these are positive frugal behaviors. But it’s really awful to your staff, and easily creates an environment where certain people seem favored over others.

    6. Sara without an H*

      This. Our HR department even has a spreadsheet template you can fill in to attach to your request. OP really needs to get the expectations and processes clarified.

    7. Letter Writer*

      This is exactly it. We need a better process that outlines these logistics. It’s now on my list of things to tackle once it makes sense to do so. However, we’ve taken a big hit financially due to the pandemic so I unfortunately don’t foresee any travel in the next few years.

    8. allathian*

      I’m just so glad I live in a country with a decent rail network! Usually for conferences the expectation is to take the train and public transit if available at either end, otherwise a cab. We’re allowed to take a plane if the destination is more than a 6-hour train ride away. Normally rental cars are the last resort, if the destination is not easily accessible by train.
      Of course, now with COVID, rental cars are acceptable for journeys of any length to avoid being in an enclosed space with strangers. (My org has almost 40 offices nationwide and sometimes it’s necessary for people to travel to different offices, although that has been cut down to a minimum now.)

      1. allathian*

        I hate driving unless I know the route very well and I haven’t really learned to follow instructions from in-car navigation systems. But I also don’t want to fly unless it’s absolutely necessary. I have very narrow Eustachian tubes and they’re almost always blocked. My ears pop in a three-storey elevator ride! It’s no fun flying when my ears will be blocked for hours, sometimes days, afterwards. All the airport security measures, while absolutely necessary, make me very anxious. Trains are my favorite mode of transport.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Funny incidents occurred when I worked FOR the railway in the UK. If I had to get to one of the cities in Scotland for instance I’d likely be put on a plane due to it being a) quicker and b) cheaper. If we had large groups of people going to the same destination it was more normal to hire a coach.

        (UK rail travel is hideously expensive for certain routes. There are tickets that cost over a thousand pounds!)

  2. Jen*

    Driving isn’t always cheaper. $0.51 per mile vs a plane ticket. Also, I would never in a million years expect anyone to drive five hours. That’s a lot, even without heath issues.

      1. Justme, the OG*

        I’m also over a car trip after three hours. Five with my coworkers would be awful.

      2. Whimsey*

        We aren’t allowed to drive our own vehicles if we want it paid for, so we have to use a company car and go through that rigmarole. I’ve started driving myself and just dealing with the out-of-pocket cost, because it’s worth my sanity.

        My worst experience was when we were required to drive 13 hours (one way) to a conference and back and weren’t allowed any time off to decompress at the end of it: back to work the next day even though we’d gotten home in the middle of the night due to finishing up conference sessions the morning that we had to drive back. I don’t sleep well in cars, so that was horrid.

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          Oh, wow!! They would have gotten the exact amount of work from me they deserved on that day back, LOL!

          (Cut to footage of me drinking coffee from 8 cups with straws all in my mouth and then falling asleep on my keyboard.)

          1. Whimsey*

            It’s also a good way to get people to only attend things that they feel are extremely beneficial to themselves over the institution. Since then, I’ve been very, very picky in what I attend.

            All of us were pretty disillusioned by that entire encounter, and half of us that attended are now elsewhere with better professional development policies. We don’t have to share rooms anymore! :D

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        If you’re in the US, look up the IRS’s standard rates. They haven’t been recommending under $0.50 since 2011.
        I’d say it’s long past time for your employer to update its payment policy.

    1. MsChanandlerBong*

      I really think this depends on your own perception. I don’t think five hours is long at all; I’d have to be in the car for about eight hours before I’d think it was a “long” trip. But I can understand that others might not feel the same way.

      1. NotDumbHR*

        I agree. Perhaps because I live in Texas where the next big city is a solid four hours away that feels like nothing to me. As the letter writer says, it would take just as long to fly there in total travel time so given a choice I’d rather drive anyway, especially if I got along with my coworkers. I do accommodations for a living, so I get what Allison is saying, but it also really feels like he pulled that out as an excuse so I can see why the letter writer held to the company policy during their conversation. However, I also agree with the person above you said that total travel cost should’ve been part of the decision from the very beginning to avoid these situations.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            A 5 hour car trip wouldn’t be a big deal in my company. A lot of places we have to go are somewhat remote, so while you may be able to fly, you’ll still have a decent drive once you get there and driving will make more sense.

            I think accommodations and requirements should be brought up earlier, ideally by Jeff, but it’s understood why he didn’t since he thought this would be a flight due to previous trips. Even if Jeff was okay with driving, other travelers should be aware of his requirements before everyone agrees on what they’re doing. I’ve been the coworker traveling with the guy who could only ride for 45 minute stretches. It’s not a lot to ask, but my travel style is “make it in record time” and I’d be a lot happier to know before I agreed to a trip that I’m adding another hour plus to it.

            1. Arts Akimbo*

              This exactly! The boss says it’s a 5-hour drive, but it’s not a 5-hour drive for the one who has to make frequent stops– it becomes a 6, 6.5 hour drive, maybe even 7. Well within the “fly” zone!

          2. MusicWithRocksIn*

            When I had my first flair up with ulcerative colitis I would have done anything to avoid telling people what was wrong with me, anything. I lost about 20lbs in 3 months and dramatically changed the subject whenever anyone expressed concern. There were coworkers who thought I was dying, but admitting I had *bathroom issues* was just to embarrassing to confess.

          3. Anonapots*

            Exactly what I was thinking when Jeff first started out by saying he wouldn’t be comfortable driving that long. Not being comfortable covers a wide variety of possibilities.

          4. OrangeYouGlad*

            Yeah, I have ulcerative colitis. If I have a 5 hour drive coming up I have to fast the day before so that I know there won’t be an issue – that’s not nice to have to do if there is an alternative, and it’s worse if I’m the driver and not just a passenger.

            1. Anonys*

              A family member of mine has this condition and always keeps loo roll in the back of the car – sometimes you really might have to pull over on the side of the road and not be able to wait to make a stop. And it would be really awkward to explain the urgency to coworkers.

              I hope it Jeff ever brings up medical accommodation around this again, it will be granted.

          5. Curmudgeon in California*

            This. I have IBS-D. It is *very* dependent on what I eat. On the way there, I might be fine, because I can avoid food triggers at home. On the way back, after eating soy-laden hotel food? Would be a sh*tty experience for me.

            I would not want to spend 5 hours each way in a van with my coworkers, even without IBS. Even from the job where I loved my coworkers, it would be a hard no.

            1. Homebody*

              This so so much. I have IBS and gluten intolerance and gosh, spending 5 hours in a car going to a conference sounds like a nightmare (and the drive back even worse). Not only is it hard to find good options on the road but in my experience, coworkers can be really crappy about accommodating dietary needs. In my experience they can be downright judgmental, and the less others know the better.

              If I were in Jeff’s situation I would have done the same thing.

              1. Pomona Sprout*

                “…in my experience, coworkers can be really crappy about accommodating dietary needs.”

                I’m pretty sure I’ve seen letters right here at AAM about that very thing! I don’t recall when it was or any other details, but this scenario sounds really, really familiar.

            2. snoopythedog*

              Ditto with IBS-D
              Normally I have things under control through diet, meds, and stress management, but conferences with stress, coffee, lack of sleep, lack of control over what food is available = recipe for disaster on the way back. And when I have to go…I HAVE to go NOW. I have about a 10 minute window and it takes all my mental energy to hunker down and wait. My husband knows when I say I have to go, I’m going to be unable to function or help him do anything like navigate to a rest stop or a good place to pull over. That is not something I ever want to have to explain to a coworker.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          but it also really feels like he pulled that out as an excuse so I can see why the letter writer held to the company policy during their conversation

          How so? Nothing in the letter indicates that Jeff is a liar (I imagine if OP had doubts about the veracity of his story based on past behavior, she would have said so and used it as the basis for why she denied the request), so why default to that assumption? It’s needlessly antagonistic and a very cynical position to take with no evidence.

          1. Alan*

            It’s also worth mentioning that Jeff took the decision not to go because of this issue. He obviously felt uncomfortable enough to cancel his trip, if he was just throwing out an excuse so he could fly I don’t think he would have done that.

          2. Shirley Keeldar*

            Indeed. And perhaps he didn’t mention his digestive issues up front because, in the past, people have accused him of “pulling that out as an excuse” to get out of doing something instead of a genuine and difficult medical problem. Sheesh.

          3. The Other Dawn*

            I agree. LW would likely have mentioned it if there was reason to doubt Jeff. Though we’ve seen letters here where there was some important context left out that changed the whole tone of the letter.

        2. Claire*

          I don’t think it sounds like he “pulled that out as an excuse”, because he initially said that he “didn’t feel comfortable driving”–if I had an embarrassing health problem that meant I wasn’t really able to take a long drive, I might try using that as a discreet sort of euphemism and then be more explicit if it didn’t work.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Yup, euphemisms are what I use to explain my bladder and bowel issues at work until I need to be more explicit (with HR – no one else).

            1. LittleRedRiding...huh?*

              Same here. So far noone at work knows about my IBS and I intend for it to stay that way. Having to talk about it face to face makes me so so uncomfortable. My go to excuse would be “food sitting wrong”

              1. Curmudgeon in California*

                Seriously. IBS and a rather “explosive” allergy to soy oil is very hard to talk about at work. It’s actually easier here in an anonymous forum that to look my boss in the eye and tell him “If I accidentally eat something with soybean oil I have explosive diarrhea anywhere from 30 min to an hour later, for up to half an hour. Loperamide helps only delay it a little, and now that’s restricted too.” Seriously, this is not a conversation I want to have.

          2. Annony*

            Yeah, I think it may have come across and running though a list of reasons trying to find one that would stick, but I think he was probably trying to be vague until he felt he had no choice.

        3. Aquawoman*

          No manager just gets to decide that someone is lying about their health concerns and deny them an accommodation. If she didn’t believe him, she could have asked for a doctor’s note. But you can’t just deny someone an accommodation on a hunch.

        4. Quill*

          Honestly even if the medical issue weren’t embarassing, enough states are at will employment that many people aren’t going to risk medical disclosure, period. Disability discrimination in employment, not to mention potential social consequences that don’t necessarily legally count as discrimination, are real, and at will states make them more of a concern than they would otherwise be, because it makes hiring, firing, and promotion so much more subjective in terms of what employers think of you – and even employers with the best of intentions may categorize hourly restroom stops Jeff as “less hardworking” or “higher maitenance” than coworkers if he discloses his medical condition.

        5. Lady Meyneth*

          “it also really feels like he pulled that out as an excuse”

          I actually thought exactly the opposite. He decided not to go to the conference over this, so it seems like it was definitely serious enough he couldn’t risk it.

          I’d be right pissed if I brought a medical concern to my manager and his stance was not only “too bad” but also “liar liar”, and Jeff certainly had the right to be upset about all this.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            And that just makes sense. Here I am I have decided to tell my boss this HUGELY personal thing about myself. The personal thing is an absolute burden for me in my life. And the boss randomly decides, “no, that’s not true.”

            As they say, “That’s ONE.”

            I’d start being on the look out for other similar instances to see how much of a problem I have here.

        6. JSPA*

          Per google, “In the United States, it is estimated that 10 to15 percent of the adult population suffers from IBS symptoms, yet only 5 to 7 percent of adults have been diagnosed with the disease.” Reference to be added.

      2. On Fire*

        Agreed: I regularly spend six to eight hours driving, so five hours wouldn’t even be a blip for me. My husband, though, would hate it. In my field it would be very surprising to expect to fly in place of a five-hour drive — eight to ten hours is a more common threshold.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        Ha ha also from Texas: I don’t think five hours is that long, but it’s kind of long when you’re on business and the standards of restedness are different, and you’re not guaranteed much recovery time once you get there. Also, I’m relatively young and don’t have any old back injuries, etc., but I work with plenty of people who would be pretty stove up after five-plus hours in a car.

        1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

          Yeah, another Texan. A 5 hour drive is a weekend trip. Though for business, it would be a bit more exhausting. When I lived in the Northeast, a 5 hour drive still felt doable but a bit intense. That being said, I’d probably feel differently with medical concerns.

          When I did a nonprofit internship, we did a 20 hour drive each way to a conference in a van with 6 people. It was a good thing I really liked my fellow interns. The things you think are acceptable when you are younger…

          1. Quill*

            It’s infinitely more comfortable to take a nap on top of a member of your college cohort than it is to be that unprofessional with a coworker.

            I did 50% of my college field sampling as the maps person in the lead van (because I was local, so easier navigation) and the other 50% crammed between my friend’s roommate’s ex and my other friend’s ex roommate. The situation was NOT professional, but we were comfortable enough, especially after the first year of bonding via being stuffed in a van, covered in mud, treating each other’s catfish-acquired injuries and sharing a single bag of trail mix. We were also already aware of medical issues within the group, such as my intermittent limp and another student’s blood sugar needs, because we lived on top of each other to begin with, due to it being college.

            In general you don’t get that in a professional work environment where there aren’t other social factors forcing you to be some sort of cohabitant as well as coworkers.

          2. The Rural Juror*

            Also in Texas, but originally from the Oklahoma on the Texas border. The drive to see my family is about 5-6 hours depending on weather and traffic. Flying there would probably take 4 hours plus a rental car for the remaining 1-1/2 hours…so flying is not logistically smart. Being in the car for long trips is just par for the course for me. So I understand how perception is a big part of this.

            I let a friend of my ride with me to Oklahoma once for the holidays. Her dad met us in my hometown to drive her the rest of the way to their hometown, about 2 hours away. Then he drove her back and she hopped in with me to drive back to the Texas city where we both lived.

            She wasn’t feeling well on the way back, something had upset her stomach. I felt so bad for her, I know stomach issues are not fun, especially on a road trip. We had to stop quite a few times on the way back and it added about 2 hours to our drive. It wore me out being in the car that long but also having to stop often. Obviously she couldn’t help it, but it made a miserable day for the both of us. I can understand why Jeff would be hesitant to make that trip in a car with coworkers.

            1. Rainy*

              Yeah, we drive to see my family in OK because by the time you take into account driving to the airport (over an hour away from us by car, or almost 2 by airport bus), getting through security, the flight time, renting a car when we get to the closest airport to my folks, driving from the airport to my folks’ place, the 10ish hour drive is really only an hour or so longer than the flight.

              (Driving also allows us to take the dog, which everyone involved is pretty stoked about. My dad and my dachshund meeting for the first time was one of those Peak Dad moments where he went from “your dog is weird” to “I WOULD DIE FOR THIS PUP” in like twenty seconds.)

              But if I were to go there on business, I would absolutely not drive. There’s a difference between “it doesn’t matter when we get there, and as long as we can sleep through the morning livestock feeding noises, we can sleep as long as we like tomorrow” driving and “I have to be dressed and ready for a meeting at the equivalent of 7 my time tomorrow after a 10 hour drive today”.

          3. darlingpants*

            I live in the northeast, but until this year have lived far enough away from major airports that it makes more sense financially and time wise to take a 3-4 hour bus trip to Logan for a direct flight rather than add a layover to the trip. An 8 hour drive is when I’d start looking into plane tickets, 12-14 hours is when I’d start insisting on it (although college to home was a 12 hour drive, and painful as that was the two times I tried to fly were much worse due to weather and tiny planes).
            Every time there’s a question like
            this I wish the LW would disclose their geographic location, because where you are and where you’re trying to get to make a huge difference to how reasonable it is to fly.

        2. alienor*

          On a side note, my dad and grandmother were also from Texas and are the only other people I’ve ever heard use the expression “stove up.” Really enjoyed that bit of nostalgia on a Monday morning! :)

        3. RussianInTexas*

          Another Texan! 3 hours to the next city, a weekend trip.
          However, NOLA is 6 hours away, and I would probably fly. Mostly because I wouldn’t want to drive back hangover.
          For business though? I may take the flight option if available.

        4. JB*

          Driving ridiculously long distances and being fine with it is also a midwestern thing. Though I do agree with Allison that I would not want to be in a car that long with my coworkers!

        5. Paris Geller*

          Also a Texan, and I wouldn’t mind driving 5 hours for business by myself, but being with coworkers would make it worse for me–I like my coworkers! But I can also have some digestive issues and having to ask them to stop frequently if something’s not sitting right would make me uncomfortable. Also, if I drive alone I can play the music or crime podcast I want and in general just. . . feel more at-home.

      4. Guacamole Bob*

        Yeah, this varies a lot. In the northeastern US a 5-hour drive is a lot, usually means passing through multiple large cities that can cause traffic delays and are pretty stressful driving (hello NJ Turnpike, DC Beltway, etc). Plus more urban driving conditions can actually make it harder to find quick and easy places to stop compared to more rural driving where there are rest areas or just-off-the-highway gas stations and stuff periodically because most people on those roads are doing distances. I’d never do a 5-hour drive that meant going through NYC for a business conference (though I do it all the time for family vacations).

        In other parts of the US, 5 hours is not as big a deal. It’s still a long time in a car or van with coworkers, but people are much more used to doing longer drives and the driving itself is likely to be lower stress. I think nearly all business travelers would consider San Francisco to LA to be a flight, not a drive, but I don’t know about, say, Omaha to Wichita.

        In my personal life, saving the cost and hassle of renting a car at my destination is sometimes the deciding factor on driving versus flying. The OP doesn’t mention it, but it does affect overall cost.

        So geographic context matters.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          I should have said it matters to interpreting OP’s perspective, it doesn’t affect that once the employee disclosed a medical issue OP should have let him fly.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          The problem with flying to the small, midwestern cities is that there might only be one direct flight per day (or none), and they’re expensive. If I’m flying KC to Denver, I can get there just about anytime I want. If I want to fly to Madison, Wisconsin (and then drive to a job site) and have to fly through O’hare or Minneapolis, then it is not great for scheduling and delays, and some of my coworkers rather drive, even if it’s 8 hours.

          1. A*

            I would think that OP would have mentioned it if it was a legit logistical hurdle. OP only mentions being surprised because it wasn’t that long of a drive.

        3. A*

          Yes, I do wonder about the region OP is in because this could factor in heavily. OP’s letter read to me as ‘5 hour drive’ referring to the distance / without traffic. Might not be an issue, but is worth calling out. I’m in New England, and unless I’m heading into upstate New York, five hours in any direction will take me through multiple metro cities that would tag on a fair amount of time.

          Same way that I’m “two hours” from the Cape, but in actuality with traffic it’s ~6 hours in the Spring or Summer.

          But who knows, maybe OP is driving across the heartland. Or Texas.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Oh so very true. One memorable vacation took 4.5 hours to get there… and 10 to come home. My husband the navigator summarized Google’s traffic options as “Someone painted the map red.”

        4. Kesnit*

          “Plus more urban driving conditions can actually make it harder to find quick and easy places to stop compared to more rural driving where there are rest areas or just-off-the-highway gas stations and stuff periodically because most people on those roads are doing distances.”

          Depends on where you are going. My job’s annual conference is about 4.5 hours from the office. You can get there on mostly 4-lane roads, but these aren’t interstates. There are long distances between cities, and “city” is a loose term for some of the places we drive through. A bathroom emergency could take the vehicle way out of the way in order to find a place to stop.

          1. Quill*

            Not to mention I’ve done some trips where you find a small town or a truck stop to stop at after an hour on the road in the rural midwest… and then you realize some member of the group has compelling reasons to not want to stay there even for a bathroom break, because even if you grew up in a small town, not every small town is safe for every person.

          2. Guacamole Bob*

            Yeah, there comes a point with rural where there aren’t a lot of places to stop.

            I was thinking of, say, the DC beltway compared to the Pennsylvania or NJ Turnpike, or I-95 between Baltimore and Delaware. Lots of exits on the beltway, but figuring out which ones have gas stations or other bathrooms right off the ramp is not that straightforward if you aren’t local. Or you could end up having to park and walk into the mall at Tyson’s Corner or something and it’s not a quick off/on. But on roads that are more typically used for longer-distance trips there are convenient rest areas every so often miles, plus many exits have a clearly-marked gas station right off the highway.

            If you’re in rural Wyoming or something it’s an entirely different story.

        5. ...*

          Exactly! In the midwest 5 hours is nothing and then you have a car when you get there and you dont have to go through an x ray or be trapped with strangers on a plane. Unless my co workers were terrible people I’d rather be with my co workers than strangers

        6. Prof. Space Cadet*

          Totally agree about geographic context! I once made the mistake of driving from Washington D.C. to Hartford, Connecticut on a personal trip. Traffic in/around New York City was so hair-raising that I never did it again and took the train.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            +1, except it was DC to Princeton. Never again, that’s what Amtrak is for.

            Of course, in DC traffic, a five-hour drive is maybe 100 miles. Or your normal commute, if a truck overturns on the Beltway.

        7. Staci*

          Yes. I live in Utah and flying anywhere within the state is insanely expensive. If you are in Utah and going anywhere else in Utah you drive.

      5. Ping*

        I agree with this. In California this would even be a day trip. I’m sure the Aussies and others in the western US think nothing about it.

        It depends on how you grew up.

        And yes, I’ve driven trips like this in one day for work. The airports were multiple hours away from the site and at some point it becomes a wash.

        I think the real issue is Jeff’s urgent need for a toilet. A Bus, train, or plane would work. Or he could rent a vehicle.

        But the issue is that OP didn’t pick up on the stomach issue and Jeff didn’t disclose.

        1. cyanste*

          Ooof. Hard disagree. When I traveled for work in California (as a Californian), we had a 2 hour drive time limit, then after that it would be dependent on where we were going to. Bay Area to Sacramento? Sure, day trip. Bay Area to Los Angeles? Nope nope nope. That’s a 5/6 hour drive and we’d always expect to fly. Like other folks pointed out, it was also just easier to work at the airport or on the plane itself instead of being in a car.

          1. Ping*

            As I stated, the work sites were literally hours away from the airport.

            This is dependent on industry. But day trips were quite normal to remote sites.

      6. CatMintCat*

        Same. I live in the Australian bush. Four hours drive is our nearest big town for shopping, we often dothat as a day trip. The nearest city is eight hours drive. You can fly from our smaller town to the city. Nowhere else. We drive a lot.

      1. Clisby*

        But does renting a van mean they’re also hiring a driver and paying that person’s expenses during the conference? No way one of the employees should have to drive everyone for 5 hours, unless they’ve volunteered and are being given a really nice bonus for this.

        1. Alexis Rose*

          Every time I’ve traveled for work by vehicle, I’ve either taken a company one or a rental and have driven myself or one of my coworkers have driven. The longest trip I did was multiple days, I think? Although in that case it was also because we needed to transport equipment along with us so it was our job to do that. I wasn’t a professional driver by any means, just a job doing field research.

          I wonder if this is an industry difference? Working in science or in government, it was always expected that if you were travelling by car, you or a coworker was driving. No bonuses or anything, just got meals and accommodations covered. I would be really baffled if someone ever suggested they get a bonus for driving or that a driver be hired.

          1. Val Z*

            Yeah, I’ve never heard of hiring a driver or giving bonuses in this situation. In my experience, everyone takes turns driving.

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Only time I’ve seen a driver was when a few dozen people with heavy equipment were attending a convention ~70 miles from the office. That was one or two full-fledged buses, with equipment in the luggage compartment.

        2. Yorick*

          I’d be surprised if hiring a driver for the traveling employees was the standard in any industry.

          1. Lady Meyneth*

            *Raises hand*

            It’s standard in my industry. We either fly (85% of the time), take the train if it’s cost-time-effective, or hire a van/bus with a driver. In my company, we are not encouraged to drive ourselves anywhere, and gas isn’t reinbursed for those that choose to drive.

              1. Lady Meyneth*

                I’m in engineering, but admitedly, a very niche part of it, and not in the US. Basically we’re consultants, hired as experts by either an auditor or, more commonly, directly by the client, to assess what might have gone wrong in a piece of equipment, sugest design improvements, or just help them make things more efficient overall.

                Because it’s such specialized work, and since we do travel a lot, it’s generally considered a bad and dangerous move to have us drive, as roads are so much more dangerous than flying. It’s unthinkable to put a lot of us in a van and trust our driving skills to be good enough on a strange vehicle (we have good public transportation here, so nobody drives a lot). It’s also a lot more efficient to have us fly/take trains, since that’s time we could be working, and road time isn’t.

        3. TechWorker*

          Yeah I think this is an odd expectation, plenty of places it’s assumed you will drive yourself. Luckily where we travel is only ~1.5 hours but we car share! I hate driving and 5 hours would be pants, but if there are multiple drivers and you’re sharing then it’s just not that out of the ordinary?

          1. A*

            Well first you’re still in a van with colleagues for ten hours round trip, which we’ve established is not universally a norm across all industries – so not inherently outlandish to be pushed back on.

            Secondly, I for one am more than comfortable driving rental cars etc. but am not comfortable driving a van. My car is a small sedan, I’m thrown off by the height of vans, and get nervous. Last time I drove a U-Haul I pulled over on the highway for my friend to take over because I couldn’t confidently say I felt in control. When you’re on the road you’re not just gambling with your lives but with the lives of those around you, so comfort level is extremely important.

            And while this might be less common, I also know some people who do not like driving others, or get nervous when driving coworkers etc. Point being, unless it was a part of the job description when they were hired, this approach is chock full of assumptions that I’m not so sure are entirely reasonable or realistic.

            1. SafetyChic*

              Nobody mentioned the co-worker who drives like a bat of hell, tailgates and speeds. As a former safe driver and truck driver instructor, and paranoid to boot, I am not a good passenger and poor driving sends my nerves in overdrive and my spinster muscle sucking seat covers. No employee should have to tell a supervisor they have IBS or other issues that result in frequent toilet use. Five hours of driving equals to about 6 or more car-hours, with fuel and walk breaks, not good for people with circulation issues. At least on a plane you can get up and move around.

        4. Texan In Exile*

          Hahaha no. Not only did they not hire a driver, they expected employees to drive the van. I always refused: I have bad depth perception, even with a car; I am not used to driving on the highway anymore; and I am definitely not used to driving through Chicago, which is the route we would have to take to get to my company’s HQ. It probably did not endear me to my fellow employees, but they could be angry at my cheap-@ss former employer, which would not pay for people to fly to HQ, expecting us instead to drive the five hours around the lake. Even in the summer, when you can take the ferry (which is comfortable, has bathrooms, and has wifi – and is also very cool), some bosses expected you to drive with a group rather than pay $200 for a ferry ticket.

          1. A*

            I’m right there with you, I refuse to drive a van – let alone in or around a metropolitan city (I hadn’t even allowed myself to consider that possibility, I literally cringed when I read your comment). It’s truly in everyone’s best interests. Safety is not up for negotiation, especially when it’s extended to everyone else on the road and in the vehicle.

            Luckily I’ve never has push back since we all would like to survive these trips intact.

          2. CmdrShepard4ever*

            But is it $200 per person for each ticket or was it $200 total for everyone.

            For group business travel individual flights/ferry tickets can quickly add up.

            If one person is traveling to a site, sure a ticket might only be $200, that is not an expensive transportation cost. But if 5/6 people are traveling to the same place then that is $1,000 to $1,200 in transportation costs, when a rented van plus gas might cost $300 to $500 in total transportation costs. That is 50% or more in savings. A five hour drive especially if two people are willing to drive is not that long only 2.5 hrs of driving per person. If the actual travel time for a flight is the same when you calculate time spent driving to the airport, getting through security, arriving early for the flight, boarding process, flight time, disembarking, collecting your bags, driving form the airport to the final destination, it makes sense to go with the cheaper transportation option that takes the same amount of time.

            As a coworker I would not be upset with you for not wanting to drive due to actual safety issues. I also understand people having certain digestive issues or other medical needs that make a 5 hr car ride uncomfortable, but accommodations can still be made during a car ride.

            I also think that the type of travel matter, if the travel if 100% for the companies benefit such as a sales call or for a work issue the company should be more lenient. But a conference while providing some benefits for the employer, often provides the most direct benefit to the employee and is not essential travel.

            1. Macarena*

              As someone who gets extremely car (and bus/van) sick, can I just say that is is absolutely horrible to have it dismissed and to have people act like you are being spoiled or precious because you need to fly or train instead?

              I don’t have a condition like IBS or anything, I just get horrible car and bus sickness to the point
              Regardless of whether I am the driver or the passenger, I can handle about an hour in a car at the absolute most before I need to vomit and I don’t feel any better until the driving stops.

              This is a huge reason I get annoyed at people who say “move rural” as a way to solve the cost of living in cities. I need access to trains/subways/airports or I am going nowhere.

              If anyone is familiar with the NYC metro area, I grew up in Paramus NJ and if I caught the bus between Garden State Plaza and Port Authority (~45mins), I was already feeling gross and light headed by the time I arrived, and there was more than one occasion I had go to straight to a bathroom to puke when I arrived PA/GSP.

              I can not be in a vehicle for long.

              I pay way too much to live in Brooklyn because I don’t need to own a car to live here.

              A five hour drive each way is out of the question for me.

              My employer can either fly me to where I need to go, or they can accept I will not be going.

              I will gladly get my doctor to write something for me explaining that if it ever comes to it.

              But yeah, it REALLY sucks to be treated like you are some spoiled pampered princess because…, I can’t “just drive” from DC to Boston.

              1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                I simply can’t imagine being in a car for over 3 hours, let alone more. I’d be in hideous pain. Ok, I live in the UK where you can’t go more than 100 miles before hitting ocean but it’s still a thing that sometimes people can’t do long car journeys. It’s something you accommodate, not belittle.

        5. Dagny*

          Anecdotal, but from what I know of one university, driving oneself is standard. If the money works out so that it’s about the same to drive as to fly, you’ll get the choice, but they really push the cheaper option. Carpooling would be assumed if several people from the department are going (although everyone gets their own hotel room, obviously). For a class trip, it’s not unusual to use a university-provided van and have the professors drive the students for ten hours each way.

          It’s not corporate America; they really do try to save money wherever they can.

    2. Reluctant Manager*

      But if there’s a van going, the incremental cost of another person is minimal. Plus with transportation to/from the airport at both ends, there are often hidden costs to flying (especially if the company has to pay for a meal during travel–that adds up).

      1. WellRed*

        The company is equally like to have to pay for a meal either way. More likely on a much longer road trip (if he has to regularly make pit stops, that could add up to another hour or two).

        1. Malarkey01*

          Every industry I worked for gave you full per diem for a 24 hour day and 3/4 per diem for travel days so an extra couple of hours wasn’t going to incur additional meal cost.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I agree that driving isn’t always cheaper – but if you’re coming from a more remote area and would be paying for three or more tickets on a plane then renting one van for the whole group may be more cost effective.

      However, this is totally ignoring any health issues or wanting to stay a day or so later in the conference area for a mini-vacation. Those need to be considered as well with travel.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I disagree that someone wanting to stay a day or two extra at a travel site for a mini-vacation should be considered with travel. It is not the employers job to give you opportunities for mini-vacations. If a van was chosen as the transportation method and you want to stay then it is on you to rent a car or book a flight to get back to your home city. An employer should not incur increased expenses just so you can have a mini-vacation.

    4. The Time Being*

      Expecting one person to drive five hours, no, that’s not reasonable. But if you’ve got a group of people who can take turns, it’s a lot more logical — especially since the incremental cost of more people in the car is minimal and the incremental cost of sending multiple people by airplane is massive.

      That doesn’t account for the medical issues, of course. But until Jeff brought those up, the OP’s stance seems pretty sensible.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Huh? I do this often. San Jose to Reno is about 4 hours, if there is no traffic en route. It can be up to eight hours if you have traffic.

        But in order to do this, I need to be very careful about what I eat, and I need to be the one driving.

        1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          I do all sorts of things easily that it’s not reasonable to expect people in general to do.

    5. CheeryO*

      Academia probably has different norms than your average corporate workplace. I work for state government, and I’ve done many a 4+ hour road trip to the other side of the state. Flying isn’t an option – if it’s too far to drive, we don’t go, period.

      The health issue complicates things. At my workplace, we’d probably let someone with similar concerns drive on their own so they could set their own schedule and stop as needed, but that’s about as much of an accommodation as they’d get. Regardless, there definitely should have been more of a conversation here.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        Yep. I’m in my university’s speakers’ bureau, so I’ve taken some very long road trips. I don’t mind — I actually enjoy a good road trip — but not everyone is me.

        Accepting a speaking invitation is never mandatory, however. That would be Jeff’s out in my shop.

      2. ieAnon*

        Yes, there’s a particular site where a lot of our events are held that’s 5-6 hours from my university. I generally drive down the night before and back the next day, after the conference ends. If it were farther or I didn’t want to drive, I wouldn’t be going.

        Definitely agree with your second paragraph. I think this is one of those situations where academia differs greatly from other workplaces, but you still have to take health issues into account. My suspicion is, all things considered, Jeff didn’t have a strong enough reason to be at the conference to justify the cost (it wasn’t required of him, he wasn’t presenting, OP said it would be useful but not critical). But that’s a very different conversation from “lie to your coworkers about why you need to stop, since you’re embarrassed by your health issue.”

      3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        Academia is also tricky, because there are lots of colleges, especially State U’s, in oddball corners of the US that really aren’t near airports, period. It might be a five hour drive TO the airport.

    6. Mama Bear*

      In my experience, a five hour drive is rarely just five hours with food, pit stops, and unforeseen road conditions. If you are in a vehicle with people who travel very differently than you do, that’s hours if misery…to also dread on the way back. I can’t blame Jeff for not wanting to be a part of that with his medical concerns, the severity of which he shouldn’t have to disclose. Not all disorders are the same or manifest the same for each person. OP should consider how dismissive they sounded.

    7. Bee Eye Ill*

      My cheap ex-boss made me drive 9 hours one way for a conference. We had a company vehicle and got no mileage. Also, I was salary.

    8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Mileage at the federal rate for 2020 is 57.5c a mile. Narrowing my eyes at the lower amounts other businesses are deciding to use.

      But if they’re renting a vehicle, nobody is getting mileage reimbursement. It’s just the rental of the van + gas versus the plane tickets.

      But I fly from Seattle to Eugene frequently because it saves me energy and like Alison pointed out, you can actively work in an airport and even on a plane, more so than you can in the car.

      People don’t realize that in the car, people are often tense and it’s exhausting all your muscles from being on high alert. Even as a passenger since it’s there’s so much happening outside the windows often enough.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        With a mifi, other passengers can work on a car trip, too. If you trade off driving, everyone can get some things done. We’ve had a rolling office on 3-4 person trips. I hate flying. I find driving much lest exhausting. I’m in control. No one is going to taxi me out to the runway, sit there for an hour, then bring me back to the gate. No one is going to land and then sit forever waiting for the gate to be available while I’m already on a tight connection at another terminal. Sure, major highway backups happen, but it’s rarer in the places I go than flight delays are. I flew to an out-of-state office location almost every week for a year in 2018 because a 12 hour drive wouldn’t have been practical, but I still didn’t fall in love with the convenience of air travel.

        I mean, I’m not arguing that YOU prefer flying! That’s okay, but it’s important to remember people have different personalities and evaluation criteria.

        1. Cat*

          There’s no outlets in a car and for a lot of people working in a car is a recipe for nausea. I mean, I think we all know that some people prefer to drive, but there are certainly ways it’s less convenient.

        2. Deliliah*

          I can’t read in a car, it makes me queasy. Also, if I’m not in the passenger seat, I get carsick pretty fast. The only way to combat it is to sleep. So I’m not getting anything done in a car.

          1. MGW*

            Yep I’ve been in 5 hour car rides where 3/4 of us get carsick, worse in the backseat. So at least one person is always miserable and no work can get done.

        3. Aquawoman*

          I agree that it’s important to remember people have different criteria, but that includes remembering that people get car sick and not just assuming everyone can work in the car.

          1. Rainy*

            I’ve also known at least one person whose carsickness manifested as an hour of nausea alone, and then the second through final hours were nausea plus debilitating gas. I mean, I assume it was also debilitating for that person, but it debilitated me.

        4. QED*

          Planes and cars are very different for many people in terms of work ability! After takeoff, planes tend to be a smoother ride than cars or vans. For example, I and many other people I know don’t get motion sickness on planes absent special circumstances, but we do in cars in traffic or on windy roads if we try to read. If I was told by my work to take a long car trip with the expectation that I would be able to do work while others drove, I would push back pretty hard. Planes also have wifi, whereas in a car you’re going to be completely dependent on your phone’s data plan, which may be spotty depending on where you are. Cars also don’t have enough outlets for multiple people to do work (if they have any at all), so if it’s a long enough trip and your laptop dies, you’re done working. People have different preferences, but I do think it’s easier to work on a plane for just about everybody than in a car.

        5. hufflepuff hobbit*

          Lots of people cannot work in cars. I get very motion sick and, about once a month, I am required to work off-site to the tune of four hours of driving/riding with co-workers (this is added on to the outside of the normal work day). I can’t really work on a plane, either very well, but do get less sick on airplanes.

        6. Smuckers*

          I could work in the car for maybe an hour before I’d either have to stop or we’d all be pulling over for me to be sick by the side of the road. I think that there are a lot of people who can’t work in the car. Pre-covid, I worked on planes and trains all the time, though!

        7. Fieldpoppy*

          For me the drive would be a complete no go — being behind the wheel with coworkers is stressful, not driving makes me carsick, and traffic/ weather where I live is unpredictable. I also have digestive issues. So I vote for “unreasonable unless everyone wants to relive a youth group experience”

          1. DefCon 10*

            And “youth” is an important concept here. I work for a state university, so we do the, “pile 10 co-workers in a van and drive 5 hours” thing, and we pile in as many people as there are seatbelts, so we’re crammed in with no elbow room, and if you’re in the far back seat, no legroom either. I’m a little over 50 and arthritic, and the last time I did one of these trips, I was in serious pain in the first hour. I’ve started taking my own car at my own expense. I wish employers would recognize that people don’t have to be “elderly” to be uncomfortable doing some things.

        8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I didn’t say that I didn’t understand that some people prefer to drive. That’s fine. It’s a preference.

          It also depends on where you’re at. It’s nice that road incidents happen rarely where you are.

          I’ve never driven the interstate 5 without having multiple incidents in a 300 mile stretch. Including just general backups that can stretch a 4.5 drive to 8 hours easily.

          I don’t prefer flying actually. I prefer having more time with my family though and way more energy, which is what happens when I fly between cities that are only an average of 5 hours.

          I know so many people who get carsick that they can’t even read a novel during a drive, let alone in a bumpy ass stop and go, breaks slamming on sometimes car.

          And we don’t ever trade of driving because it’s not how everyone rolls. It adds more stress to the trip for someone to get into driving mode and take over.

        9. AnotherAlison*

          Wow guys, thanks for the reminder some people can’t work in cars. Jeez.

          And some people can do it fine. I’m certainly not telling my coworkers, hey, you need to write up that document while I drive. People can take naps if they want. I’m just saying being in cars is not prohibitive to working in many cases.

          Many vehicles do have power sources, esp. if you’re renting a van, and my work provides laptops that have enough battery life for at minimum a few hours of work. Many planes don’t have outlets, either.

          1. A*

            1) I think it’s important to keep in mind that the commenters were all speaking to their individual experiences, not necessarily echoing the exact same thing – so I don’t think this was a ‘pile on’. You seem a bit defensive so I just wanted to point that out, cause when you’re reading them back to back it can be easy to lose sight of that.

            2) I think the main take away here is that while there are, of course since blanket statements are inherently flawed, some people that don’t get carsick when working etc. there are a large number of people that do. In my experience, this is one of the more commonly discussed issues surrounding business travel. Not that you’re suggestion isn’t valid, just explaining why there is a higher volume of responses.

        10. Curmudgeon in California*

          I can NOT work in a moving car! I only have the use of one hand, and I can’t hold a laptop on my lap and type at the same time, plus my back will complain if I do the laptop hunch for more than an hour. Yes, I have an access point, but laptops and cars are a serious no go for me. I can’t even use one of a train because I have to table to set it on, and I literally *can’t* hold it on my lap and type at the same time.

          Many people can’t use a laptop in a moving vehicle – screen focus issues, ability to type while moving, etc. To expect it is irrational.

        11. JSPA*

          Disclose bathroom needs? Can do.
          read/write in a car? I’d be a puking mess (and you’d be a puked-on mess).

      2. RB*

        Seattle to Eugene is almost the same exact distance being discussed in the letter, so that is a good comparison.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Yeah, it can be about a 5 hour drive. But it’s fairly well populated along big stretches, and can get clogged up with traffic in Tacoma, Portland, or around any of the huge malls plunked down. It would be very different from a 300-mile drive in Texas. Or (in the other direction) along much of the Eastern Seaboard.

    9. Yorick*

      Assuming they’re driving 75 mph for 5 hours, that’s less than $200 in mileage. OP was planning for 3-4 of them to ride together, so paying mileage to the owner of the vehicle would be saving quite a lot.

    10. Kimberly*

      I think it is also a regional thing. My niece went to a dance intensive class held in the same town her family has a vacation home. She was excited to fly instead of the 15-hour drive. With getting there early because teens flying “alone”, security, layover to get to a small regional airport, waiting for other people’s flights to get in, and a weather delay + the 3 hour drive to the actual town – it took them 20 hours travel time. (These are neighboring states)

      I once took a 5 hour 1-way work trip driving instead of flying – in part because the total travel time would have been 8 hours if we flew (Security (high for an itty bitty middle of nowhere airport due to a military base and most passengers were military), layovers and flight time). That is assuming no weather delay in Dallas. I’ve never gone through Dallas in the summer without a delay due to thunderstorms either in Houston or Dallas.

    11. ...*

      I wonder if there is a regional difference about how far is far when driving. Im from the Midwest so 5 hours seems like nothing to me? Leave at 7 and get there at noon, its basically the blink of an eye. I always see memes that are like: Person from the midwest: Why would we fly its only a 14 hour drive?

      1. Dagny*

        This is true, and it’s because drives in the midwest are easy. Long, open stretches of highway, no mountains or massively congested cities, little traffic, lots of rest stop possibilities because of truckers. Driving from Boston to NYC is exhausting.

    12. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      They can make you rent a car, though. But that’s not always a cheap option either.

    13. Letter Writer*

      Driving (with 3 people in the car) would definitely have been cheaper than having one person fly and two drive. This is partially because plane tickets are expensive where we are (compared to the in the USA), partially because there would have been need for mileage or car rental to and from the airport on both ends of the trip, and then extra costs like baggage fees. For both personal and professional reasons I wish that flying to this location was logistically easier and cost less!

    14. Margo Win*

      My school district used to have me attend a conference 9+ hours away in Boise and expect me to drive it solo in one day. The mileage was more than twice the flight cost, but they thought flights “looked bad” to the local taxpayers. So we wasted money making me drive. I only went once.

      The district office also got really huffy that I left a day early and paid for my own hotel room along the route so I wouldn’t have to do it all in one day. Now they don’t even let us take our own vehicles unless there are no district ones available. Which means making that drive in a 10-passenger econo-van or the giant bare-bones Ag pickup. So pretty much no one drives anywhere on the school’s dime. I just drive myself to conferences and eat the mileage.

    15. natalie tulips*

      I once drove to a city ~3 hours away for an interview and they reimbursed me at $1 per mile. They didn’t tell me the rate ahead of time and boy, did that check soften the blow of not getting the job!

  3. Roscoe*

    I think Allison hit the nail on the head with the last paragraph. It sounds like OP didn’t fully believe him, or even if they did believe him, didn’t think his severity was enough.

    I get the overall point. 5 hours is pretty borderline on driving vs. flying, and when sending 3 people, the cost saving s are significant. But different people have a different tolerance for that. Also, I don’t know your team, but 5 hours in a car with certain co-workers would be awful for me. Even if I get along with them, there are plenty of people who I woudn’t want to be in an enclosed space that long with. I kind of think its on you as manager for not saying “we will approve this, but you will have to drive not fly like you have in the past”. But when you set flying as the precedent, then tell someone later that they actually have to drive, you get situations like this

    1. Heidi*

      I agree that getting out ahead of this would have been a good idea. It’s possible that the manager is worried that if she allows Jeff to fly, the other two people might also want to fly instead of drive, and they haven’t budgeted for that. Framing it that way up front might have saved both parties the awkwardness of mismatched expectations.

    2. Bostonian*

      I didn’t get the impression that OP didn’t believe him, but rather that OP (mistakenly) thought that making more frequent car stops was a reasonable solution.

    3. Not a Girl Boss*

      I think a good compromise would have been to allow him to drive separately.
      I actually have made this exact compromise when I had to travel 5 hours for work on a semi regular basis: I’d drive, but I wouldn’t carpool.

      I am just one of those people who will do absolutely everything in my power not to have to drive with coworkers.
      Its too full of problems. I don’t trust other people’s driving, I want to be free to stop at rest stops when I want, I am horrified at the thought of 5 hours of small talk in the car instead of one of my podcasts, I already despise long car rides, and I don’t like that once I get there I won’t have my own car (or cab) option for getting around.

      1. Roscoe*

        Even still I don’t think that would’ve been a good compromise. He likely assumed based on his previous conferences that he would fly. If that wasn’t the case, OP should’ve made that point before approving it. There are plenty of conferences I’d be very open to going to, but not driving there. It seems like there isn’t really a set policy in place, its just kind of at managers discretion what she thinks is fair to drive to or not. But I just feel that has too much leeway to it.

        1. Not a Girl Boss*

          I guess I don’t really see why it’s a big deal that there was a miscommunication about flying versus driving up front. It’s not like he lost money or had to change plans last minute. When he found out he couldn’t fly, he chose not to go, and as far as I can tell no one had a problem with that.

          1. Liane*

            Not a Girl Boss: “I guess I don’t really see why it’s a big deal…”

            It’s a big deal because the request was made ****Due To A Health Issue****

            1. pamela voorhees*

              Exactly — from the employee’s perspective, he was told he couldn’t go to a conference he wanted to go to because he requested accommodations for a health issue. It’s a pretty big deal.

      2. CmdrShepard4ever*

        In that case does work pay your mileage for driving separately? Will your work allow everyone else to drive on their own and pay their mileage? Part of the calculation is that carpooling is often significantly cheaper than everyone driving separately or flying. Even if 4 people driving their own cars is cheaper than 4 people flying, I think for a 4/5 hour trip it is reasonable for the company to say due to cost savings people should carpool.

        I could see a compromise where if you choose to drive separately the company will only reimburse for gas, but not pay mileage, since you are choosing to drive on your own then you can incur the wear and tear costs for the car.

        1. Not a Girl Boss*

          My company specifically has us rent cars for overnight travel. So mileage reimbursement doesn’t factor in. For the specific area we were going to, flying was a huge pain so we were all happy to drive instead.

    4. Letter Writer*

      Yes, I think Alison got at something there. Looking back on it, I did believe Jeff but I think my manager (Jeff’s grandboss) would not have. Unfortunately she and Jeff have clashed in the past. In particular, there was an issue that happened when I was temporarily reassigned to another area which resulted in my manager questioning Jeff’s trustworthiness. I think it was an honest communication error and do trust Jeff. Maybe I was unconsciously anticipating my manager questioning why I’d let him fly and what “proof” I had. Not saying that is right.

      I agree that getting out in front of it was my responsibility, and is something I started doing after this. In hindsight, as soon as medical accommodations came up I should have directed Jeff to HR. He could have communicated with them and they could have let me know what course of action to take without Jeff having to disclose anything.

  4. Bend & Snap*

    10 hours round trip in a van with coworkers sounds heinous and I wouldn’t want to go under those conditions.

    1. The Original K.*

      Me neither. Five hours in my own car when I can pick what I listen to & how often I stop is one thing (and that does sound long to me, I would expect to fly somewhere that is a five-hour drive away), but five hours in a van with coworkers sounds much longer to me.

    2. irene adler*

      For me, I’d be worried about the safety aspect. Flying is safer than driving.
      Driving 5 hours is a lot-for me, it is very fatiguing. Yes, folks can take turns. But why put my co-workers through unnecessary (albeit small) risk?

      1. Mama Bear*

        Sleeping on a plane of strangers is not as big a deal as falling asleep in front of your coworkers. I find travel with people in the “I know them, but not well” category exhausting.

        1. The Original K.*

          Yep. There’s a certain level of “on” you have to be at work, and that includes work travel. Tacking on ten extra hours of that is really unappealing.

      2. Ashley*

        Totally agree. I hate driving with people who are not my own friends/family. My team at work once had to carpool to a corporate event roughly 3 hours away. I didn’t want to drive because I didn’t want to be responsible for my colleagues’ safety, and I also didn’t want to be in a vehicle with a virtually unknown driver. Sure, I know you as a coworker, but I don’t know how safe a driver you are! It was a very tense drive for me, that’s for sure.

      3. Not a Girl Boss*

        Yeah, honestly, I just never ever want to have to choose between making an awkward stink with coworkers and feeling safe as a passenger in their car, but I just do NOT trust other people’s driving styles enough. I have enough fights with my own husband about driving habits, hard pass with coworkers.

        Especially if they’re in a rented van the driver likely isn’t familiar with driving.

    3. Turquoisecow*

      Yeah, this. A five hour drive with my family for a vacation, sure. Five hours on my own, no problem. But five hours with a couple of coworkers in a van to go to a conference? No thanks.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        This is the comment I was looking for.

        Pittsburgh, PA to Washington, DC is about a 4.5 hour drive and it’s a 45 minute flight (to any of the airports in the area).

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        That is a really good point. We had a 2 hr flight to our satellite office when my work group visited it a few years ago. It would’ve taken 12 hours one way to drive there. Not 5.

      3. TechWorker*

        Um this is clearly not something that’s the same across all routes… they said the airport is an hour away, the nearest airport absolutely could be in the wrong direction (so compare to a 7 hour drive), plus how far you can drive in 5 hours depends vastly on the roads and whether there’s any built up areas to go through. Let’s trust LW that they know the places in question and haven’t randomly exaggerated the flight time!

        1. high school teacher*

          But the OP says the flight itself is 2 hours. That doesn’t make sense. If OP said the entire process takes 2 hours, fine. But that’s not what is in the post.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            What I think what @TechWorker is saying that based on specific circumstances it might work out that a 2 hour flight is the same as a 5 hour drive. If OP is in City A, but the departure airport is 1/1.5 hours drive north of City B, but the destination is actually City B 5 hours south of City B. Also keep in mind that not all airports are close to downtown areas where conference centers are usually located. It is possible that arriving airport is 1/1.5 hours south of of City B. So while City A and City B are only 5 hours way driving, but if you drove from the originating airport and the arriving airport it it would be a 7 hour flight.

            The city I live in is 5 hour drive away from another city, and a flight takes 1.5 hours. But to get to the airport it takes about .75 hrs. Then you need to arrive at the airport about 1.5/2 hours prior to the flight. After you land it takes .35 hrs to get your bags and get to a taxi/public transit point, from the airport it can take about .35 to get to your destination. If we add it up we are at 1.5+.75+2+.35+.35= 4.95 hours.

      4. darlingpants*

        This depends dramatically on where you are and where you’re trying to get. For example, from my own life: Trying to get from mid coast Maine to upstate NY is an 8 hour drive. It’s a 4-7 hour flight (depending on which layover you pick) with a layover in DC (or somewhere else totally out of the way) and an hour drive to the airport in the first place. You’re on small aircrafts, so any thunder or snow storms anywhere in the country will cause delays that might impact your flights.

        It doesn’t look like there are even any direct flights from Bangor to Boston (a 5ish hour drive). Everyone just takes the bus or drives.

        I recognize that I hate flying more than average, but if you’re trying to get from somewhere with a small airport to somewhere with a small airport, it’s often much easier to drive, even if the drive is 5-10 hours long.

      5. fhqwhgads*

        Yeah, that stuck out to me too. Everywhere I can think of that’d be a 5 hour drive is more like a 45-60 minute flight. Unless the driving route has a much higher than normal speed limit and little expected traffic… or if the only flights between the two places are very small planes with lower speeds. Even factoring in the “hour to the airport” bit (meaning from where the airport is might make it a 6 hour drive) the math there struck me as odd.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      That is where I fall, too. Pre-Covid, I have regularly driven myself 5-7 hours one way to personal events. But that’s with just me in the car, when I am fully in control of the music, AC, rest stops and so on; and it’s driving to a personal fun event, not to a work conference. Not going to lie, I have always arrived at the events feeling tired and with a sore back. But if all you are going to do on your first night there is chatting, drinking, board gaming etc with your friends, that’s no big deal. If you are going there to work, eh no.

      Also 5 hours is a long enough drive that I have on a couple occasions found myself nodding off behind the wheel, especially on the way back from the event, when I hadn’t gotten a lot of rest or sleep at the event. But again that’s with just me in the car, and with being able to pull over any moment. Would not take that risk with several coworkers in the car! I guess my point is, I would bow out of the conference as well, if I were Jeff.

    5. Ohlaurdy*

      Agree completely. I love to drive and 2 5 hour drives on my own would be OK although I’d still prefer to fly if possible. Two 5 hour drives with coworkers (especially if I’m not guaranteed to be the driver to avoid car sickness) is a hell no. Two 5 hour drives with coworkers AND GI problems is a no effing way.

    6. PrgrmMngr*

      Long drives with co-workers sounds like hell and requires so much trust in your coworkers to have styles that mesh with yours, not someone who decides that it’s only 30 minutes (or any length of time) to the destination so your request for a break doesn’t matter, they’d rather push through.

      I’m also biased from being in the NorthEast, but a kind of common 200 mile route (Boston to NY) can be 5 hours, it can be shorter super early in the morning, and it can be much longer if you hit rush hour, road work, or bad weather.

      1. Not a Girl Boss*

        Ugh, one time that drive turned into 10 hours because of the GWB closing scandal. And I was with my beloved husband and we barely made it out alive.

        We have since been forced to make the drive with my MIL many times down to Virginia to see family, and it is hell, and I do not allow us to take the GWB route.

        1. Amanda*

          I drove DC to Boston in 5 hours, the way back was 13 hours! Northeast traffic is no joke.

    7. Alli525*

      And especially not now, when we know that circulated air puts everyone at increased risk for coronavirus. I wouldn’t want to drive with the windows down on the highway for several reasons, and I don’t think I’d trust the button that allows drivers to switch from circulated air to vented air to fully ventilate to the point where risk would be the same as having the windows down. At least we know airlines are falling all over themselves to sanitize the planes with advanced tech (UV lights, etc.) as well as the normal methods.

      1. Cat*

        Well, it happened a year ago. Hopefully everyone’s calculus about non-essential travel is different now! For one thing, I hope nobody is still holding conferences in person!

        1. Alli525*

          Well, sure, hopefully no one’s holding in-person conferences at this exact moment, but they’ll resume sooner or later – likely before a vaccine is distributed widely – and I hope OP takes the pandemic into consideration when figuring out travel plans for the next couple years. People are going to be nervous about public transit for a long time.

    8. Not a Girl Boss*

      Agreed, that would send my shoulders up to my ears.
      I think a good compromise would have been to allow him to drive separately.
      I actually have made this exact compromise when I had to travel 5 hours for work on a semi regular basis: I’d drive, but I wouldn’t carpool.

      I am just one of those people who will do absolutely everything in my power not to have to drive with coworkers.
      Its too full of problems. I don’t trust other people’s driving, I want to be free to stop at rest stops when I want, I am horrified at the thought of 5 hours of small talk in the car instead of one of my podcasts, I already despise long car rides, and I don’t like that once I get there I won’t have my own car (or cab) option for getting around.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        One five-hour trip of my coworkers listening to my full volume and very bad renditions of 90s pop songs (the only way I know how to get through long road trips) later and they’d happily insist on the boss giving me my own rental car on every trip going forward.

        1. Vina*

          I think my long-drive playlists would drive people bonkers. It’s not bad music, per se, but it’s very much me. Only my husband really gets it and shares it.

          This is a recipe for creating issues between coworkers.

    9. Zombeyonce*

      I’d much rather spend 10 hours going through security and sitting in an airport, then on an airplane for a much shorter time than sit in a van for that much time. More freedom of movement for a longer time (as cramped as airplaines are, they’re no more cramped than a van!), the opportunity for walking around before the flight, and MUCH less time actually traveling. Even without the bathroom issues, it’s a much more appealing way to travel all around IMO. Plus, if you have to be the driver for any of the trip, there’s all the added stress of navigating and paying attention to the road. I’d have skipped the trip, too.

      1. snoopythedog*

        I agree. Flying > car for trips of a similar length (and given that flying includes being at the airport minimum 1 hour before plus getting to the airport and your hotel after, this basically means flying>driving more than 2.5-3 hours).

        Flying also becomes less cost-prohibitive if you add up all of the productive hours lost in a car. Lots of people can get some work done in the airport. Heck I’ve re-jigged an entire conference presentation in the airport on the way to a conference and done all of my networking follow up on the way home. Your employees are going to be less drained and more productive if you put them on an airplane vs driving for a long time.

    10. Curmudgeon in California*

      Yeah, that’s a no go for me too. If I drive, I pick the schedule, the route, and the stops. If it’s a coworker? I don’t want to have to beg to go to the bathroom, or listen to a monologue on sportsball.

    11. NotAnotherManager!*

      Same, and I’m so glad I work in an industry where such a suggestion would be regarded with horror.

      HR would nix it on safety issue alone. Has anyone vetted Guacamole Bob from Accounting’s large vehicle driving skills? Add to that carsickness, a bad back, and an enclosed space with coworkers. No, thanks, I’ll fly. And I *hate* flying.

      The trip to my in-law’s rural community is 8 hours, and the closest airport is 3 hours away, so we drive with liberal stops. I am nauseated the whole time, and my back is a wreck for days – usually feeling better by the day we leave. I go because I love them. I do not love work conferences enough to suffer that way.

  5. Let him fly!*

    As someone with IBS, the anxiety that the trip would trigger, which would in turn flare up digestive issues, would be hell. Pure hell. The anxiety/bathroom needs cycle is vicious and ruins lives. You made assumptions about a health issue you assumed was the same as yours and denied him a very fair request AFTER he felt forced to disclose a (probably embarrassing) health issue that makes traveling extremely difficult. Phew.

    1. juliebulie*

      Yeah. This would be all about the bathroom for me. I hate flying (not flying itself, but all the hassle around flying) a wicked lot, but at least there’s a toilet.

      If the employee is like me, he probably UNDERstated the extent of his problem out of embarrassment.

      1. Archie Goodwin*

        It would be for me, too. I have some kind of digestive issue – what, exactly, I’ve never had diagnosed (it’s something I’ve been able to work around most of my life, so I’m just used to it.) And it’s gotten to the point where I start to get antsy when I’m in a situation where a bathroom isn’t available for a large amount of time.

        I’m not saying I wouldn’t be comfortable with a five-hour drive with other people – I might well be (it’s not something that comes up in my work, so I’ve never considered it, honestly) – but I’m definitely sympathetic to someone for whom it’s an issue.

        1. She's One Crazy Diamond*

          Sorry this is somewhat off topic but I also have digestive issues coupled with symptoms of a yet to be diagnosed autoimmune disorder. A close friend in the medical field suggested looking into mast cell activation disorder and I wanted to pass that info onto you in case it was helpful!

      2. darlingpants*

        If you have a short flight fully 75% of it is spent taxing, taking off and landing, when the bathroom is unavailable anyway. And I live in fear of missing a boarding announcement because I’m in the bathroom, that fear would be much higher if I was worried about IBS-like emergencies. I would much rather drive in that situation (although maybe I’d rather drive by myself than with coworkers).

    2. WellRed*

      yes, the old, “I can do it, so you can do it too!” reasoning loathed by employees everywhere.

      1. Letter Writer*

        That was my error and I own that. As somebody with ulcerative colitis I’ve had the hellish experience of yelled at by a flight attendant because I had to go to the washroom but landing had already begun. If I had a do-over, as soon as Jeff mentioned anything medical I should have directed him to HR.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I am not clear on how sending him to HR helps. So he gets to HR and he has to repeat the exact nature of his problem again?
          Does HR decide how everyone is to travel to these conferences? I guess I am not clear on who is the decision maker in the story regarding transportation.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Our HR provides guidance on appropriate accommodations and could have provided an exception to the rule; however, I’d have gotten approval for an exception, if possible, myself on the basis of medical need and spared Jeff that meeting.

          2. Observer*

            HR is in a better place to figure out what is and is not realistic. And it’s much easier for them to get whatever documentation they might need for extra expenses. Especially if there is any reason to believe, for instance, that someone (grand boss, auditor, etc.) might question the expense.

    3. KuklaRed*

      I have IBS and it is air travel that terrifies me with my situation, not driving. When I’m driving, I have control over the situation and I can plan for stops, get out of the car if I need to move around or just take care of myself. When I’m flying, I am stuck in a cigar tube fighting for access to a minuscule bathroom with dozens of other people and am generally miserable.

      1. Gav*

        Same with my husband. He would choose to drive by himself, rather than drive with the coworkers.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          Yep. I’ve been in a very uncomfortable situation before where the seatbelt sign was on and I really needed to get up and use the lavatory. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore and got up…and got reprimanded by the flight attendant

      2. Mystery Bookworm*

        I feel similarly. Alison is right here, of course, but I understand why five hours feels borderline. I would probably prefer a five hour drive to the equivalant flight (depending a bit on the geography of the drive).

    4. kittymommy*

      Same. And considering my IBS can flare up within 30 minutes of the last attack, my “oh I’m woozy” excuse is probably going to piss my fellow travelers off; not be practical, and not be believable.

      Five hours would be a lot for me. even more than the IBS, I have back issues and at least on a plane I can get up and mover around. Or at least stand and stretch my back out. That’s going to go a long way for me being able to properly function while at the conference.

      1. Jaybeetee*

        Yeah, I have similar issues, and while it’s (usually) better managed now, there were a few times travelling with friends in my early 20s that were mortifying due to some lengthy bathroom visits on my part while they waited for me, confused. Travelling through Asia with IBS isn’t always easy…

      2. Cinnamon*

        Yeah, I don’t like the suggestion of “well just stop along the way when you need!” That 5 hour trip can quickly turn into a 7+ hour ride pissing everyone off.

    5. NotDumbHR*

      But he would have had to disclose it anyway if he wanted an exception to the policy, informal as it was. There’s no scenario where if he wanted to fly when everyone else was driving he would not have to ask for an accommodation due to his medical condition. Of course that should go through HR and not his manager. Also, when everyone else drove and he flew, that would’ve been incredibly obvious and the reality is that people would have asked him about it and he would’ve had to provide some sort of an answer to them really he chose to make something up or chose to tell the truth. I do accommodations for a living and I see this all the time… Of course we want people’s privacy will be protected, but sometimes accommodations are very obvious and it causes people to ask questions because that’s part of being human. Also, when everyone else drove and he flew, that would’ve been incredibly obvious and the reality is that people would have asked him about it and he would’ve had to provide some sort of an answer to them really he chose to make something up or chose to tell the truth. I do accommodations for a living and I see this all the time… Of course we want peoples privacy to be protected, but sometimes accommodations are very obvious and it causes people to ask questions because that’s part of being human – and they don’t have any intention of encroaching on someone’s medical privacy.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        He wouldn’t have had to tell his coworkers anything – they are not entitled to know his business, and if they pressed him for an explanation, it would have been his boss’s responsibility to shut it down.

        1. Greige*

          Exactly. And by shutting down the idea that people are entitled to understand others’ accommodations, the employee and boss would be helping to improve the culture around accommodations generally by normalizing privacy.

          1. Aquawoman*

            Well, it can do that indirectly by encouraging respect for privacy but a manager cannot say that someone is doing something as an accommodation.

      2. Claire*

        He also could easily tell his coworkers that he has health issues that meant that driving was impractical for him–yes, that is some medical information, but it doesn’t go into the potentially embarrassing category of “I regularly have to use the bathroom very urgently.”

      3. Observer*

        That’s a lot of excuse making for failing to be reasonable, it sounds to me.

        If his coworkers are functional adults, they should understand that if Jeff gets an accommodation, there is probably reason for it. At most, Jeff saying “Medical issues, so I can’t drive that long.” is ALL anyone needs.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Yeah, if I had a coworker who said “I can’t be in a car for that long due to a medical issue” it would be enough for me. It could be bathroom access but it could also be back problems, circulation issues that require regular movement, serious motion sickness, etc. It’s perhaps more than he should have to disclose, but there’s such a wide range of things that could make a long trip problematic that it doesn’t seem especially revealing.

          1. Jessica will remember in November*

            It’s also possible that someone else in this Van of Doom has some other issue, say a bad back, and is thinking “well, 5 hours is pushing the limit of what I can tolerate, but I’ll try to push on through this.” Then that person discovers (possibly not till it’s happening) that actually the trip ends up being 6.5 hours because of Needs Frequent Stops Jeff. Bad Back Coworker might be in agony by the time they arrive, and not able to function for the beginning of the conference.
            As Guac Bob rightly points out, people can have lots of different issues, and sometimes the solutions are in conflict. You really need some process that allows people to know what they’re getting into.

            1. Quill*

              I’d be the coworker in agony, I have bad feet and knees. My options while waiting for Jeff would be to sit in the car or sit on a bench outside the gas station. Neither of which is going to offer me any relief, unfortunately…

          2. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Very valid. I can’t be in a car longer than an hour (even if I’m driving it!) without a long break because I have a spinal fracture. Previous coworkers have known that ‘Gozer can’t do that as a road trip for medical reasons’. They don’t need the details!

    6. Jaylee*

      Same here, my IBS is definitely triggered when I feel I don’t have access to a bathroom or control over where I am going (e.g., when somebody else is driving, or when I am driving but stuck in bad traffic). I would also have refused to go to this conference if told I would have to be in a van with co-workers for a total of 10 hours in the car!

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        A family member always takes trains for the same reasons – it might take a little longer, but there’s always a bathroom every step of the way. Knowing that there is a bathroom available goes surprisingly far in relieving IBS symptoms, even for example having an aisle seat rather than being stuck in the middle of a row in a conference centre, plane or theatre. Gut brain is a thing!

        1. A*

          Are they in the US? I much prefer to travel by trains, but I’ve found it’s usually not an available option in the US unless I just so happen to be traveling to and from Acela hubs. Not only in terms of there often being no train options from point of departure to destination, but often the only options will not be high speed and sadly I don’t think my employer would go for a one week paid train trip (nor would I sacrifice PTO for business travel).

          In Europe? Train it up!

          1. WellRed*

            I can often tell when a comment is made by someone from outside the US when they say “oh, take the train!” As though it were a viable option. It’s really not.

            1. Miso*

              It’s really funny, I’m in Europe and when I submit a travel request at work, I actually have to justify why I don’t take the train.

              1. allathian*

                Same here. Well, except during COVID. We have offices in almost 40 locations and sometimes some people need to travel from one office to another. Some essential stuff even got done when all non-essential travel was off the table.

          2. Le Sigh*

            Yeah. If I’m headed toward NY, Boston, Philly, etc., train all day — the trains are faster and more frequent, and frankly cost-effective compared to tolls, gas, and sitting in traffic. Headed south to visit friends? LOL. The trains come once a day, and it’s 8 hours on a train (instead of a 4hr drive) at twice the cost of gas — I would love to take the train but it just isn’t worth it.

          3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            You’re correct that they’re in Europe. It’s a real shame that that isn’t an option in much of the US (and I wasn’t recommending it to this LW, just commenting on the general concept of gut brain and travel).

          4. New Jack Karyn*

            A friend in Portland, OR, used to have monthly business meetings in Seattle. He’d take a 6:30 am flight up, then take the train back so he could work on the ride.

            But you’re right that many places in the country don’t have that kind of train access, including places where it would make a lot of sense.

    7. Watry*

      I have undiagnosed digestive issues (but probably IBS) and I’d be anxious just at the possibility I’d wildly increase the travel time. Some days a short bathroom visit is 20-30 minutes.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I’m pretty sure knowing that a handful of colleagues are standing in the parking lot looking at their watches wouldn’t exactly make the bathroom visit any quicker or more comfortable either.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Seriously. I can get the 30 minute IBS dribble, where it’s severe farting intermixed with explosive pooping. Not fun. It would piss off my coworkers and anyone else needing the single seat gas station bathroom.

        2. Miso*

          I don’t even have any digestive issues, but I absolutely can’t pee when I need to hurry and/or know people are waiting for me…

    8. Exhausted Trope*

      Yes. This. I am a fellow sufferer and usually my condition is well-managed. Since COVID-19, not so much as my symptoms are stress related.
      There is NO way on earth that I can spend 5 hours in a van without ready access to a restroom. No way. It’s awkward enough on a plane but in a land vehicle, not doable.

    9. RVA Cat*

      A good rule of thumb is *never* put an employee into a situation where they have to wear Depends.

    10. Kyrielle*

      THIS. Heck, there were times before we got my IBS somewhat regulated (and “somewhat” is pretty good, thanks) where I couldn’t manage what would otherwise be a half-hour drive without 2-3 stops. 5 hours? With coworkers? Worrying about their reactions and thus escalating things? Aie!

      There _are_ things I can do to mitigate that, but many of them have other side effects for me later. If I was expecting to fly because I had in the past and this was sprung on me, I’d try to get out of it too.

  6. Environmental Compliance*

    TBH, I’ve math’d out driving vs flying to a conference that was 4 hours drive away, and it was actually cheaper to fly. I’m not sure I’m buying that there’s enough of a difference financially to be so insistent on this. Plus, as Alison stated… I’d be really upset as an employee to be told my health conditions aren’t “bad” or “important” enough to accommodate by simply switching from driving to flying. Your employee then lost out on a conference that others could attend – simply because you wouldn’t make that accommodation, which could mean he lost out on networking & other perks that others got.

    1. Colette*

      3 people driving in one vehicle is likely considerably cheaper than 3 plane tickets.

      But it sound horrible, and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it either.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Yes, but it sounded like flying was in general considered more expensive than driving.

        Also, stuck in a van with coworkers for 10 hours driving? Heck no. I don’t even want to be in a car with my friends and family for 10 hours of driving. Nope. Nopety nope. I don’t have any medical conditions that would come into play here, and even I would get anxious about that travel arrangement.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          I love driving trips — because I love recorded books. But I wouldn’t assume that I could listen to my books in a shared vehicle with 3 other people.

        2. fhqwhgads*

          The letter mentioned if he were the only one going he’d have flown. It was the number of people and the distance that made them default to driving.

    2. Luna*

      Not to mention that it can shake Jeff’s view of his employer. An employer who considers my health condition to not be ‘bad’ enough to require a somewhat simple accommodation is not an employer I would feel I can keep trusting a lot.

    3. WorkingGirl*

      When you factor in ground transportation, it might be. Like, if the conference is in an area without public transit which would mean Ubers or renting a vehicle locally… they might save? IDK.

  7. beaglemama*

    I have seen the opposite at my job…we have one particular employee, who is hourly, who has decided to drive instead of taking other forms of transportation so he could get the OT as well as the reimbursement for mileage. The most recent was in January when he drove 12 hours to a kick off and booked two extra nights at the hotel, at the company’s expense, because he was driving. The admin who was looking at his expense report asked me what she should do and I encouraged her to talk to his manager and to get input from our Travel department. From what I understand he has been told this is a no-go going forward, although with COVID-19 nobody is going anywhere for a while.

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Wow. Those costs would be disallowed at my company – our travel policy explicitly says your travel should be in the most direct, efficient manner possible that minimizes time away from the office. It’s why our company plane takes more *managers and under* to meetings/conferences than executives.

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        Almost every company I have worked for had this written out explicitly in our travel guidelines.

        I was honestly surprised the first time our office manager told me to book a flight between Dallas and Austin. But they had done the math on travel and it was cheaper/more efficient for us to do the trips that way.

    2. sssssssssssssssssssssssss*

      12 hours for the mileage? Our mileage policy has a cap: no more than 90 or 95% the cost of a plane ticket 21 days before the date of travel.

      I’ve had to enforce that cap on mileage a couple of times and I suspect that the person was doing it for the cash as the mileage is reimbursed but not taxed.

      I had one person who had a huge mileage claim and I checked with the travel ppl: there was no other way for him to travel – no train, no airport at either end of his travels. I allowed the mileage in full.

      1. mdv*

        The cap is a good idea for preventing the folks who want to game the system from benefitting from it too much, I like that. And obviously the guy with no train or airports wasn’t just doing it to game the system.

        1. sssssssssssssssssssssssss*

          No, he wasn’t. But I had to check. I didn’t arrange his travel or what he was travelling for but I get all the claims, without the history behind them.

          For that guy, once I mapped it out, he drove literally from one end of Nova Scotia to the other. There was no other way to do it!

      2. Maybe It's This*

        Ugh, this just reminded me of my last relationship. I let my ex use my car for all his work-related driving, which there was a lot of every week (he traveled to do his work). He would then be reimbursed by his employer, typically several hundred dollars or more per month.

        In return for using my car and the extensive wear and tear his work-related driving caused (after several years there were thousands of dollars in repairs), he filled the gas tank, pocketing most of the mileage money himself.

        That’s just one of many, many examples of financial problems in our relationship, but as this is a workplace column, I’ll end this comment now.

  8. Intermittent Introvert*

    I live in the western United States where a five hour drive is not unusual at all. Big airports are quite far apart. For a while I lived two full hours from the closest major airport. Many live much further. Flights from the tiny regional airport were prohibitively expensive.

    1. Observer*

      Which is not really relevant to this discussion. The OP clearly was not talking about a place that is out of the range of reasonably typical airline service.

        1. 2 Cents*

          My nearest airport can be an hour away with traffic and I live by 3 major ones. Thank you NYC traffic!

        2. KayEss*

          I live one suburb away from my local (very major metro area) airport and it still takes 30-45 minutes to get there.

        3. Caramel & Cheddar*

          That distance could mean travelling in from the suburbs to a major hub. Heck, I live *in* the city and it still takes me 30-60mins to get to the airport depending on time of day and mode of transport.

        4. Quill*

          My closest airport is a 40 minute drive because I live in a medium sized town with decent infrastructure and a well maintained highway that goes more or less direct to the airport.

          People nominally in the same major metro area spend the same amount of time getting to that airport, despite living a quarter of the distance from it, because of city traffic.

        5. A*

          Until recently I always lived within 20-30 miles of a major international airport… and it was always over an hour drive away. Assuming you’re dropping off / picking up or taking a cab/ride share. If having to park, make that 1 1/2 hours.

        6. RussianInTexas*

          I have two airports in the area, one about 40 miles away, the other is about 30.
          While the closer one takes about 40 minutes (right now, I checked), depending on traffic it can be longer. And the farther one can easily be over an hour.

        7. DyneinWalking*

          Cities have lower speed limits, more junctions and traffic lights, and more traffic. Moreover, you have to pay much closer attention to make sure you always take the right turn at every crossing, so if you aren’t familiar with the specific area, you might lose time due to taking a wrong turn, or drive more slowly to figure out the correct direction.
          You can’t exactly floor the gas pedal and race the distance at full speed.

        8. Not Me*

          OP also states the airport is “at least an hour from us” which seems like a very vague statement that was intended to shore up their argument that flying would be worse than driving. Unless they mean an hour from the office, it’s highly unlikely all of the people involved live equidistance from the airport.

    2. Jay*

      Ooo, yes, this is a good point. If you can fly, say, Atlanta to Charlotte in one fell swoop, that’s usually going to run a couple hundred bucks. But if you have to take a jumper plane out of Small Town Georgia to even get to Atlanta in the first place, add another couple hundred bucks.

      Regional airports are often clean and nice, just pricy.

    3. DEJ*

      I’m also wondering where this was. I also work at a college in the west and a few years ago several of us were traveling to a town that has a regional airport but direct service is not offered from our major city airport. One of my colleagues was looking into flying before realizing that flying meant a 1.5 hour flight plus a 3 hour drive to that city (which doesn’t even get into in-airport time), and ultimately it made more sense to just do the 5-6 hour drive.

    4. Just J.*

      Yes, but they are making the point that for a lot of us long-distance driving is normal.

      And all of the responses so far have assumed that Jeff is riding with strangers. OP has indicated in their opening lines that all of the people going to the conference know each other and have worked together.

      I have traveled more hours over my career with my coworkers in a car / van than I care to count. We become the “Family of the Car.” We have always treated each other kindly, from issues of tiny bladders, to throwing up from car-sickness, to rounds of food poisoning, and yes, IBS.

      Maybe I’m being snarky today, but even as a seasoned senior manager, I would be looking at Jeff askew on this one. (BTW, TMI, but I have IBS, so I understand the anxiety completely, but see above, have travelled zillions of longs distance, 6 hour plus, rides with coworkers.) And if I allowed Jeff to fly, then for fairness, I would have to let everyone fly, which probably would not be in the budget, then -for fairness – no one would get to go.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But that’s not what “fairness” means in this situation. When the law requires you to make a medical accommodation for someone, you don’t need to give that same accommodation to others to be “fair.” Fairness is about taking individual needs into account, not just a blanket rule across the board.

        (Also, your IBS is not the same as every other person’s IBS. Different people, different manifestations. As a manager, that’s such a problematic way to think — like thinking “my menstrual cramps aren’t that bad, so you’re being hyperbolic when you say you need to stay home today.”)

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Thank you! Why do people not understand that everyone’s body is different and, thus, illness presents differently in everyone?! Ugh.

        2. Heather*

          From what I know about those with such issues, it’s not just the frequency of needing a bathroom break, but the length of that break. That 5 hour trip could easily turn into 7 or 8 on a bad day. I also wouldn’t want to spend 20-30 min in a remote gas station bathroom.

        3. Greige*

          Agree. Fairness is that if his coworkers get to go to the conference without disclosing or triggering medical issues, so does Jeff.

        4. Alexis Rose*

          Also, I feel like this whole issue and even the issue of “fairness” means that Jeff or anyone else who has a condition that means they can’t travel by car would be unfairly excluded from the professional development/perk/etc. opportunities that training or conferences can offer. That’s certainly not “fair” even if you are applying rules the same across the board.

        5. RVA Cat*

          Worat case, if this had turned into a literal s***storm, Jeff and everyone else in that van would have every right to sue the company.

      2. Observer*

        “I can do so obviously he can do it” is NOT valid. And fairness is not if ANYONE flies EVERYONE flies. It’s “we accommodate those who can’t drive.”

        That kind of thing starts in kindergarten. (Or at least it should.)

      3. TL -*

        You don’t have to let other people fly for fairness; you can just say the policy is X hours or less is driving unless there’s a need for medical accommodation.

        I’d rather drive five hours than have IBS so I think it’s pretty fair.

      4. Oof*

        I think the manager could then review all the folks who wanted to go, and only send the one they thought best. Maybe if others still wanted to go they could travel on their own dime/time. If Jeff wasn’t selected he could fly, if he was the others may still decide to drive.

      5. Georgina Fredrika*

        this is a frustrating take and it’s the same take that has prevented many workplaces from allowing remote work. At my last job I constantly heard “we can’t let anyone work from home, because X and Z teams have to be in the office to do their jobs; it would be unfair to them and they would complain so we can’t.”

        But alternatively, X and Z got into their respective fields knowing it would likely always be an office job and would be no more inconvenienced if their coworkers were at home or not.

        1. DefCon 10*

          This faulty idea of fairness is coming up in my workplace as we discuss returning to on-site work. It’s ridiculous. Everyone getting the same thing–or no one gets it–is a first-grader’s idea of fairness.

      6. Aquawoman*

        I’m really amazed that you think that you’re treating someone kindly by forcing them to do something that will make them throw up but then being understanding of their need to throw up.

      7. Batgirl*

        I usually have to explain to 12 or 13yo students that fair treatment means ‘listening to what different people need’ not ‘give everyone the same so you don’t have to bother paying attention’. By the age of 15/16 they’ve all got the hang of that.

        1. RVA Cat*

          Exactly, like that cartoon where a monkey, an elephant and a fish are all told to climb a tree.

      8. A*

        I don’t think that ‘pulling yourself up by the boot straps’ and ‘gumption’ or whatever is the way to go on this one. Please reconsider.

    5. jsv496*

      Yeah, I feel like the norms around this might depend on location. I live in the Midwest, and a five-hour drive could still be in the same state. I don’t travel for my job, but my mom has made many five-hour drives for work.

    6. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      Even if you live close to a major airport, the distance between point A and point B (in either time or mileage) may not affect whether it’s faster to fly or to drive.

      For example, it’s about a 5 hour drive from Cincinnati, OH to either Chicago, IL or Pittsburgh, PA. But there are multiple daily direct flights between Cincinnati and Chicago, but only a handful of flights daily between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, and they all require a layover.

      At a previous job, we worked out that when traveling from Cincinnati, it was faster to drive from Cincinnati to the north side of Atlanta, but faster to fly from Cincinnati to the south side of Atlanta once you included the time you had to spend at the airport navigating security and baggage claim and rental cars and all the rest. (Driving through downtown Atlanta was the tipping point – the Atlanta airport is south of downtown.)

    7. So long and thanks for all the fish*

      Yeah- given that the OP says the airport is an hour away, I’m a little surprised that Jeff assumed that they’d be flying- if they get there the recommended 2 hours early with a 2 hour flight, total travel time is longer for flying since they’d have to arrange transportation from the destination airport to the hotel- it just doesn’t make sense. to me. I guess this does boil down to having a more transparent system in place so that your employees know ahead of time whether they’ll be expected to drive or fly, but still.

      I’m east coast but ~3 hours from a major airport,~1 hour from a regional one, and about 8 hours seems to be this area’s drive-or-fly cutoff. I’m pretty astounded that so many people think the 5-hour drive with coworkers is unacceptable!

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        He assumed he’d be flying because he always flies to conferences – it says that in the letter.

        1. Yorick*

          But it also says his other conferences have been farther away.

          Still, it points to their need to create a clear, written travel policy to avoid confusion.

        2. So long and thanks for all the fish*

          Yes, I did indeed read the letter. If the conference were in the same city where they lived though he obviously wouldn’t expect to fly, and so there must be some cutoff for which he wouldn’t expect to fly to a conference, and I would expect it to be one where flying took less time than driving, not more.

          To Mama Bear’s point, I was understanding the OP to mean that a 5-hour drive really meant a 5-hour drive, and not a 5-hour drive only at midnight if you didn’t get stuck behind a tractor-trailer, but obviously if that’s not the case that would make a difference as well.

      2. Mama Bear*

        So here’s another thought – what does it matter how long each mode takes if the people get there on time, ready to attend the event? OP is assuming also that the 5 hr drive will have no hiccups. I had an old boss who lived near-ish me and they took issue with my preferred commute. It came up several times that my route was too long because I preferred a parkway vs sitting in traffic with lights. My thought was I got to work in a better frame of mind seeing trees vs traffic and since I was at my desk on time, what did it actually matter? The commentary was irritating.

        1. Quill*

          Also for every hour of a drive there are more opportunities for delay.

          I once took a 5.5 hour drive from northern chicago suburbs to Indianapolis that took eight hours because when you pull off the freeway at a gas station in rural indiana to pee, and discover that the on ramp is closed for maitenance, you have to tool down 30 mph rural highways in the pitch black hitting every juicy grasshopper in the state just to find the next on ramp.

          1. Quill*

            And this was after sitting in the left lane of an 8 lane road in chicago for an hour watching them winch the remains of a runaway semi out of a subdivision.

            1. FoxyDog*

              That reminds me of the time my parents’ 5 hour trip from LA to San Francisco turned into a 12 hour trip, because the direct route through the mountains was on fire. An 8 lane interstate’s worth of traffic got rerouted 100 miles out of the way onto 2 lane state highways.

          2. Mel_05*

            That’s the Indiana promise!

            But, yes, the longer the trip the more likely something is under construction, there’s an accident closing the interstate, or car trouble.

            I drive 5 hours pretty frequently, so it doesn’t seem super long to me, but I’ve had plenty of 5 hour trips turn into 7-9 hour trips for the above reasons. And that’s without a digestive disorder.

            1. Quill*

              I was going to a con and the road there was the stuff of nightmares. We had to pick up a friend at O’hare. His flight was delayed. We got lost trying to find a free space to park to wait. We got stuck in a 1 mph zone due to construction and a car crash in Gary. We took that bathroom break at the time we were supposed to hit our hotel in indianapolis and said friend with an international flight suggested that we stop for directions in a town that set off warning bells for every female member of the trip. The car phone charger died.

              We made it to gen con at 1 am and still had to pick up our tickets there because some members of the party had f’d up their registration. And then we got lost at 2 am in downtown indianapolis because all our phones were dead and we couldn’t find a black car on a black street after spending nearly nine hours in the car just to get to the city, let alone find the convention center.

              This was easily a trip that would have created long term drama if the whole crew hadn’t already weathered worse.

      3. Richard Hershberger*

        The two-hour flight time doesn’t add up. A five hour drive is roughly 300 miles, e.g. Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. That is a one hour flight, gate to gate.

        1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

          Maybe their local airport is a small regional one, so it requires a layover? Or the OP is counting boarding/offloading time?

        2. darlingpants*

          You leave your house and drive one hour to the airport. If you’re cutting it closer, you try and get there an hour before your flight, and if you’re more cautious two hours. You get through security and then admittedly have between half an hour and an hour where you could potentially work. They start boarding the flight 45 minutes before it’s supposed to take off, and most people pack up and stand around waiting for this, they don’t continue to work until the last second. Then you board, taxi and take off, all times when you can’t have a laptop out. You fly for an hour (like you said), then deplane, get through the airport, pick up luggage (? Maybe not for a conference of a few days but definitely takes an extra 30-60 minutes if you do), get a taxi/uber/rental car and drive to the hotel which is probably another 30-45 minutes away unless it’s one of the few places where the convention center is right next to the airport instead of in a business district. That’s 2-3 hours before the plane takes off, 1 hour on the plane, 1 or more hours after deplaning, and you’ve had to pay for the plane ticket, parking at the original airport, and transport in the destination city (either taxis or a rental car). And that’s if it’s a direct flight, which if you’re trying to get between two regional airports is basically impossible.

          1. high school teacher*

            Yes, the airport PROCESS might take that long, but the OP clearly stated that the flight ITSELF is 2 hours, which doesn’t make sense. I live 1,000 miles away from my parents. The drive takes about 16 hours if you drive straight through. The flight is 2.5 hours. A 5 hour drive really should not be a 2 hour flight.

  9. Observer*

    You told someone with digestive issues to make up a story so that he can get his coworkers to make extra stops on the way to the conference? I can imagine that he was “salty”!

    That is wildly unreasonable. It’s unfair to him in a best case scenario, and is going to generate resentment from the others in the car. It’s also extremely unfair to the others in the car – this is the kind of thing that will add a significant amount of time to the trip. And if you actually expected him to spring it on them at the beginning of the trip rather than well in advance so that people can plan for the extra time, it makes it exponentially worse.

    1. juliebulie*

      Yeah, I don’t think it’s right to ask him to discuss his bladder with his coworkers, especially when it’s also a lie! If he’d wanted to lie, he could have told his boss that he gets stabby on long car rides.

    2. No Tribble At All*

      Agree, and if his IBS is really acting up, each bathroom break might be more than 10 minutes. I can only imagine how awkward it would be to mill around at each highway rest stop for half an hour waiting for one coworker, who of course is much worse off.

      1. anon 4 this*

        My attacks take 20-35 minutes, followed by an hour or so of nothing. There might be one, or there might be seven in a row.

    3. Liane*

      Also, I am not HR or a lawyer, but “I can’t do 5 hour rides due to Health Condition, I’d need to fly”/”You can ride in the van, or stay home–take it or leave it” doesn’t seem like it would count as a “Dialog” under ADA.

      1. Exhausted Employment Lawyer*

        I am a lawyer, and I disagree. Going to the conference was not an essential function of his job.

        1. Yorick*

          This is especially true if they work for a university. Academic conferences sometimes have less benefit for the school and more for the employee who attends.

        2. A*

          Would it be impacted at all by the fact that the employer would still be sending other employees to the conference (assuming it’s not an essential function of their jobs)? Genuinely curious as it would seem to non-lawyer me that it could be problematic to only limit the attendance of one due to their medical condition.


          1. Exhausted Employment Lawyer*

            There’s 2 different issues at play in your question. Under the ADA (disability protection), the employer is required to reasonably accommodate a disabled person in a manner that enables them to perform the essential functions of the job. So if the digestive issues rise to the level of a disability (and Alison is correct that they certainly could), the employer would still not be required to enter into a dialog about a reasonable accommodation (such as flying to the conference) if that accommodation is not enabling the employee to perform an essential function of the job. In other words, while I agree with the comments saying that the approach could have been better (particularly the people suggesting that the travel requirements and cost thereof be disclosed up-front), I disagree with Alison that the company “should” have let the employee fly. I think the company legitimately declined the request to fly to the conference.

            Your question highlights a different legal issue: whether there is discrimination in permitting 2 (ostensibly non-disabled) employees go to the conference while the disabled employee cannot. And that’s a correct concern! You cannot treat people in different protected classes differently. But here, I believe, the company is NOT treating them differently. It’s saying that going to the conference = costing them no more than driving in the rented van. And again, because attendance not an essential function of the job (which would require accommodation), the company would likely be entitled to make a shared ride a precondition of them paying for employees to attend the conference.

            There’s more nuance there – I don’t mean to suggest that there wouldn’t be arguments the other way. But my take is that the company was within its rights to decline to pay for a separate flight for this employee. What’s more, I support the decision – I think both the cost savings and avoiding giving “special treatment” to an employee when it’s NOT required by law are solid reasons to deny the request. (Trust me, it’s very rare that I disagree with Alison’s advice, but on this narrow issue I did.) And I say that as someone who would rather have their fingernails ripped out than ride for 5 hours (twice!!) in a van shared with coworkers.

      2. Letter Writer*

        I’m going to stick up for myself a bit here and provide some more context. I didn’t just say “take it or leave it”. When Jeff’s reasons initially were travel time and not being comfortable being a driver (I forget the exact wording but it was about not wanting to be a driver, not wanting to drive at all initially) I provided explanations. It was my mistake when he disclosed his digestive issues to not direct him to HR, who could get the appropriate information for him and guide me on how best to accommodate. However, this was only one conversation and it ended with me saying let’s rev When I brought it up in our next one-on-one, Jeff had already withdrawn from the conference. I was wanting to engage in more dialogue but that opportunity didn’t exist anymore. I understand now, after seeing the comments from others here, that he may have thought it was a done decision or maybe he he didn’t want to discuss it further. Fortunately this was one incident and overall our work relationship is quite positive.

        1. Observer*

          The thing that you need to realize is that you actually made two mistakes. The first was to not direct him to HR immediately. The second one was to make the suggestions you made. As I said upthread, it was a wildly inappropriate suggestion. Making it in the context of “empathizing” and “understanding” his situation probably convinced him that there was no way he was going to have any recourse.

          He also had a reasonable point – it took reading all of these responses to realize that what you were suggesting was possibly out of line. What would he have had to say to you to make you realize that what you suggested was totally NOT reasonable?

          Stop and think for a moment what you were effectively asking him to do:

          1. Take a long road trip where he doesn’t have control of stops etc. with digestive issues that lead to potential need for more (and longer) bathroom breaks.

          2. Make up a story to convince the others in the van to make extra stops without having to divulge the actual details. The story you suggest here is only minimally less embarrassing – and one that would be non-credible after the first bathroom stop.

          3. Take a 6-8 hour road trip to this conference (because the extra bathroom breaks could easily add that much more time to the trip) AND impose this on the other travelers who are going to be ticked off at him.

          That’s not what you had in mind, of course. But that’s what it comes down to. Is it surprising that he just noped out of the conference?

    4. MicroManagered*

      Yeah and I also think “I have a tiny bladder” lands a little differently coming from a man vs. a woman? Even as a woman, I would not enjoy announcing my “tiny bladder” to coworkers, and I feel like even frequent bathroom stops for that would annoy them.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I’m fairly familiar with male prostate issues causing frequent pit stops, due to road travel with my dad and even some of our younger male friends. I wouldn’t expect a coworker to tell me their details, but if a guy says he needs to stop frequently, I’m used to it.

    5. Paulina*

      Yes, I was nodding along with the OP until the medical issues showed up, and the “just make up an excuse” suggestion turned it into NOPE. You can’t just hope that the trip-goers will be able to work things out on their own as if the issues don’t exist, without repercussions.

      I’m in a place where regional conferences are often held in a city about 5 hours’ drive away, whose airport is not close to town, and it’s common for a group to have a van rented for them to drive. But the policy on that is known before anything is approved, and another option would be given to people who were not able to travel this way. If it happened a lot, we might lower our participation, but it should be in a way that prioritizes whose participation is most important rather than penalizing people for having medical needs.

      Additionally, it’s not appropriate for the manager of a small team to decide on their own whose medical needs to respect or hope that they can just work something out with their colleagues (who they don’t want to know about their needs). This isn’t buddies on a road trip, there’s a structure in place that needs to be used properly.

      1. Liane*

        “Yes, I was nodding along with the OP until the medical issues showed up, and the “just make up an excuse” suggestion turned it into NOPE.”
        That was me, more or less. Five hours is borderline for me. (Disclosure, I make a 5 hour, each way, drive at least once a year.) But advising your employee to lie (yes, that’s what “make up” means), on top of coming off like you don’t believe what Jeff says about his health condition? OP, is making up a story about it how you handle your health issues? If that works for you, great–but you still don’t get to tell your employee how to handle theirs.

    6. Batgirl*

      I know people with digestive issues which have surprised them so suddenly, away from any available bathroom and so they’ve had to make do without a bathroom and clean themselves up when they got to one. What kind of story do you make up in that situation?
      I’m glad OPs condition is gentle and predictable, but not everyone’s is.

      1. juliebulie*

        And imagine something like that happening and then you still have that conference to go to afterwards. *shudder*

    7. Koala dreams*

      Yes, I agree. It’s not okay to expect the employee to make up a story about their health issue! If you need extra bathroom breaks on a car trip, it’s better to say that up front (I need extra bathroom breaks when going on a car trip), not only because it would affect the travel time but also because you would want to plan the breaks in advance, and not risk missing the last stop before a long stretch of highway driving, or having an argument about where you want to stop while driving the car. Also, making up a story won’t help when the co-workers notice you running to the toilet on every stop.

  10. KuklaRed*

    I’m kind of torn on this one. On the one hand, I can see where most people would not want to make a 5 hour drive for a business conference. But on the other, I love to drive and hate to fly, so I would be the first to yell “road trip” and head for the highway. And flying doesn’t really save you that much time on short flights. Between having to get to the airport 2 hours early and then the wait to take off and the hassle in getting out of the airport and to your hotel after landing, driving seems more efficient anyway.

    1. Colette*

      It’s the driving for 5 hours with coworkers (where you’re not in control of when/where you stop, what music you listen to, the temperature in the vehicle, and the route you take) that would push me to flying. Driving on my own or with people I choose would be fine.

      1. Just J.*

        Who says you are not in control of when / where you stop? You’re not travelling with evil demons. You are travelling with co-workers who have the same needs as you. Use your words. Ask: “Hey can we find a stop in the next twenty minutes or so?” I bet your co-workers feel the same.

        Regarding music: sit in the back and us head phones

        And finally, do you all not talk on these trips? And use it to learn about your co-workers? Maybe build some social capital?

            1. UKDancer*

              I’m borderline extrovert and I can’t think of many things worse. Yes I get energy from being around people but that doesn’t mean I want to spend 5 hours with people I may not like or have anything beyond work in common with.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Seriously. I usually like my coworkers. My current team is mostly introverts. But I’ve also worked with chatty extroverts. Being cooped up in a car with someone who talks. non. stop. about sports, babies or fashion would have me contemplating crime before we even got there.

        1. A Non E. Mouse*

          And finally, do you all not talk on these trips? And use it to learn about your co-workers? Maybe build some social capital?

          I get paid well. But I do not get paid well enough for that. It sounds like my own personal hell.

          I’d fly, drive *alone*, or skip the conference.

        2. IrishEm*

          “Hey, can we find a stop in the next 20mins or so?” does not apply when your gut is telling you you need to get to the jacks ten seconds ago. That urgency is super embarrassing around ppl who don’t understand it – and given that services have the most disgusting facilities ever (or at least they do here in Ireland) would you want to spend upwards of 15/20mins in them trying to wish your bowels to hurry up so your coworkers don’t hate you for adding god-knows-how-many sudden-15/20min-extra rest stops on top of a five hour drive? I would honestly dread that journey so much, feeling like an absolute burden on my colleagues, and worse if they are work-friends who don’t really socialise, because I’m very reserved, so I’d feel very uncomfortable just dealing with the 5 hour small talk session, assuming I didn’t have IBS issues (I do).

          Also, WOW posts like this always intrigue me because if you drive for 5 hours in Ireland you might fall off the other side of the country LOL. I would not consider a 5 hour drive at all reasonable, but 5 hours continuous travel would put me into another country. Like, Turkey or Israel, not Italy or Greece. 2 hours flight would get me into France or Spain or Switzerland.

          1. Batgirl*

            I always thought Bill Bryson was exaggerating when he said Brits have mission plans and itineraries for drives an American would happily undertake to go get a taco. I don’t think I’ve driven for longer than three hours in my entire life.

            1. A*

              “I don’t think I’ve driven for longer than three hours in my entire life.”

              Never ever travel to Texas with the plan of travelling between cities!

              (learn from my mistake…)

            2. IrishEm*

              I was in Tuscany with a package tour group & we had to share the dining hall with an American tour group and I was frankly ASTOUNDED by how much of Italy they were taking in over a long weekend XD

              I remember talking to a girl from Mexico when doing my MA who was asking for recommendations for places to visit and I gave her a few suggestions around the West and South of Ireland and she visited ALL of them. For me that would be a literal two week trip moving around and visiting a new place every few days and she did it in a weekend. Distances here versus North America are so, so different XD

          2. Harper the Other One*

            Yep, someone I used to travel with had IBS of the “I have approximately 5 minutes to find someplace to go, bathroom or not” variety. He was very grateful that a) I had no problem stopping as often as necessary, for as long as necessary; I’d just bring a book and read and b) I already had the habit of bringing paper towel and TP on long drives.

            But that was with a friend, who was comfortable getting into details. With coworkers? It would be so hard to discuss it. And very few people are understanding about IBS and other digestive problems because they assume you can “just hold it.”

        3. Detective Amy Santiago*

          IBS attacks frequently come on quickly without warning. I’ve had situations where I needed to find a bathroom within the next five minutes or things were going to get ugly very fast. And, as some people have pointed out already, those bathroom stops can frequently take 20-30 minutes. And you can do one and then have to do another 15 minutes later.

          1. PhysicsTeacher*

            Plus, there are big chunks of the US in which a 5 hour drive would seem reasonable where there is not likely to BE a bathroom stop in the next 20 minutes. For college, I lived about 5 hours away from my hometown and there were multiple chunks of that drive where gas stations were 45 minutes apart.

          2. IrishEm*

            The only country I would believe a service station jacks is clean would be Switzerland, I legit would have The Fear using a public loo in a service station anywhere else.

        4. Colette*

          There’s a difference between being in control of your agenda and travelling with coworkers. Sure, you can ask your coworkers to stop, but that is not the same as being on a trip you control. If you’re on your own, you can leave early so that you can stop along the way, or leave at the last minute to stop as little as possible. Once you bring coworkers into it, you are no longer taking a trip that suits your preferences.

          1. A*

            Exactly. And even if everyone is perfectly polite and accommodating, the medical issue can quickly bring it to another level of ‘accommodating’. Even if coworkers are aware that if rest stop is requested it means immediately, there’s still the chance of it being even more urgent than that.

            My close friend has IBS, and we’ve traveled together in the car for a few ~2 hours trips here and there. I was well aware that if she said she needed to stop, it meant ASAP, but wasn’t truly aware of how severe it can be until once time when we were on the highway and she initially requested that I find a rest stop – only to immediately follow it with “you need to pull over NOW”.

            Thankfully I was able to get over three lanes extremely quickly and we were only a few feet from a semi-wooded stretch so she was able to have privacy from the passing cars – but I felt for her s hard in that situation. Luckily we are extremely close so this was a non-issue, but even if we hadn’t been it wouldn’t have played out any differently because this was 100% non-optional.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              I used to keep a big blanket in my car when I provided lifts of a friend to get to her hospital appointment 40 miles away (she’s since had major surgery that cured this) to provide extra privacy in the event of those ‘pull the car over. Now’ moments.

              Never knew until I became friends with her just how bad digestion issues could get. Stringing a blanket between car doors was the least I could do. My major sympathies for anyone who suffers with a digestive system gone awry.

          2. DefCon 10*

            Not to mention that being stuck in the back seat or middle seat of a van with little leg room can be really uncomfortable–nausea, back pain, and joint pain all come to mind.

        5. Batgirl*

          That’s some control, sure, but not to the same level as driving yourself. Saying “Can we stop in 20?” Is one thing, but saying “I might be in the bathroom from anything between ten minutes to an hour; amuse yourselves!” is quite different. Not to mention emerging after that hour to say “Nope! No joy. I’ll try again in a bit. Don’t want to risk looking for another bathroom though so we’ll stay put until the journey time is 50 per cent longer!” Keep in mind that this employee felt his bathroom habits made driving inconvenient to him and of course it’s going to be even harder on his colleagues who don’t need to stop.

        6. ...*

          Honestly a road trip with my co workers sounds like fun so I’m having a hard time identifying with people saying this sounds sucky but headphones exist? “I’m zonked so I’m gonna put on a podcast and zone out for a while. Wake me up when we stop!” How hard is to say that?

          1. RussianInTexas*

            That’s what I would do. Because a road trip with coworkers does not sound like fun at all, and I love road trips. By myself, or my boyfriend. Not semi-strangers.

          2. DefCon 10*

            When you’re crowded into the middle of the far back seat of a van with no room, it’s hard to sleep without putting your head on a co-worker’s shoulder. Been there, almost did that.

        7. RussianInTexas*

          I already know my coworkers, I don’t need to learn any more about them. And you may learn things you didn’t want to know.
          I would pick driving vs flying for this particular distance, but actually getting there with the coworkers would be the one major downside.

        8. The Rat-Catcher*

          This is probably dependent on field, temperament, and a host of other things. It’s an expectation in my field that all the things you describe are done and yes, those carpooling connections become important later. But, I’m in a people-oriented field in a government office (they’d laugh you out of the office if you told them you wanted to fly rather than drive five hours) in the Midwest. I can see from this post that these norms vary wildly.

        9. allathian*

          I’m fairly introverted. I would be fine going on a road trip with my closest coworker, and have done so, although that was only a short trip, less than an hour. I know him well enough for that and we share an office in non-COVID times. I’ve also gone on 4-hour train journeys with him, although we booked a two-person conference cabin for working so it was almost like being back at the office…
          However, there are others at my office that I would be less comfortable sharing a car with, and I don’t need frequent bathroom breaks.

    2. Observer*

      That works for you. But that’s not really your decision to make FOR OTHERS. And when someone has a medical issue that plays into the situation, that’s even more important to keep in mind.

      1. KuklaRed*

        I drive alone. And I do have a medical issue, 2 actually: IBS and severe spinal stenosis. If I have to eat the cost of travel to do it the way that is best for me, so be it. But I have never had that happen.

        1. Observer*

          So what are you saying? It works for you and it doesn’t affect others, so that’s fine. But it’s utterly irrelevant to how the OP should have handled it, because it CLEARLY was not going to work for Jeff.

        2. Diahann Carroll*

          But Jeff wasn’t told to drive alone – he was told he would have to make a five hour drive with coworkers, many of whom would probably want to just drive straight through so they can get to their destination in a timely fashion. Jeff wouldn’t have the kind of control you have when you drive solo.

        3. Paulina*

          Should you have to eat the cost of your solo travel, if it’s a condition that your employers should accommodate?

    3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      You didn’t factor digestive issues into your reasoning so basically it’s off-topic.

  11. WellRed*

    Five hours is a lot, though this varies by person. Also, five hours through say, northern DC, is likely longer than five hours and stressful in a way that five hours from Chicago to Des Moines may not be. Also, the older I get, the less I care to drive (I’m 50). PS. I’ve had trouble finding restrooms going from southern Maine to southern Mass, which isn’t exactly the boondocks.

    1. juliebulie*

      I live in southern MA. I’ve noticed the lack of restrooms on all but the fanciest of highways. I’ve also noticed people taking a leak on the side of the road. It’s… part of our local charm.

      1. WellRed*

        Yep, lack of restrooms, or pulling off an exit, only to drive for miles looking for one.

        1. nonegiven*

          When I was a teen, I learned the 4 door squat. You pull over at a country road, open both passenger side doors and the girl that couldn’t hold it could brace her self against the car between doors so highway traffic couldn’t see her pee.

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Five hours from my house to our annual holiday passes through winding country roads with grazing sheep and lush hillsides on each side, our tunes coming through the speakers and our favourite snacks permanently available. Five hours from my house to our capital city means roadworks on motorways, getting cut up by impatient white vans, and several people weeping.

      YMM definitely V!

      1. WS*

        +1, I would rather do a five hour drive in my rural area than a one hour drive in the city! I can stop when I like, see little other traffic, am unlikely to suddenly change my route (except in extreme weather), and the truck drivers are all polite because they too are locals. Then again, I drive an hour each way just to get the weekly groceries, so I’m very used to it.

  12. Lola Banks*

    At most places I’ve worked the expectations are:
    1) if it’s a 4+ hour drive, you fly;
    2) if it’s a 4+hour flight, you fly business class

    1. Amtelope*

      Business class! Must be nice. (Not being sarcastic, just wistful. We fly coach no matter what unless we’d like to upgrade on our own dime.)

      1. Jam Today*

        I’ve worked for two companies that mandate biz class (or first on a two-class airplane) for flights over 6 hours, I think as a liability thing. They don’t want anyone dropping dead from a blood clot from their legs being crammed into a 32″ pitch seat in coach.

      2. Me*

        Dh is fortunate in that if it’s more than a 2 hour flight, he books first class. He has a back issue and his company agrees that he can fly first class if it’s over 2 hours.

        Which just means that we now take fewer personal flights because there is no way I’m joining him at a conference if I’m back in coach. Heck no.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Awwww! I have one friend who works for a Very Big Cash Cow Business, they built it into their budget that they’d just all fly business class. I couldn’t even imagine it! But he flies internationally constantly [pre-Rona], so they made a strong case for the fact it’s just reasonable to eat the costs and let their department be the most comfortable.

        I flew Premium the last time and the extra 3 inches of space were worth the extra price but I know most companies wouldn’t give a crap about that, lol.

        1. allathian*

          I’m 5’9″ but a doctor once told me that I have unusually long femurs for my height. If the rest of my body was proportional to my femur, I’d be nearly 6′ tall. Traveling in coach is uncomfortable to say the least. My arms are short in proportion, so I hate driving cars that don’t have an adjustable steering column. My long legs force me to push the seat way back, but then I have to drive with no bend in my elbows if I can’t pull the steering wheel towards me.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Where I live, the cut-off point seems to be three hours. With the introduction of high-speed railway, certain destinations have seen the number of flights reduced drastically.

  13. high school teacher*

    I know that this is nit-picky but the LW says the flight is 2 hours, which seems way too long for a flight if the drive is 5 hours?

    1. NotDumbHR*

      But he would have had to disclose it anyway if he wanted an exception to the policy, informal as it was. There’s no scenario where if he wanted to fly when everyone else was driving he would not have to ask for an accommodation due to his medical condition. Of course that should go through HR and not his manager. Also, when everyone else drove and he flew, that would’ve been incredibly obvious and the reality is that people would have asked him about it and he would’ve had to provide some sort of an answer to them really he chose to make something up or chose to tell the truth. I do accommodations for a living and I see this all the time… Of course we want people’s privacy will be protected, but sometimes accommodations are very obvious and it causes people to ask questions because that’s part of being human. Also, when everyone else drove and he flew, that would’ve been incredibly obvious and the reality is that people would have asked him about it and he would’ve had to provide some sort of an answer to them really he chose to make something up or chose to tell the truth. I do accommodations for a living and I see this all the time… Of course we want peoples privacy to be protected, but sometimes accommodations are very obvious and it causes people to ask questions because that’s part of being human – and they don’t have any intention of encroaching on someone’s medical privacy.

    2. No Tribble At All*

      LW might be counting the gate-to-gate time? Estimates for flying time can vary based on time to go through the airport.

    3. JJJJShabado*

      What I think may be the case is like Rochester NY, to NYC is about a 5 hour drive. You can’t fly directly to NYC from Rochester. You can from Buffalo, which is about an hour drive away (Buffalo to NYC is about a 75 minute flight, but this is roughly the scenario I picture).

      1. Heather*

        If you’re using those cities as an example, for sure. However, JetBlue, Delta, and United fly from ROC to the NYC airports multiple times a day.

      2. doreen*

        You can fly between NYC and Rochester on Jet Blue. It’s about a 90 minute flight. (But once you add in getting to the airport 2 hours before the flight, and the time it takes to get to the airport ( which even though I live in Queens will take at least 30 minutes) , the time for the flight is now up to 4 hours. Which is why I always drive to visit my brother-in-law – the extra expense is too much for saving an hour or two)

    4. Heidi*

      I’ve taken trips where the only way to get to the destination was to fly into a big airport, then take a short flight in one of those little propeller planes to my final destination. The tiny little airports are kind of fun in their own way. But it adds a lot of time onto the trip.

    5. Justme, the OG*

      Agree. I’ve both driven and flown the Cleveland to Chicago route many times. Flight is under an hour. Drive is six hours on a good day.

    6. ResuMAYDAY*

      That’s a good point. From my home, a drive to my brother’s home in MN (from IL) is 6 hours. It’s a 45 minute flight, with about a 15 minute drive from there. From Chicago, we get to Mexico (Cancun side) with a 3 hour flight.

    7. nnn*

      Yeah, that seems incongruous now that you mention it. From my city to Orlando takes about 2 hours to fly and 2 days to drive

    8. Qwerty*

      Flight times often include buffer room for delays and boarding/gate issues. I used to regular take a flight that was less than 45min but the airline window showed it as a bit more than hour.

      For shorter flights, you also are spending a higher percentage of the flight on slow speeds for take off / landing when the plane isn’t at cruising altitude.

      1. Dahlia*

        By that logic, you also need to include buffer time for the drive. If Jeff needs to stop every hour for 20 minutes, that’s going to add another hour onto the drive at least.

    9. White Peonies*

      The time in the air may be much less but when you count waiting for connecting flights it can take much longer.
      When I fly into headquarters it takes 5 hours minimum not counting check in because of layovers. I can drive it in 5 hours. That doesn’t count the hour drive to my airport, and we do not have a direct flight ever to where I am going. I drive the trip alot because it saves at least 3-4 hours of my time.

    10. Zombeyonce*

      OP is probably everyone’s dad, who shows up at the airport at 5am for a 10am flight “just to be safe”.

    11. ...*

      Yeah that’s confusing. Chicago to Omaha is a 40 minute flight and a 7 hour drive? Maybe there’s good wind or something lol.

    12. Dagny*

      I was confused, too, until I figured that they are probably flying Southwest. You wouldn’t deplane, but the plane would touch down at an intermediate point, some passengers would deplane, some would get on the plane, and then you’re back in the air.

  14. Jam Today*

    A five hour drive is not “reasonable”. Even hours of away-from-home time being the same, in an airport and on an airplane a person has access to restroom facilities, is able to stand and walk around, and can eat or drink as needed. Let them take the train if possible, or fly.

    1. Stormy Weather*

      This x 1000. Five can turn into six or even eight depending on traffic, and as many people mentioned, it’s not always easy to find a bathroom on the road. In an airport or train station, you can even work, or read, and be a lot more relaxed when you arrive.

      I like my coworkers, but the idea of being stuck in a car for 5+ hours makes me cringe. I can read or sleep on a train or a plane and use the facilities as needed.

  15. No Tribble At All*

    I’m surprised the company *wants* all 4 people in the same van for 10 hours of driving. Our company has rules that above a certain seniority level, you have to take separate means of transportation. It’s a business continuity risk.

    Also, requiring coworkers to drive puts a certain amount of trust in their driving abilities. I wouldn’t want to be 5 hours in a van with coworkers. I’d mind slightly less if there was a professional driver (eg a charter van, like one of those shuttles that takes you to the airport) so I wouldn’t have to rely on Dave in marketing after an 8-hour conference day.

    1. Melissa*

      I believe op stated it’s an academic setting, not a company, which isn’t all that close to the same.

      1. Paulina*

        Yes, IME this sort of approach isn’t unusual for academia. Usually it’s just an overall approach to which alternatives or accommodation should be discussed, however, which it doesn’t appear the OP did (eg. discuss with the department head). Mind you, the business continuity risk should also apply to academia, if they cared to think about it. (I was once on a bus, professionally-driven at least, with most of — and briefly all of — my university’s upper administration. Fortunately nothing untoward happened.)

    2. HugsAreNotTolerated*

      Too true! I have to wonder at the liability issues here too. Most times when renting a vehicle the rental place asks for a ‘designated driver’ and it costs to have additional drivers. This is totally a massive amount of trust to put in your co-workers, and also could lead to really awkward situations. Like, Susan from Sales is a great co-worker, but she’s never driven anything larger than a sedan and is swerving between lanes in the van. Who is going to be the one to speak up and say “This isn’t safe, we need to switch drivers” even when Susan says she’s fine? Or what about Greg from Finance who has 4 speeding tickets this year alone? Or Betty, with the poor night vision? There’s just too many ways for this to go wrong.

      1. No Tribble At All*

        Right? Good coworker, bad drivers. There are people I won’t ride with for 10 minutes to get lunch. God forbid I’d end up carpooling with Texts While Driving Ted and Fifteen Under The Speed Limit Fran.

      2. xtine*

        Exactly! I once asked a coworker for a ride to the mechanic to retrieve my car. It was about a half a mile. I thought I was going to die on that ride, they were so unsafe. And they 100% would have been the person to insist on driving if our company had sent us somewhere in a van.

    3. Passenger Seat Anxiety*

      I agree — I’ve sat on 3-6 hour (round trip) drives with co-workers and hated it every bit of the way. Most of the problems came down to the fact that the majority of them are not great drivers. I had anxiety every bit of the way. In the more extreme cases, it made me doubt their abilities to be cautious human beings. I couldn’t even imagine a 10-hour drive.

    4. Jessica will remember in November*

      I was waiting for this to come up! In most offices, you could work with someone for years, and never have occasion to drive with them. I don’t mind taking long drives and I hate to fly about as much as anyone who’s willing to do it, but I would not be pleased at the idea of a long roadtrip with a completely unknown driver, being trapped in the situation, and knowing that any issue would immediately become an Awkward Work Thing.

    5. Blue Eagle*

      Obviously you don’t work for a not-for-profit. There have been a number of times I’ve been in a van with 5-6 people for a trip of 5 hours each way for work. And so far it hasn’t been a big deal for anyone.

    6. NightOwl*

      I’m glad someone brought this up. I’ve never been a fan of carpooling with coworkers (specific example was also a conference while I worked in a academic environment). I was told this conference would be good for me (awesome!), there were others from the institution attending, and the institution “encouraged” carpooling. I’d never met these people and we’d be using personal vehicles. I’ve driven many hours for work and personal travel and I prefer to drive myself. I would have happily driven myself with no mileage reimbursement for comfort and liability purposes alone. Fortunately, on that trip, we were unable to coordinate schedules for carpooling and ended up getting to the conference at different times, which suited me just fine. I don’t think I should be expected to take on the liability of driving others because “that’s how it’s done”. Happy I didn’t have to take a hard stand on that one.

    7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is some “VP and President can’t travel together” disaster level planning going on over there! I’ve never worked anywhere that’s ever come up. Otherwise they’d put a couple of us in plastic bubbles and never let us leave at all if they were that worried.

      1. No Tribble At All*

        This company has locations on different /continents/ as part of business continuity, so maybe we’re just overly paranoid ;) I believe it’s the c-suite and one level below them have formal restrictions, so maybe 20 people in total. But there have been times driving a group of us to lunch when I’ve had the thought that if we got T-boned, all our subject matter experts on X topic would just be gone.

  16. AvonLady Barksdale*

    I had a 20-minute car commute in my last location. I had a 45-minute bus commute in the location before that. I much preferred the bus, even if it was longer, and I would prefer the flight too. Five hours in a car is a long time for many of us and five hours of driving can be physically and mentally stressful. Something for the LW to take into consideration.

    Then on the other side there are people who love to drive because it gives them more control. If I were one of those people and someone got into my car and said, “I need to stop every hour,” I might be pretty resentful of that… especially if the drive is five hours long!

    And one more thing: I don’t think I’ve ever done a long drive (3+ hours) that went as planned. Traffic. Stopping for food and spending time in line. Bathroom breaks. Nope.

    1. NightOwl*

      Agreed. I’m the “bring snacks and push through type” and 5 hours is probably my limit before wanting/needing to stop (providing the drive was relatively easy and I had no health issues to attend to) and I’m well aware that others don’t travel in the same manner as me.

  17. Kimmybear*

    So much depends on the where. For example, if I drive from DC to New York, that’s about 4 hours vs a 45 minute flight. But I can get work done on the plane (or train) that I can’t if I’m driving. Also, I don’t have to pay $50/day to park in NYC. That’s different from driving to Harrisburg; 3 hours to drive but has limited non-stop flights and free parking. What are the total costs including cost of people’s stress and hours?

  18. Beth Jacobs*

    Five hours is so outside the norm, OP should have definitely disclosed it up front. I mean, if there really wasn’t money for the plane tickets, then yeah, driving was the only option, but it was wrong of OP to assume everyone would be okay with it.
    I do understand Jeff’s frustration, but can’t really condone his complaining about it to others either.

    1. Letter Writer*

      To Jeff’s credit, he complained to a couple other people and let the issue go. He went to a different conference a couple months later and all logistics (including travel plans) were discussed and priced out before any trips were approved. Fortunately this was one incident in what overall has been a positive working relationship.

  19. Jay*

    Look, it seems that it would be kindest to let Jeff fly.

    But I’m surprised how many people think five hours is a lot. Five hours is nothing. I’ve driven to conferences that are eight, ten, twelve hours away – on my own. For holidays one year, I drove thirteen hours cross-country on my own in a single day to spend a few days with family. I’m from parts of the world where these tremendously long drives, combined with a desire to save money on flights, are super normal.

    What’s needed is not some objective standard that says, “oh, yeah, anything over five hours is a lot, anything under five hours is reasonable,” because we’re not going to get there. What’s needed is a more fluid, rhetorical policy which accounts for the person going, their preferences, the relative time and money available, etc. This could be a good opportunity for OP to develop a more flexible approach that doesn’t get hung up on what counts as a “lot” but reaches a decision by communicating with the people in question.

    1. Val Z*

      We also have tremendously long drives in the US and a lot of people choose to do that for personal travel, but it’s less common for business travel. It’s pretty standard to expect your employer to provide a comfortable means of transportation for business travel and I think a lot of people would consider a 5 hour drive uncomfortable.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I’ve driven 14 hours straight through alone, but it was to see friends, so if I arrived tired and looking like something the cat coughed up, there weren’t expectations about my presentability the next day. There are at a conference.

    3. Claire*

      Personally, I’d much rather drive 5 hours alone or with friends than 5 hours with coworkers. Also important to note that apparently, Jeff has always flown to conferences before, so it’s entirely reasonable that he would expect that he would fly to this one as well.

      1. Jay*

        No. This is a bit rude, tbh.

        All I’m doing is pointing out that what constitutes a “long drive” varies wildly (as further responses on this board indicate) and suggesting that instead of developing hard rules about drive times (e.g. 4 hours = fly), the company should develop more flexible ones that account for personal needs – in this case, Jeff’s need to fly.

    4. Annastasia von Beaverhausen*

      I’m in Canada which is biggly and I’ve regularly driven for 14 plus hours in a day for a holiday, or went on a multi day road trip with 10 and 11 hours of driving each day.

      I wouldn’t take a 10 hour round trip with coworkers in a car under any circumstances. That sounds like misery all around, particularly if you need frequent bathroom breaks. What if you get one of those weird draconian drivers who insists only on stopping on schedule? Or what if someone is a crappy driver and you don’t feel empowered to tell them to knock off the texting and driving or whatever.

      Just because a 5 hour drive isn’t particularly long, doesn’t make it appropriate for a work function.

      I say manager f’d up here and should have been more compassionate to Jeff.

    5. Trout 'Waver*

      >But I’m surprised how many people think five hours is a lot.

      I think this is also a function of the common traits of those who post comments on Alison’s site. The vast majority of readers never visit the comments sections, and the majority that do never post. And even frequent commenters are unlikely to comment unless they feel strongly one way or another on the topic. Also, driving for work is something that tolerated at best and frequently despised. So there is some selection bias at work here.

      1. The Rat-Catcher*

        Probably. Five hours is an eye roll for us and nothing more. I agree Jeff’s particular issues deserve accommodation, but it’s certainly nothing so ridiculous that I would’ve expected disclosure in advance. Again, lots of different norms.

    6. Purt's Peas*

      I agree that a fluid, rhetorical policy is necessary.

      On that note, five hours’ drive is nothing–to you. To someone who doesn’t drive long distances regularly, or car-ride long distances, it’s a long time. Driving is a skill and driving for hours at a time does require endurance, and does require practice. Part of having a fluid, rhetorical policy is respecting people’s preferences and abilities, and not secretly thinking they’re a weenie for the accommodations they request.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        My parents live a 3h40min drive from me, and in the Before Times I visited them about every 2 – 3 months. Driving that long jangled my nerves and wore me out the first several times I did it, but now (especially since I know the route so well) it’s a breeze and I barely notice it. Which is to say, long drives are a skill that have to be built up over time, and suddenly making someone drive for a long time (even trading off drivers) is a recipe for a crash, or at least a miserable time.

        And that’s even besides the fact that if you are having coworkers swap out driving duties, you have to be worried about each one until you know how safe and skilled they are. I’ve definitely white-knuckled when being driven by other people, and if they’re coworkers it’s even more difficult to say, “Britta, pull over, I think you’re likely to kill us driving this way!”

      2. Jay*

        Which . . . was exactly my point. You’ll notice I started out by saying that the best option here is for Jeff to fly.

        1. Purt's Peas*

          Right–I know you were offering your ability to drive long distances as an example for why we’ll never decide on what’s ‘long’. But it’s also an example of undermining a flexible policy immediately by casting a little shade on the people who’d need it.

    7. Mama Bear*

      It absolutely depends on the person. Jeff said it wouldn’t work for him and OP needed to take that at face value. Jeff was obviously serious about it, because he canceled his attendance to an event OP said would be good for him. OP needed to hear Jeff when he said it was too much for *him*.

    8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yawn, it’s not a lot to YOU. That’s fine.

      I have personally driven a major interstate in an ice storm for 8 hours to get to a job interview. So should everyone else do it? Probably frigging not. I have driven 14 hours in the same day just for leisure as well. This isn’t a pissing contest though.

      It’s normal to you. It’s not acceptable to put your extremes on display and say that someone who doesn’t want to make the same sacrifices are “abnormal”

    9. Cat*

      I mean, when I was a kid, my family regularly drove 12 hours from Portland to the Bay Area to see family. But now I’m an adult and a professional, and I don’t expect my company to nickel and dime me on the absolute cheapest way to get to a professional event just because that’s what my parents did when I was a kid. For five hours, I would take a train if it was available over flying, but no, I’m not going to cram into rental van with a bunch of co-workers. (Similarly, I’m going to book a direct cross-country flight over a transfer even if it’s $200 more).

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        That is also part of traveling with kids. When kids are involved, it’s often easier on everyone to drive. You don’t have to be the family with the antsy kids on the airplane and you aren’t on public display with your parenting!

        1. DarnTheMan*

          And you can decide to extend your drive (or shorten it) as you see fit, which is a lot harder when you’re driving with co-workers on a deadline (either arriving for the conference on time or everyone just wanting to get home). Signed, someone who has been to more small town Canada roadside attractions than I can count during our annual road trip pilgrimage to the Maritimes.

    10. Batgirl*

      I agree with you that the world generally would be a much better place if we stopped trying to set inflexible rules on how everyone should do things.

    11. Letter Writer*

      Yes, I agree that there is need for a more flexible approach that provides guidelines but also allows for unique situations. Also, this needs to be accounted for when planning the professional development budget.

  20. Maggie*

    In college, I lived in Ohio and went to college in South Carolina. The airport options aren’t great, so I almost always drove home rather than drive to and fight through Atlanta traffic only to have to take 2 flights. The drive was still 11 hours, but I called the shots and could drop a friend off in Cincinnati and make the whole thing bearable. So, when I studied abroad, I thought nothing of asking a friend who lived in Northern Ireland to pick me up at the Dublin airport when arriving from Scotland. He agreed without hesitation, but looked exhausted when I arrived. He admitted 2 hours was the longest he’d ever driven, ever. In his life. I was mortified! I drove him home and explained what I considered a “long drive.” He noted to drive 11 hours in Ireland you’d have to go in circles around the entire island twice to even find enough road to drive that many hours! This is definitely a perspective thing, and Americans might not realize how lengthy this amount of car travel is to the majority of the world.

    1. mreasy*

      Yes I mean – I used to drive home from college, from Portland Oregon to central California – which is 16+ hours…and when I fly home to my family now, it is a cross country flight then a 4-hour drive given how far they live from a major airport. But for business travel? Unless you are talking about a super strapped-for-cash nonprofit or startup, I would be livid were I expected to drive 5 hours in a van with my coworkers, and would never assume my job would expect it. Maybe make it an option? But it is unusual to make that an assumption, for sure – having worked and traveled for business for 20 years now.

      1. Clisby*

        If the company thinks a 5-hour trip in a van is reasonable, then at a minimum the company needs to hire a driver. No way any employee should have to drive.

      2. rural academic*

        The OP states they work at a college, however, so this is indeed a strapped-for-cash nonprofit. My college is a 4-5 hour drive from several larger cities, and we would 100% be expected to drive to a conference in any of them, especially if we could share costs by carpooling. We could fly or drive individually if we insisted, but the college would likely not cover those costs.

    2. ScottishLass*

      Can confirm – I’m Scottish, and a 2-hour drive is considered pretty long (for me!). 5 hours is definitely a proper road trip. I’m always amazed by how BIG the US is, and what’s seen as a normal amount of driving for a commute or holiday :)

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        You can’t be northern, then? We drove for four hours across Sutherland last summer, and didn’t start or finish at the edge :D

        1. Batgirl*

          It’s not really an edge to edge thing; it’s more cultural. I could spend four hours driving from northern England to London or up to Scotland, but I just… wouldn’t. I’d take the train. It may be a city girl opinion but the only people I know who’ve done mega car journeys is to the west country, where infrastructure is poor and then its always for pleasure with close friends who share the driving. I’d be quite taken aback if my employer expected me to do it!

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes quite. Unless you’re going somewhere with no effective public transport, I’d take the train. If I were going somewhere with no public transport, like certain parts of Scotland I’d take the train or fly and then hire a car.

            In common with a lot of people in my social circle I don’t enjoy driving, England isn’t in my view a fun place to drive especially nor around London (although I’ve enjoyed driving in Wales on occasion). Given a choice I’d much rather take a train or plane so I can read and relax while travelling. It’s cultural but also a personal thing. I’ve a family friend with a very nice classic car and he enjoys driving as much as he can because he is so fond of being in his lovely car.

            Variety is a wonderful thing.

          2. ScottishLass*

            This is exactly it; our trains are fairly affordable up here and most people in my peergroup (early 20s living in a large city) can’t drive and don’t own a car at all.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              That makes a lot of sense. I live rurally so a car is a must, and with family spread out we’ve got used to long* drives.

              * British long, not US long.

            2. Keymaster of Gozer*

              When we took our honeymoon up near Inverness we flew up there (I live in the south of England) then got the train to our final destination. One day I hope to return. The highlands are just beautiful friendly and overall quiet :)

      2. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

        I have looked up comparative distances on occasion, and the same distance between San Fransisco and New York would get you from London to Kazakhstan.

        4 hours (270 miles or 430 km) was, “It’s so nice to have the cousins close by!” distance. Mom drove that a couple times a year with four small kids in the car.

    3. londonedit*

      I was going to make this point. I live a two-and-a-half-hour drive from where my parents live, and although they have on occasion driven up to visit and back home again in one day, really I’d consider it too long a journey to bother with for anything less than a weekend trip. A five-hour drive for me would be the equivalent of driving to my parents’ house, turning round and driving straight back again, or it would mean going from London ‘all the way’ to Cornwall, the most south-westerly county in the UK, and I’d definitely consider that to be a really long drive.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes me too. I’m also London based and don’t drive a lot so I’d definitely consider a 5 hour drive to be a long way and not something I’d want to do on business. Also I’m not a confident driver so having my colleagues in the car while I’m driving would be my idea of hell and make me even more nervous. When I travel on business within GB I take the train as the default, and fly if it’s Scotland (and obviously fly to NI). If my company asked me to drive, I’d not be entirely happy about it.

        I think whether a 5 hour drive is a lot is hugely situational. It also depends on the roads. In London and the M25 it can take ages to do 20 miles. On a major, straight road in the US I’d imagine it’s a lot less stressful.

        Accordingly I don’t think there’s an objective standard for whether a 5 hour drive is too long. It depends on the individual, their experience, the country they’re in and the driving conditions. Obviously Jeff thinks it’s too long and I think it’s good for employers, where possible, to be considerate of that.

    4. Quinalla*

      Yes even if the US it depends on what you are used to. My family would do a 5-6 hour drive for a weekend no problem, we even did 10 hour drives for a long weekend. My husband had never done drives over and hour or so until he went to college and had to do 2 hours. It has taken him a long time to get more used to the 4.5-5 hour trip from our home to where our parents are where for me a 5 hour car trip is just when I start going, yeah this is kind long :)

      And yes, it is so different when going with coworkers you either don’t know well or don’t really like. I traveled a lot at my last job and flying with a drive on the end was much better than a long ass drive. With coworkers I liked either was fine. I love driving by myself though, then you can listen to what you want stop as often or as infrequently as you want – love it!

      I think the biggest takeaway is to be upfront about driving/flying/etc. expecations when trips are being discussed/approved initially. That would have taken this from super annoyed and salty to mild annoyance.

    5. Spangles*

      Maggie, I love this! Hearing about your friend has really made me chuckle. I live in NI too but work in Dublin and think nothing of the drive down now. But when people I meet hear I’m in Dublin the next day they’re always horrified to hear I’m not staying overnight! Definitely something you build a tolerance to over time!

    6. Hamburke*

      A few years ago, my cousin got married in Galway, Ireland. We flew into Dublin, met up with my sister, rented a car and drove across the country – 3 hour drive or so with a handful of touristy stops. The car rental guy kept giving us options for where we could stay overnight on the trip… I didn’t have the heart to tell him I drove further to the US airport from my house (to meet up with my mom and aunt) than from Dublin to Galway. What he should have warned us about was how restaurants close by 6 on Sundays so we should return the car earlier rather than later…

    7. allathian*

      How long had you been in the UK by then? Driving on the left would drive me nuts. I prefer driving an automatic in any case, but shifting gears with my left hand. No way…

  21. Kimmy Schmidt*

    I think higher ed may have some weirder norms about driving vs. flying than other industries. At the university where I work, we’re generally expected to drive if the round trip is under 1000 miles, which usually works out to about 7-8 hours one way. There are many ways to get an exception if you’re the only person attending, but if more than one person is going, you are generally expected to get a university vehicle and carpool together. But we’re almost 3 hours away from an airport so that’s a big factor for us.

    1. Kimmybear*

      That seems more like a geography issue than higher ed vs. other industries. (I can be at 3 major airports within 1 hour.) I used to work at a higher ed association and driving that far wasn’t common. Sharing rooms with random conference attendees was but that’s another letter :) I

  22. Kiki*

    I think it’s important to be really sensitive to when people are telling you there are physical limitations to what they can do in a situation and what they need. I understand the desire to be solution-oriented and look for compromises, especially because in the workplace this is usually a valuable skill, but telling someone possible workarounds for their bathroom breaks is not within your realm. Unless someone is telling you something absolutely wild (e.g. I need to be flown to the conference on a private jet with lobster tail and champagne), you have to trust that somebody is telling you what they can do and what they need. And yes, businesses are trying to save money, I get that, but they should not do so at the expense of their employees’ well-being.

    1. Former HED/SAA professional*

      I had a similar situation. I desperately was nervous about traveling as a grad for an alternative spring break. I have IBS and was in the process of being diagnosed with anxiety. But it was just like expected for all GAs and they didn’t really disclose that I’d be in a car for hours, essentially working (Teambulding with students) and “on” the whole time and also basically trapped in a car with people with nowhere to go to recharge. I hadn’t discovered AAM yet and didn’t know about ADA accommodations as a new professional. So I outed myself as an employee with anxiety rather than outing myself as an employee with IBS. Because I didn’t know what I was doing or how to ask for accommodations or exceptions because higher ed is super toxic about boundaries and expectations. Little did I know outing myself as an employee with mental health issues was FAR more damaging due to stigma than just telling people that when I get really nervous and feel trapped I get super bad flare ups. Also I was told I had to find a replacement for myself when I backed out months and months before the trip. I got one, but that should not have been my responsibility. All that to say, higher ed has some messed up expectations of employees and would do well to remember that people have needs (private needs!) too.

  23. wondering aloud*

    I feel a little torn about this letter.

    On the one hand I feel like OP isn’t taking into concern the employees health issue. If it’s not written in a company handbook what the transportation rules are, then I can see why the employee is a bit stunned about having to drive. There was definitely a miscommunication with both parties.

    On the other hand the employee should not have assumed they would be flying. When presenting the conference, all expenses should have been included – conference costs, hotel, transportation. While I do think 5 hours is a bit much to drive, I don’t think it is unreasonable, especially if the drive time is considered a work day (ie your not expected to go the conference as soon as arriving).

  24. First Time Commenter Long Time Reader*

    This kind of makes me laugh. I guess it’s a relative thing. 5 hour drive in Texas could easily be across the DFW Metroplex. I drive (pre COVID) 6 hours regularly to visit family or friends and it’s often the same length of travel to drive or fly when it’s a less than 6-8 hour trip by the time you drive to the airport, check in, go through security, etc. Then getting a rental car when you arrive. But friends and co-workers who live in the northeast balk at driving more than a couple of hours.

    1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

      Ha! Looks like we were typing our “Texans drive heinous distances without thinking twice about it” comments at the same time.

      1. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

        Seems like there’s a few us of Texans commenting today. We barely bat an eye at that time in the car! I used to regularly drive 4 hours to a job site, be on the ground about 3-4 hours, then turn around and drive back because I preferred not to stay in the motel options in that town. It regularly turned into 14 hour days when you factor in the time to stop and eat and biology breaks and all that. Long days! I got a lot of mileage reimbursement that year…and paid off my car loan :)

      2. Zombeyonce*

        I’ve moved cross-country multiple times in my life since I was a toddler and we’ve had to drive across Texas a few times. I remember going to sleep in the backseat in Texas and waking up still in Texas over and over for what felt like weeks. Texas would just never end. Sometimes I feel like I’m still stuck there, driving through a never-ending Texas.

    2. Circe*

      I agree! Even without the health concerns coming into play, it can be hard to judge how far is TOO far for driving because it’s so dependent on region. I have friends that would balk at an 1 hr drive, whereas I grew up driving 3+ hours easily.

      1. AGD*

        I’m in Canada, so 5 hours is approximately Toronto to Ottawa – which is pretty trivial because those cities are comparatively quite close together!

  25. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    I think it depends on where you’re located too. If you’re in the northeast where you can cross 3 state lines by driving an hour, 5 hours would probably seem prohibitively long. I live in TX and 5 hours in a car is fairly normal. I’ve driven the 4 hours down to Austin just to meet up for dinner or birthday surprise. My housemate routinely drives the 5 hours (one-way) to her hometown for a weekend visit.
    That said, those are personal trips taken at one’s own behest. If work asked me to go to Austin for business, I’d definitely expect to be at least offered the ability to take a flight. I think that your org needs a clearer travel & expense policy that has the expectations laid out more clearly. That way Jeff would have know that this trip fell within the ‘designated drive distance’ and could have approached you about approving a flight due to a medical reason earlier.

    1. WorkingGirl*

      5 hours in the Northeast would also be crossing through multiple big cities = multiple rounds of tons of traffic!

  26. Llellayena*

    I agree that 5 hours is approximately the cut off between driving and flying under normal circumstances. So if you want to hold to that, write it into your travel policy. However, add language to build in for medical accommodations. Jeff should be able to request ADA related accommodations for travel. This may mean that you and he work together to make a Jeff-specific policy, such as all travel by Jeff over 2.5hrs will be by plane or it may mean a case by case adjustment (I can handle a 4hr drive this time, but last time I did need to cut off at 2hrs). He has the best knowledge of how his condition affects travel so you should not try to impose the needs of your condition on him.

      1. Val Z*

        Really? I’m surprised to hear that. I thought the ADA generally accommodates conditions if they interfere with major life activities. Spending a lot of time in the bathroom would probably qualify. Wouldn’t it at least be worth a discussion? I don’t know a lot about the ADA so maybe I’m missing something.

          1. schnauzerfan*

            Yes. This would be / has been and ADA issue where I work. We did something like “cannot drive or fly non-stop more than 120 minutes.” Of course we are in the American Outback so 5 hours is an “easy drive” here, and airports are scarce. The last time I tried to fly from RAP to SFX the only flights that would meet my schedule involved a plane change in ORD??? or a layover in MSP. I think not. I’ll drive the 6 hours. And if you’re not going to one of the “big” cities, there’s no flight at all.

            But so our ADA person was basically given the opportunity to (a) find a flight that would work, (b) the option to drive alone, (c) the option to have his fellow travelers know that he’d need to stop and move around with some frequency without being specific about the issue. We told those rude enough to ask that a medical issue required accommodation (could be restroom, history of dvts, panic attacks, need for a snack, or something else) (d) the option to phone in to meetings he needed to attend.

            But our person made the request of the ADA committee at the time of hiring, long before the issue came up rather than springing it on the boss at the last minute. I think that makes a huge difference.

          2. Cat*

            And, like, do you want to test whether it’s an ADA issue over the cost of a plane flight? That’s not cost-effective.

      2. Jennifer Thneed*

        “sometimes has digestive issues that flare up” is work-speak for “sometime I am in tremendous pain from abdominal cramps, I need 30 minutes in the bathroom and then need it again an half-hour later, you would not *believe* the foulness of the gas I pass.”

  27. mreasy*

    There is a massive difference between a long drive for pleasure or personal reasons than for business travel, though.

  28. Total*

    It wasn’t a huge issue

    You might want to reconsider whether it was a bigger issue for Jeff than you’re thinking.

    1. Quill*

      Yeah, if an employee discloses a health problem to you… you’re getting the bare minimum they think will force you to take it seriously.

  29. FriendlyCanadian*

    I have Crohns Disease, I am terrified of long car rides and would never be able to do one with co workers for five hours. I sympathize with Jeff a bunch and if this happened to me I would be quietly looking for other opportunities

  30. Jess*

    Wow. This pandemic is an ongoing nightmare but so is a corporate/environmental culture that defaults to a two-hour flight instead of a shared five-hour car ride. I hope those days are gone.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      People are already flooding the world and wanting to get back to the old style of “Normal”.

      I wouldn’t hold my breathe that much is going to change in the grand scheme of things. Next summer these conferences are going to be live again and travel will be required. There’s not enough companies right now taking it seriously at all, just saying.

    2. Calanthea*

      I agree. Maybe it’s a US/UK thing (there aren’t trains in the US?) but flying is seen as a bit of a luxury – it’s for very senior people, or, you know, overseas. And apparently 1% of english residents are responsible for 20% of overseas flights, which I presume is a lot of business travel. The environmental costs of flights are way more than sharing a car. I think the LW made the right decision (although maybe the wrong reasoning).

      1. PhysicsTeacher*

        There is not much train service in most of the US. And if the train is an option, it’s likely to be a pretty slow option.

      2. Kiki*

        Yes, the US needs more railways and high speed ones. I would love to take trains everywhere, but that isn’t an option for much of the US. I don’t know how Jeff from this letter would feel about taking a train instead of flying, but they do tend to have bathrooms. And taking a train with coworkers sounds less exhausting to me than renting a van with coworkers. With renting a van, someone has to be in charge of driving, someone has to navigate, there can be radio station/ music selection drama, and there’s pressure to be social with your coworkers for most of the trip. I feel like going on a train together, it’s much more acceptable to zone out and not pay much mind to your coworkers.

      3. A*

        Not only are there less trains in general given how large the US is, but keep in mind it’s an ~70-85 hour train ride coast to coast.

        I’ve only ever been able to rely on trains when travelling between major business hubs relatively close together (i.e. Boston to NY).

      4. ...*

        There are great trains in some regions and then they are non existent in others. They’re typically slower trains and if im being honest often look at as the way that poor/trashy people travel so not something often used for business.

      5. fhqwhgads*

        Trains are often slow, infrequent and nearly as costly as flying. At least in the places I’ve lived in the US that’s been so.

      6. CommanderBanana*

        Train tickets can sometimes be more expensive than flights! And rail service in the U.S. is really slow and not very reliable.

      7. nonegiven*

        I tried to find a way to take buses or trains across half the country, I think I gave up when it started looking like it would take 2 weeks and half of it would be going in the wrong direction because nothing went all the way through.

  31. MK*

    Hmm. Where I am from, you need a special-grade driving license to drive a mini-van, so “hiring a van” means hiring a transport firm to provide the van and a professional driver to ferry people, with issues like speed limits and number of stops being regulated. I would not want to attempt a 5-hour drive with a random coworker at the wheel and 5 hours is at the border of it being considered reasonable. Some people would be fine, others would find it intolerable.

    OP, I won’t say your policy is unreasonable (and I don’t know how much authority you have to change it or make exceptions). In the future I think it would be best to at least make the policy clear to people beforehand.

    1. Jessica Fletcher*

      Wow, do you mean you need a special license to drive a mini van like a regular suburban soccer mom mini van, or are you thinking of something bigger?

      1. MK*

        The “normal” driving license has several “grades” depending of the power and capacity of the vehicle. To drive a regular mini-van like the one you describe, you need a higher-grade license than for the average car; they are not difficult to get, but most poeple don’t have one because these kind of cars aren’t used in my country. For something bigger you need a professional driving license (you don’t need to actually work as a professional driver to get it, but it’s a completely different process and requirements).

        1. Quill*

          The “mini” van usually means seating for up to 7 passengers in three rows. Not all the seats are sufficiently sized for the average adult.

          A shuttle van, such as we took to field work when I was in college, usually means 4 rows, is significantly longer than a standard parking space, probably holds at least nine people, and requires a seperate license.

          1. Nope Nope Nope*

            Must depend on where you live. I used to drive a catering van, which was the same size as the shuttle van you’re describing, just no seats in the back. I didn’t have to have a special license for that.

            1. Quill*

              The location probably has something to do with it, but iirc where I live commercial driving licenses have a lot to do with the overall size / shape of the vehicle and the different hazards and best practices associated with that.

    2. A*

      Not sure what is driving the difference, but I know that we don’t need a special license to drive the van occasionally used at my office (for like trips down the road or ~1 hour away, never for road trips as long as OP is referring to). It’s just a basic passenger van, two bucket seats in the front and three rows in the back.

      I refuse to drive it, I’m uncomfortable driving vehicles that tall/large and get extra anxious at the thought of doing it in front of my coworkers (+ the whole ‘trusting me with their lives’ thing). I’ve never gotten push back, but I could see in some less reasonable work environments how this could be an assumed shared responsibility.

  32. SheLooksFamiliar*

    I never had a problem driving a few hours for an off-site meeting or conference, because I’m an introvert and chose to go solo. One co-worker in the car would have been challenging; 2 or more would have taken all of my energy and goodwill. And if I had personal medical needs to anticipate and manage? Dante created a special circle in hell, just for me.

    OP, Jeff tried to be diplomatic about why he wanted to fly and you dismissed his totally valid reasons. You don’t get to minimize your employee’s health concerns, full stop. Also, it’s not reasonable to expect your team(s) to drive 5 hours for a work purpose unless there is no other way to get to the destination. Alison said it best, that’s just too long for group or even solo travel. And it’s usually penny-wise but pound-foolish.

    Please don’t think you’re treating your team fairly by treating them all the same. Jeff had valid reasons for asking for an exception, and you could have handled things better.

  33. Jessica Fletcher*

    I think the main issue here is the health issue needing to be accommodated, but it’s pretty bad to require groups of coworkers to drive together. Academia is terrible on this kind of thing! My first professional job was in research at a university, and I had to do was drive around the entire state with my supervisor, doing educational sessions about the research. I had to spend all day, every day, with her – sitting in the passenger seat since I wasn’t approved to drive the car. We even had to share a hotel room. We had every meal together. This was in rural areas, so I couldn’t even go off by myself and walk around. I started skipping breakfast every morning just to get some time away from her.

    At my current company, I would be expected to drive 5 hours, but could fly if the cost was the same or less than driving. They’d also cover the cost of car rental, if I didn’t want to drive my own vehicle. And while we’re allowed to carpool, it’s not expected. I’ve driven with one coworker to a meeting 4 hours away, and it was fine, but there are definitely coworkers I would never drive with!

    In general, I don’t think 5 hours is too far to drive. I don’t know everyone’s locations, but I’m gonna guess that Midwesterners don’t think that’s a long drive (*raises hand*).

    1. Quill*

      5 hours total in a day is a maximum for me, and I grew up in the midwest! 5 hours round trip was an afternoon with my dad’s side of the family and only to be attempted if I didn’t have to do anything in the evening after. 5 hours one way is thanksgiving lunch with dad’s side in metro chicago and then pie with mom’s side, with the expectation of staying at least two nights.

      I haven’t had a road trip that doesn’t make me sick, pained, and irritiable since I was a tween. Meanwhile I had college friends who would think nothing of driving 4 hours for a birthday weekend, and a few who wouldn’t even assume that a 4 hour trip one way meant an overnight stay.

    2. PhysicsTeacher*

      Great Plains here, in an area where population centers are VERY spread out and honestly, so are airports.

      5 hours isn’t a long drive alone or with friends. I’ll do 8 hours alone easily or 10 or 11 with a friend who I trust to drive and can switch off with. 5 hours feels like an eternity with coworkers.

  34. Flight Time Truther*

    5 hours, in a shared van, with colleagues is significantly different than 5 hours dispersed along traveling to the airport, going through security, milling around the terminal, and boarding, and flying – in most of that time you have a lot more autonomy to tend to yourself. I’m also thrown by the estimate that the flight time would be 2 hours unless it’s not direct – that flight should be 1 hour, max.

  35. Manchmal*

    I’m from the Detroit area, and the drive both to Chicago and to Toronto are both about 5 hours (Toronto is closer, but factoring the border crossing you can approach 5 hours). There are obviously flights from Detroit to those cities as well, and they’re really short, like 45 minutes. They barely have time to give you a drink, and if there’s turbulence you won’t get even that. Here, neither flying nor driving would be a foregone conclusion, but the price differential with 4 people going would probably favor driving, especially if you weren’t going right downtown and therefore wouldn’t have to pay for very expensive parking. I can see how it would be reasonable for a company or a department to decide to save money in this way. And I can see people having strong preferences for one or another mode of transportation. But the fact that Jeff would rather not go than drive indicates to me that this wasn’t a preference but a real need. If it was just a preference, he would have still gone to the conference, which I’m sure he was looking forward to. I’m not sure how one’s boss would know that in advance, other than simply trusting Jeff.

  36. Amorette Allison*

    I’m from Montana. We drive five hours for lunch. And there are no commercial flights to many small communities. We used to but the federal government got rid of the subsidy program for small airports. I have no choice but to drive at least two hours just to get to an airport.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s true those of us from rural areas have normalized these long travel times. Our regional airports are still up but they’re expensive to fly out of if you can’t find a direct flight from them.

      But city folk will tell you that commuting to work on a train for 2 hours is totally normal in their spectrum.

      We all have different comfort levels and sense of normalcy. It doesn’t mean that we put that on others.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        So true. I’m a native Texan and have lived in both super rural and super urban parts of the state. Growing up, I was used to driving at least an hour to get to the grocery store. Now I balk at driving 20 minutes to get to the one grocery store near me that sells dairy free yogurt (driving past a few others, mind you, which is probably part of the reason why I get kind of cranky haha)! Even if you’ve experienced other situations, you’re so used to your own that it’s hard to break that mindset of what’s normal or you think should be normal. That’s why you have to proactively work on it.

        1. Nope Nope Nope*

          In the small town where I grew up in Oklahoma, they put in a Super Walmart in the early 2000s and it quickly became one of the busiest stores in the state. People would drive from all over the rural areas to get their groceries there. You’d see people in the parking lot loading ice chests with the items that needed to stay cold for the drive. They would buy months worth of food because they lived in areas where the groceries were either expensive or the options were severely limited. We used to drive to the next town over (in Texas) to get our groceries because it wasn’t as busy (and there was no sales tax on the groceries).

      2. UKDancer*

        Definitely. I live near London. I commute for about 45-75 minutes each way into work (or at least I did before lockdown). To me that’s entirely normal and not a bad commute. I can read a book on the way in and out and because we work flexitime I can time my commute to just miss the rush hour so I get a seat. I quite enjoy it really.

        I was talking to a colleague in the same business in one of the Balkan countries. He thinks my commute is appalling and doesn’t know how I stand it. He has a 15 minute walk to work and if it’s raining he drives in. There is no way I would drive to work in London.

        I was talking to another colleague from a company in the Netherlands who has a 30 minute cycle ride each way, and thinks everyone ought to be using bikes all the time.

        You’re right that we all tend to think what we do is normal and the right way to do things because that’s what we’re accustomed to doing. It’s good to remember that others may not have the same experiences and perspectives.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          Ha! I commute 40-60 minutes in my car, for 7 (SEVEN) miles. It’s completely normal, and not actually that bad here, and when I tell my friends in NYC or Boston, or other people with public transportation, they think I am insane.
          Urban Texas here.

          1. Third or Nothing!*

            I have a feeling which major metropolitan area of Texas you’re in. It’s not that bad here in my major metropolitan area of Texas, although with dropping my kid off at daycare it takes me about 45 minutes to do 10 miles total. Gotta love all the time it takes to actually get to the highway, then all the inching forward once you’re there.

            1. RussianInTexas*

              It would actually take me just very slightly faster to get to work on the tollway, but then I would be paying to get to work very slightly faster.
              I used to work near the literally worst highway intersection in Texas by lost traffic hours, and getting laid off from THAT job had a silver lining – no more 610@59!

        2. UKDancer*

          Sorry where I say I commute 45-75 minutes each way I mean I commute by train / tube. Hence why I can read while in transit. I just don’t want anyone thinking i was reading a book while driving.

  37. Samantha Ceeton*

    Interesting. I absolutely would prefer to drive than fly 5 hours. Flying is such an ordeal, and even with no lay over (our city 98% WILL have a layover) it’s such a hassle. Then when you get there you still need to get transportation to the location, etc. Especially if the drive is easy (avoiding most cities or turnpikes).

      1. Samantha Ceeton*

        No. I wasn’t responding to that – I only addressed that I would prefer to drive instead of fly in general, and so I don’t think it’s that shocking that that would be kind of the standard for this distance.

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      Same. I was given so much grief when I opted to drive to a meet and greet event rather than fly.

      I had less than 24 hours notice that I was going. Therefore, I was leaving on as much of my schedule as I could to get there while still obviously being on time, since I didn’t have the notice to make the rest of my outside of work life work while I was away.
      By the map, its 4:30 drive time between the two midwestern cities. A quick scan on flights that day showed it was 3:40 or so flights with connections (i.e. nothing direct on the day in question).
      Whatever genius was in charge managed to schedule this meet and greet on the same day as the opening of a large international annual event in same city. There were NO nearby hotels to book. If I have to drive 20 minutes out of a midwestern town to find my hotel? I want my OWN vehicle that I use daily.
      Company policy preferred Uber and the like to renting a vehicle. As a lone woman traveling in a completely new city? No way. And I’m having to stay in a rinky dink hotel with few amenities 20 minutes outside the city, so again, no, I want my own darn vehicle.

  38. MousekaMarketeer*

    I have IBS and flying makes me have a flare up and my managers have never had issues when I explain I prefer driving due to it. I’d be upset if I had to lie to coworkers about a real health condition I was going through and be forced to travel in a way that would cause me pain.

    Also – While for me personally a 5 hour drive is nothing, (I swear I was meant to be a long haul truck driver by how much I enjoy driving long trips) for a ton of people 5 hours is a LONG drive and would make them go crazy. My husband always flies if given the option because he hates being in a car for more than an hour.

  39. Safely Retired*

    I was surprised nothing was mentioned about how the other two travelers would react, and how that would be handled. They might just shrug, or they might be angry. Or one of both! Of course that might be next letter to Allison.

    1. Observer*

      Yes, I brought it up. I think that this could have the potential to create major problems. Both for Jeff and his coworkers.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      That crossed my mind as well.

      But at the same time, it sounds like the company is hiring the car themselves. So I think that’s why the OP is entitled to say “Just go with the other two in the car we rented.” It’s not the same necessarily as if they were driving their own vehicle.

    3. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Can you imagine that letter?

      Dear Alison:

      I went to a conference with three other coworkers. It was only supposed to be a five hour drive, so our employer rented us a van to save on costs. One of my coworkers, Jeff, needed to stop every hour for a bathroom break. Some of these breaks lasted 15-20 minutes. It turned our five hour drive into a nine hour drive! Is it reasonable for our employer to expect us to do that?

  40. Butterfly Counter*

    I am wondering what the policy is for people to decide how to spend money when people travel to conferences. In my department, it’s pretty easy. You get $X amount of travel funds that you can use as you see fit. Generally it’s about enough to just pay for conference fees, a hotel room for a couple of nights and a reasonably priced plane ticket. Anything over is faculty responsibility to pay for. However, if the main conference is more local, faculty get to use their travel funds to consider going to another conference.

    Maybe that’s the solution? Figure out your travel budget and divide by number of employees who go to conferences. They can then make the decisions on how to spend that money (within reason, of course) from there.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      How does that work when medical conditions make certain aspects more expensive for an individual member of staff? “Staff with disabilities can’t go to as many events” is YIKES even if it does seem to make financial sense.

      That said, I have encountered similar, with rules like “your budget for travel is the cost of a standard walk-on rail fare”. If you get your act together, you can get an advance first class rail or even plane ticket within budget. But that is only a reasonable rule if the limit is set at a reasonable level – and regular AAM readers know that some bosses will make ridiculous “sleep on a fold-out under your desk” rules to keep costs down if they can get away with it!

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        Again, each member gets $X amount and has to pay the difference. We are each responsible for budgeting during trips to conferences so it’s on us to stay under the $X amount allotted. And again, as I said, it really only mostly covers one event that is not local so almost no faculty are going to more than one event. Further, for a lot of faculty, continued employment and promotion relies on attending and presenting at these conferences, so I think a lot of faculty look at the money they go over to pay themselves as an investment.

        I do think that younger faculty who need to present at conferences the most are awarded the most travel funds, at least for a couple of years. I’m only a lecturer and therefore only get a fraction of what tenure-track get. I paid out of pocket for mileage and a hotel stay for a conference 1.5 hours away.

        1. Dahlia*

          “Again, each member gets $X amount and has to pay the difference.”

          So if a person with a disability needs an accomdation that costs more, they have to pay out of pocket to be treated the same as an abled person?

          That’s uh. That’s an issue.

      2. wendelenn*

        or “camp out in a campground an hour away from the conference”. . . remember that one?

    2. bleh*

      Academia doesn’t always just pay for travel, even though it’s somewhat expected to do your job. In my Uni and dept we get a certain amount, which does not cover the costs of even one regional conference much less a national or international one, and we pay out of pocket for the difference. It’s just the way of things for professors, especially in the humanities. If you want to further your career, you suck it up and pay.

  41. The Green Lawintern*

    LW, it sounds like you would personally be all right with enduring a five hour drive with your medical condition and lying to save face. And that’s fine for you! But just because you would be fine with it doesn’t mean that it’s fair to ask others to do the same.

    1. Quill*

      Also if a coworker or direct report admits a medical problem to you… always assume that they are admitting the bare minimum of how it impacts their life. Because we’ve seen endless proof on here of why people are hesitant to disclose.

      1. Samantha Ceeton*

        Especially if it’s a “digestive issue.” It;s probably something really uncomfortable and embarrassing for the person.

  42. FormerFirstTimer*

    I wouldn’t have gone either. You wanna stick me in a plane for 5 hours with a coworker, fine, there is no expectation of interaction due to engine noise, other people, seats not being together, etc. Sticking me in a car with those same coworkers for 5 hours? Not a chance. That’s far too much close contact for most people.

  43. Happy Pineapple*

    Five hours stuffed in a van with coworkers sounds like my own personal hell, and that’s without taking medical issues into account. With my own digestive issues and the added bonus of terrible motion sickness, I’ve missed out on vacations with friends and family because I simply can’t handle a car trip. I’d be even less inclined to put myself through that for work.

  44. This one here*

    One of my siblings has digestive issues and, when returning from dinner one evening, had, um, an issue that led to having to borrow jeans from another sibling’s spouse. Sometimes urgency is, indeed, urgent.

  45. Blarg*

    I’d be concerned about safety as well. Is the expectation that the team drive home the day the conference concludes? It’s one thing to leave a full day (or even one that ends at 2pm) meeting and head to the airport. It’s another thing to gather all your colleagues and hit the road for five (+) hours. I love a road trip but with colleagues and no control … nope. At that point, you’d need to pay for another hotel night, and the savings start to dwindle.

  46. Trout 'Waver*

    I’m really torn on this one. I know I’m going to catch some flak here, but w/e.

    Asking to fly to an academic conference when there’s already people driving is going to go poorly. In the academic context, professional conferences are seen as a perk or benefit. It’d be different Jeff was assigned to present at the conference. Then I’d agree with Alison. But academic budgets are tight to begin with.

    Also, I’m somewhat skeptical of the dichotomy of:
    5 hours, including multiple legs by car, airport security, and a two hour flight: Eager and excited to go!
    5 hours riding shotgun in a car: There is no possible way we can make this work!

    1. Tired*

      You’re not taking the digestive issues part of this into account. In the airport situation, you have much more privacy/discretion in when you use the bathroom, and likely a better idea of when you’ll have access to one. I personally would feel very embarrassing asking my coworkers to pull over multiple times so I could use the bathroom.

      1. Quill*

        Yeah, and I’m sure that car travel, which can be nauseating and also includes vibrations and speed changes that can go right to your digestive tract, does not necessarily make you need to make that request less often.

      2. anon 4 this*

        Yeah, this. I’ve had IBS for 22 years and travel frequently (when not under lockdown). I am well acquainted with the feeling of running from a taxi into the airport hotel because of urgency; I’ve also had the experience (about five times) of getting stuck in the bathroom so long I nearly missed a flight, or getting stuck in the bathroom ON the flight even during takeoff and landing. Both of these are better than being in a car for prolonged stretches, though. Scheduling anything that lasts 5+ hours with questionable bathroom access – especially if it means “my colleagues might observe me writhing in pain and pleading to stop by the side of the road” – sounds cringe-inducing.

      3. Archaeopteryx*

        Yeah, depending on whether he has IBS or what, there may be bad consequences to not having quick bathroom access. There are loooong stretches with no rest stops along US highways, and sometimes when you get to one it’s closed for maintenance.

    2. Cat*

      It doesn’t say that it’s an academic conference though – it says it’s a professional one. Those have different norms. (And personally the academic culture of “sacrifice for your job!” is a non-starter to me for that kind of reason.)

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        Given that 4 people from OP’s college department are going to this conference and the context of Jeff going for professional development and bringing back knowledge, I think it’s a reasonable inference that it’s an academic conference.

        1. Cat*

          Professional conferences are also for professional development. That’s what conferences are.

          1. Cat*

            (E.g., we just know they work at the college – they could work for HR or the college’s foundation or admissions or the general counsel’s office or any number of non-academic positions, which is what I assume was meant by the use of “staff” in the letter.)

          2. Trout 'Waver*

            There are many types of conferences. In my industry, we have trade show conferences for reaching customers and working on supply deals. We have regulatory conferences where industry and government get together to adjust and adapt regulations and specifications. We also sometimes attend academic conferences for professional development and to keep abreast with new discoveries.

            The first two are strictly business and treated as such. The third is viewed as kinda like a perk. The third category also has the most restricted budget.

            1. Cat*

              Ok well, for us, we wouldn’t call those academic and not are we nickeled and dimed for them.

    3. Ann O'Nemity*

      Yeah, I remember being asked to share a hotel room when traveling to an academic conference. A hotel room! Pushing back against the cheapest possible option would go super poorly, even if the request was 100% legitimate. It wasn’t uncommon to pay part of these trips out of pocket anyway. It sucks, especially if you’re used to for-profit norms.

  47. Tired*

    As someone who does poorly in a car, I’m interested in the responses to this one.

    I get very carsick. A five-hour drive in a van would be horrible for me. Sitting in the front seat does not prevent it, and I wouldn’t want to take Dramamine and be drowsy and “off” in front of coworkers. I also wouldn’t be comfortable being the driver as I do not own my own car and rarely drive.

    I wonder if others feel that extreme sensitivity to carsickness is enough of a medical reason to justify a plane ticket? I get carsick after about ~40 minutes in a car, but I can generally make it about 3 hours before I actually puke.

    1. Quill*

      I mean, I’d be very sympathetic, but I get carsick easily too (not that easily, but easily enough to be miserable when spending any more than an hour at a time in a car) and I have chronic pain that dislikes all aspects of car travel. Some car passenger seats I can make it an hour or more in. Others (especially sedan and sports car back seats, seats that are made for someone significantly taller than me, etc,) I can experience pain in under 20 minutes of being strapped in.

      My own car is relatively comfortable when I’m driving, but sometimes driving for long distances isn’t possible because it requires foot, shoulder, or hand movements that are NOT happening.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think that “I’m not comfortable driving that distance” is enough of a “reason” for me. I wouldn’t dream of putting my staff off if they came to me with these concerns.

      It’s such minor cost differences here in most situations, I always opt for staff comfort when traveling. But I have never worked for anyone unreasonable in this sense. If I told someone that they could go to a conference 5 hours a way, I’d let them choose their travel.

      A 5 hour drive is easily 8 hours after you calculate in rest breaks and a meal, yikes!!!

    3. Trout 'Waver*

      If you don’t know already, they make non-drowsy versions of Dramamine. It works for me for on-the-ocean seasickness. I don’t get carsick, so I don’t know if it would work there too.

      1. Quill*

        Personally I’ve found that my body doesn’t react standard ways to medications that claim to be drowsy or non-drowsy. Nyquil? Instant headache juice that does not knock me out. Benadryl? zero side effects whatsoever. Cold medicine advertised as non-drowsy? Help, my heartrate.

        Medication workarounds can be a crapshoot.

      2. Samantha Ceeton*

        It does NOT work. Still knocks me out. I wish it did, because it helps the nausea. But maybe I don’t feel it because I’m asleep.

    4. Koala dreams*

      If you get car-sick and there isn’t a medication that works for you, it seems reasonable to get a plane ticket, especially if the time and price levels are similar.

  48. Mbarr*

    I find this post interesting. I work in a Canadian office that is a 5 hour drive away from another, bigger, office in the US. I know that the norm is for people to drive between the two sites when meetings are necessary (but only multi-day meetings). They use the same excuse – the time to get to the airport, costs, etc.

    I dread the first time I get sent to the US office. I HATE being stuck in a car for extended periods of time. The moment someone tells me I can’t use the toilet, of course I need to. I’d much rather chill out in security lines at an airport, cause at least there I get to move around and stretch. And this assumes that there’s not a huge line at the border crossing…

  49. Quill*

    Five hours is more than half a standard work day, and especially if the conference is in a major metro area with an airport, and there is an airport less than an hour away from your worker, I’m not surprised that this was assumed.

    Driving for long periods is not accessible for everyone. You might be in transit for approximately the same amount of time when flying, but even with airplane seating there’s going to be some differences in comfort and, most importantly, fatigue. Especially if you’re trying to get work done while in transit – you can’t exactly be working on your laptop while driving.

    Add in digestive illnesses and suddenly a flight, with multiple stages that all have access to a nearby, reasonably clean, low- wait-time restroom, looks like a better solution.

    Long story short, OP, you need to formalize your travel request system to ensure that people know, up front, what their transit conditions are going to be.

    1. Samantha Ceeton*

      Digestive issues aside, I find driving to be FAR less taxing than flying. In a car I can spread out, stop when I want to eat or get out….planes are so gross and they pack you in like sardines. I feel so sleepy after being on a plane, whil I enjoy the stimulation of driving. I think I feel better moving as well (psychologically speaking) than sitting, sitting, sitting. I fly a lot for work, but I hate it. Also if I need to take a shuttle and the other transportation when I get there…it’s just SO many parts. Jumping in a car and peacing out is awesome! Although when I go to NYC I like the train. You come up right up in the middle of the city instead of the airports that are just not convenient.

  50. Retail not Retail*

    I’ve never done conferences or what have you, but wouldn’t a 2 hour flight be feasible the morning of the conference, while a 5 hour drive would not?

    So by asking them to drive 10 hours, you’re adding an extra day to the time they’re gone. Right?

    1. Archaeopteryx*

      Exactly – you could step off a plane having read or napped for two hours, freshen up, and be ready for a full day of conferences, but after that long a drive you 100% are fit for nothing more than to shower and then crash.

      1. Samantha Ceeton*

        I’m such the opposite. Flying drains me. It’s so uncomfortable. I can’t nap…I just sit there crammed in slowly going crazy and wanting to spread out. I think I like the control that driving gives.

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      That makes sense to me, yes. That said, I’m sure we’ve seen letters to AAM where people were expected to drive five hours to and from one-day conference – the one that jumps out of my memory had to do with a coworker not turning up on time for the carpool to the event, and the driver simply left in order not to be late.

      Sometimes the expensive travel saves on hotel and meal costs, but sometimes vice versa. An evening flight plus a hotel night can be cheaper than an early morning flight, and you could be more rested and ready for the event. It depends how you are compensated for your time away.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Two days – they’ve got to drive back. And a 5-hour drive after a full day at the conference is just… really not safe.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Assuming 8 hours at the conference, that’s a 13-14-hour work day, the last 5-6 hours of which is driving, probably late at night… I’m glad to hear everyone else is chill with it, to me it’s too risky.

    4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      OP says the flight is two hours. You need to add on the time to get to the airport, check in, wait around, and then the time to pick up luggage if any has been checked in, then get to the hotel from the airport. It probably wouldn’t be much different in the end.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        They can all sleep on the plane though. So it can be an early-morning flight.

    5. EvilQueenRegina*

      Yes, that thought occurred to me – what were the timings of the conference, and what times would they have to be setting off/getting home if they had the five hour drive?

    6. Koala dreams*

      The time is about the same in this case though, the travel to the airport + flight would be about the same. Hopefully they’ll get the extra day no matter transportation choice.

  51. Anne_Not_Carrot*

    I have crippling car sickness and while I can make a drive like this if I’m the only one driving the whole time, being in the backseat of a van would have me sick for at least a day after. I wouldn’t do it and I’d be pretty angry if my concerns were dismissed.

    1. WS*

      Same – it’s also crippling air, boat, bus and train sickness, but at least the flight is shorter and the worst part is only a few minutes at each end!

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Same! When I’m in the driver’s seat, it’s fine, but in a back seat, I’ll be dry-heaving all the way there and back. What a teambuilding experience that would be!

  52. Morning reader*

    About driving: is it within anyone involved’s job description to drive professionally? Are the people who will be driving good drivers? Have they had any training, professionally, or regular drivers’ defensive driving instruction?

    In a previous job, most of my coworkers had professional bus or truck licenses, we all had training, and I would have felt comfortable riding with any of them (barring prohibitive health issues.) in most other jobs, I know nothing about how people drive or even if they are licensed.

    On one occasion some years ago, a group of us drivers were at a conference and were picked up by a vehicle vendor employee to go see his facility. He was a crazy fast IMO unsafe driver and we were all terrified. I recall we arranged to be driven back by someone else. I don’t think we complained tho… he was very senior in their organization. When it came time to get a new vehicle, we bought elsewhere. Mostly due to bid pricing but I was sure glad not to have to visit that vendor again. The lack of judgment exhibited by bad drivers gives a bad impression.

    On another occasion some years ago, an old friend was with 3 coworkers on official business in a car when they had a bad accident on the highway. He wasn’t the one driving. Two died, he was one of the survivors but he lost the use of his right arm. So that business lost 4 employees… I recall they went out of business a year or two later; hard to say if it was related.

    Bottom line… flying is generally safer than driving, all other things being equal. If requiring driving, check driving records, make them go to training (AARP has a good class), and consider having at least some of your people travel separately, especially if it’s everybody in one department. Make sure you have good insurance because it will be worker’s comp coverage if they are are injured on the job.

    1. Morning reader*

      All that said, in Jeff’s situation I might ask if I could drive myself, then I could control when I stopped and how often. Driving with coworkers that far? If I wasn’t driving, I’d probably fall asleep and snore and drool. Then I’m the drooling, snoring coworker from that day forward…

    2. Michelle*

      A bit off topic but related to what kind of driver you (general you) are: I dropped my car off for routine maintenance and asked the courtesy car to take me to work. The young man was pleasant enough but spend the 15 minutes drive telling me about all the speeding tickets he had gotten and how expensive his insurance is. Probably not the best employee to have driving the courtesy car.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Reminds me of the first Lyft ride I ever got (a few years ago, on my way from the airport to a fun conference in a tourist destination in FL). The driver asked if I was going to go to the beach, I said I didn’t know yet. He then said that I could use some tan, and that he was on the beach on his every day off. Then he said “check 0ut how tan I am”, took his watch off, showed me the tan line, and put the watch back on… all while driving on a freeway. I was pretty speechless. (No, I didn’t report him, because I don’t like doing that, now if he’d run over a couple of old ladies on our way to my destination, then maybe I would’ve called Lyft on him, but this, I let slide.)

        Back to the original subject, this also reminds me of the one time I shared a car with two coworkers on a 4-hour drive, and, the whole way down, the coworker that was driving stayed in the left lane, telling other drivers in front of her to “sh!t or get off the pot”. I don’t know how fast she was going, because frankly, I didn’t want to know, so I didn’t look.

        1. Michelle*

          Ooh, second part of the story reminds me when I rode with 2 coworkers to a neighboring town for a trade show several years ago. One insisted on driving and the other had to ride in the front because she got carsick. It started raining while we where inside conducting business. On the way the driver was speeding in the rain and almost rear-ended a truck at a red light because she was talking and not really paying attention. I started praying and prayed the whole way back.

          Instances like these, in addition to the employee’s medical condition*, is the reason the supervisor should have let the employee fly if it was the better option for him.

          * My son has IBS and if he has a flare up, he can be in the bathroom for 20+ minutes. When his body says “go” he has to GO or he will get sick and vomit or possibly soil his clothes. Luckily his medication has been a blessing and he doesn’t have flares too often.

  53. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Cars put my intestines on over-drive. Whereas I don’t get as stressed out flying. Especially if I’m not personally driving, I’d be miserable if someone wanted me to get into a van for 5 hours with colleagues.

    You lost the knowledge and training that this conference would bring back to save what, $100 in travel expenses? That’s pretty foolish and not actually saving you much money at all. I say that as someone who is extremely frugal and compares prices on everything from sticky-notes to raw materials. Bad choice on your part.

    You also took a bite out of Jeff’s enthusiasm for his career with your company. Which can lead to turnover. You have to look at the bigger picture and not the pennies.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      You lost the knowledge and training that this conference would bring back to save what, $100 in travel expenses? That’s pretty foolish and not actually saving you much money at all. I say that as someone who is extremely frugal and compares prices on everything from sticky-notes to raw materials. Bad choice on your part.

      You also took a bite out of Jeff’s enthusiasm for his career with your company. Which can lead to turnover. You have to look at the bigger picture and not the pennies.

      Quoting because these two points bear repeating.

      1. ieAnon*

        These two things are likely true, but this is also not a business, but academia. There is no wiggle room in the (tiny) budgets, so it’s possible that saving the $100 is well worth the lost knowledge/training. (Which, honestly, can usually be made up via contacting relevant presenters for their slides or reaching out for a recap via relevant listservs.)

        The second point is also very true, but there’s already high turnover in higher education. That carries less weight with universities, unfortunately.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          TY, I missed the part where this is a college.

          This is the kind of shitty behavior and treatment I have come to expect from academia. Which is really sad.

          It’s pretty awful when you just take high turnover as a given and don’t even try to make it stop.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Ah, I missed it too! Yes that explains a lot!
            Academic ex always got to fly to conferences, but shared the hotel room with everybody and their dog.

  54. Archaeopteryx*

    Five hours one way is *way* too long for a work trip, at least to be mandated. I’ve driven that long but 3.5 hours is about the max amount that seems reasonable to me for this rule, and that’s even leaving out the bathroom issue. Driving on a work trip isn’t relaxing like driving on your own – you basically still have to be “on” – so it would feel like double the time. This was definitely unreasonable.

  55. HS Teacher*

    Five hours by myself or with my friend or partner is one thing; five hours with coworkers is another. Let him fly.

  56. ResuMAYDAY*

    Expecting employees to drive more than 5 hours (with stops/traffic) tells them the organization values a few hundred dollars more than their time and comfort. Plus, it sounds like a logistical mess – making sure all potential drivers have a current license and insurance. And what if one or more of them, but not all of them are smokers? I wouldn’t sit in a van for 5 hours with someone who takes smoke breaks.
    This is all too much to ask, unless the employees who drive get extra compensation above their normal pay. In the future, prepare ahead of time to get the best flight deals.

  57. Re'lar Fela*

    When I was in my 20s, five of us (ranging in age from mid-20s to mid-60s) drove 7.5 hours one way for an Advisory Board meeting. The reasoning was that the president of our non-profit was from the city we were driving to and she routinely made that drive herself to visit friends and family.

    I understand the cost savings, but one of our sponsors was a major airline and we had a set number of free tickets each year which could have been used. We also had several conditions–pregnancy, car sickness, arthritis, etc–which made the trip less than pleasant. Combine that with the fact that the meeting itself was about a day and a half long, so we spent more time in the car than we did in the meeting itself.

    We weren’t thrilled. Ultimately, it was fine and we all survived. But there was much grumbling.

  58. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Did anyone catch this subtle hint: “Minimizing costs like this helps us be able to spend money when it is important — like being able to get each person their own hotel room.”

    “Sorry, Jeff, either you get to spent 10 hours in the car with Troy and Annie, or you spend every night of the conference in a hotel room with Troy. Pick your poison. It’s got to be one or the other.”

    1. Brett*

      Room sharing is all fine and dandy for cost savings until Jeff has a presentation at 8am while Troy wants to go out with colleagues and come back at midnight. (Or even worse for Jeff, Troy wants to go to sleep at 7pm because he just drove 5 hours and Jeff has to prep his presentation on the lobby wifi.)

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      If the college department is funded in any way by grants, there might be a strict hard cap on travel expenses. Or OP might not be in control of their team’s budget.

  59. Mike S*

    I’ve had the opposite happen. I had a conference in New Orleans, which is roughly 4 hours away. Since I had my own hotel room, I decided to take my family. I had 4 people tell me that the most that they’d reimburse for gas was the cost of an airline ticket, which was more than we spent for gas.
    What bugs me is the expectation to be in the office the next day, when the conference ends after 5:00 in the afternoon. Typically, even leaving early, I get home around midnight. Expecting a productive day from me the next day’s unrealistic.

  60. SushiRoll*

    I did a 4-5 hour car trip with 2 coworkers once, one of whom I hadn’t ever met before and another I barely, barely knew. I had gotten added to a project and we were going for a few days to some other sites. It was a bit awkward at first but just fine. And I can only think of maybe one or so people on my entire team of 30+ who I really would be bummed about being in a car with. I mean, yeah I wouldn’t have a ton to talk about with all of them (I am not friends with everyone) but I don’t actively loathe anyone. I do notice the prevailing sentiment on here often seems to be “I never want to spend any time with any of my coworkers ever if I can help it” and that bums me out because I would like to leave my company at some point but I am afraid everyone else must suck if you all dislike your coworkers so much!

    I do think OP should have done a better job with Jeff because if he canceled the conference obviously he was serious about the car for some reason, and likely the reason he said, his health, and he shouldnt be denied opportunities because of that.

    1. Colette*

      I like my coworkers fine – but I don’t want to do a 5 hour road trip with them. It’s like sharing a hotel room – being stuck in a car with someone is more intimate than I’d like for people I work with, and it’s too easy to have different expectations about how often you’ll stop, how long you’ll stop for, how early you’ll leave to beat traffic, etc.

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      Selection bias: People who are OK with it rarely post because they usually don’t feel particularly strongly about it. People who do feel strongly about it are much more likely to feel negatively than positively. Combine that with a couple posters replying negatively dozens of times and you can get a distorted view of what fraction of people are OK vs not OK with it.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I did a couple of trips (4 hours one way each) with work friends. It went well, but I was friends with these people. We had a really close-knit department, and are still keeping in touch 15-20 years later. To be honest, I never had a workplace like that again, and I hear that the workplace itself is no longer as it used to be – most of the old team have left, and a new team just never ended up coming together like we used to. It was a very unique situation. And it was two people in the car on one trip and three on the other, not a van full of coworkers.

      On one of the trips, we had a coworker no one liked (for valid reasons. Every office has one.) He carpooled with our teammate Tangerina on his way down, but then didn’t like it that Tangerina got in a minor accident on their drive to the office from the hotel the next day. So he told her (did not ask, just informed her of the fact) that he would not be riding the 4 hours back with her. He then said that I would be riding with her, and he would be riding with the guy I’d carpooled with. Well, Tangerina passed it on to the two of us and my guy was “Nope, I don’t want him in the car with me”; while I was not impressed with how he casually picked me to put in danger of getting injured or killed in an accident (even if the danger only existed in his head). I think he ended up frantically looking for a ride home on his last day (he did find one, so no worries).

  61. Ollie*

    There is also the sharing the vehicle issue. You are now stuck with these people to figure out any after hours entertainment, meals, etc. I used to drive 10 hours to Massachusets when my company would have gladly paid for my flight because if I flew I would have to share a car with 3 other people once I got there.

  62. Third or Nothing!*

    What an interesting question. We just went through a similar conversation a few months ago when traveling for our annual trip to visit a vendor. It’s a 4 hour drive from my house (4.5 from my coworkers’ houses) or a 1-ish hour flight. In the past we all used to fly out of the smaller regional airport in our large metropolitan city to the other smaller regional airport in the other large metropolitan city and it was kind of a pain – flights were at times when we would have to fight rush hour traffic to get there on time, we’d have to rent a car or take taxis once we got there, we had to wait a long time after our Day 2 morning meeting before we could catch the next flight home…travel time just took forever when we flew.

    So this year we decided to give driving a try and carpooled in one coworker’s very nice SUV. We all loved it. Left well after the crack of dawn, had a nice chat on the way down, got to leave right after the final morning meeting the next day and got home way earlier than usual. One coworker decided to stay home because she didn’t want to carpool with us, but she WAS given the option to fly all by herself and decided it wasn’t worth the logistical hassle.

    Jeff had a good reason to not want to drive. He should have been given the option to fly as long as he was willing to deal with the logistical issues of not traveling with the rest of the group.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I have had coworkers before that I wouldn’t have minded car pooling with, especially with a large enough car! I’m actually not that fussy about it on a personal level, lol.

      I’m only twisted up right now because Jeff was treated poorly, tbh.

      Because if I were Jeff, I would have just paid for my own plane ticket honestly because my true response to “The company won’t pay for it” is “Okay I’ll pay for it myself, y’cheapskates!”

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        Yeah he should have been given more consideration, like my one coworker who was given the option to fly since she didn’t want to carpool. If you’re not going to do the same thing as the rest of the group then it’s kind of on you to work out the coordination, but it sounds like Jeff was willing had he been given the chance. :/

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Yeah, I worked for a small business franchise and we road tripped about 6 hours to a corporate conference. It wasn’t that bad because I was comfortable with the people I had to travel with. But I’ve had other jobs where oh hell no.

  63. Unknown123*

    As a person who travels for a living 5 hours is about the time where I am making the decision to fly even with costs. I have to be actively on for that driving time vs being able to work or read emails etc if I’m flying. Also for the GI issues I have had a similar fear. I don’t even drive for personal that length with some friends and family who I don’t disclose too. It’s a small list of people who know and understand the issue and the urgency it can cause. Sadly people who don’t have these issues don’t always understand or take it seriously. I won’t work for a company who’s travel policy calls for shared hotels for this same reason.

  64. Juneybug*

    Our office did in-person training at various field office last summer. The longest drive took 4 hours one-way. My boss thought all four of us would travel in a company car. She already knew I had digestive issues (IBS and celiac) so when I pointed out that I could not travel with them because –
    1. We would be very limited in restaurants we could eat at (not everyone wants to eat at a dedicated gluten free restaurant).
    2. If I was accidently “glutened” at a non-dedicated gluten free restaurant (its happen before), I would be stuck in a bathroom for a very long time.
    3. My digestive issues could flare up anytime, no matter how cautious I am (needing long or frequent breaks).
    So I told her the best thing would be for me to take my own car, bring my own snacks/meals, and allow me extra travel time. She said no problem, even though I was out of the office longer than my co-workers and the company had to pay me mileage.
    So my friend, that is how managers should respond (allowing employees to do what they need to be comfortable and can perform at their highest level).
    PS I have digestive issues for years so I am very comfortable sharing what I can and can’t do due to my chronic health issues. However, even with me being an over-sharer and extrovert, I had a very hard time sharing this info with leadership at the beginning of my illness.
    PSS You might want to go back and apologize to that person. Let them know it was your (wrong) decision and not the company’s policy. Cause if it was me in this letter, I would be looking for another job.

    1. No Tribble At All*

      Thank you for sharing this situation! I’m glad your manager followed your requests!

      1. Juneybug*

        Me too! While I know reasonable accommodations are an option for state employees, I have not had to ask for them since she’s ben so accommodating.

  65. Pepper Potts*

    I live in the midwest, so five hours is nothing. Many times there aren’t convenient airports anyway.

    Also, I love the Community names! :)

    1. Dr. Rebecca*

      I also live in the midwest; just because you can drive for five hours without seeing a major city does not make the drive “nothing.”

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I’ve done both, and a 5-hour drive through the cornfields of Iowa is restorative and I arrive eager and ready. A 5-hour drive on any part of I-95 and I need a shower, a nap, and a beer before I’m polite company.

  66. Frequent Driver*

    Our group routinely drives 7+ hours for conferences and to work at another location (3-5 day stays) which not only saves money on exorbitant flight fees, but also generally saves time and we already have a vehicle once there so there’s no additional hassle with a rental company. Given the circumstances listed – distance from airport, security check-out lines, baggage lines, rental car lines, etc… a 5 hour drive is a reasonable, cost-saving expectation especially when there were three attending the same conference. That said, he did make a compelling argument for flying and should have been offered that option once he made his reasoning clear.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You get a boarding pass on your phone or print it at the office the day before. Security check-in is a breeze, it takes less than 15 minutes for us in most situations, sometimes up to 30 if the TSA has more problems than usual. I don’t check baggage, so nothing added there. Car rental lines are also non-existent…also if you’re in a major city going to a conference, you go the taxi line and jump in the first one because they’re always ready to go. No waiting there either.

      I always get there 2 hours in advance, as they advise. And I’m always the first to the gate. At most there’s delays of the actual flight but none of these long lines that make it 5 hours.

      1. Magnetic Eyelashes*

        If you get to the airport 2 hours early, adding in that it takes and hour to get to the airport (like OP said), and the flight is 2 hours then it is the same 5 hours. I’ve never been able to jump in a taxi without a wait at a major airport.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          You fly at the wrong times then, I’ve been to a lot of major airports and even pre-Uber making cabs even more of a commodity there wasn’t a wait.

        2. Dahlia*

          It’s a little unfair to compare the entire airplane situation to just the drive. A 5 hour drive is not going to be 5 hours if you hit traffic or construction, or even just if Jeff need to stop every hour for a 20 minute bathroom break.

  67. Scout Finch*

    I work for a state university. Travel policy requires that, in general, the cheapest method be used. They view it as a fiduciary duty to state taxpayers. When we request to go on a trip, the travel, conference fees and hotel costs have to be in the travel request document.

    We have another state university (about a 5 hour drive from here) that has conferences which many other state schools attend. That school is 1.5 hours from an airport. I have always driven there. Flying would be too disjointed.

    We have to take a state vehicle (we have several at the school) with a state credit card for gas. If schedules conflict on leaving together, attendees can take separate vehicles. I think that they would make the same allowance for anyone with digestive issues. Driving there & settling in at the hotel is considered working.

    Most higher ed institutions have policies that would not fly in private enterprise. I have seen too many people try to take advantage of state travel, so I understand why the policies are in place. But it makes it hard on those that need adjustment to those policies.

    1. bleh*

      It’s so fascinating considering how little of state Uni budgets come from the state anymore. They have some nerve dictating policy in that context, but it certainly doesn’t stop them

    2. Jaybeetee*

      Wouldn’t there be caveats to the policies regarding “reasonableness” in terms of cost? If cheapness is literally the only parameter, I start picturing the horror stories people have written here with: beastly multi-connection flights that took twice as long as flying direct, colleagues sharing beds, people expected to sleep on living room floors in the homes of local colleagues, etc.

      I work in govt, so there’s a similar sense of accountability of expenditure – but if someone is travelling for work, there’s at least an expectation that they’ll, say, be sleeping in a hotel room and having a per diem meal budget.

  68. Nope Nope Nope*

    As someone with a digestive condition, “drive by yourself” is somewhat doable, because I can just go without food, and I have more flexibility/privacy if I need to pull off the road immediately, but I wouldn’t want to do a 5hr drive that way.

    “Drive with a group of people” is a nightmare scenario.

    1. Lord Gouldian Finch*

      This, this is probably the right answer. In many cases I’d prefer to drive over fly because I’ve gotten stuck in the “I need to go but the flight is landing in 20 minutes so everyone buckle up” hole in the past. But driving by myself can mean “Oh good there’s a tree there I can hide behind” while driving in a van with a bunch of others? No way.

  69. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

    I am in my 50’s and I would easily drive 5 hours before flying. I live in the south where major airports are not that close together. It is easily an hours drive (probably closer to 1.5) to get to the airport from where I live.

    However, given his digestive issues, I can fully see how he would want to fly and that in that case it is reasonable.

  70. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    I agree that five hours is too long, especially to be stuck in a vehicle with coworkers. While I like my coworkers just fine, I don’t want to be stuck in a car (or van) with them for that long. And don’t even think about making anyone share a hotel room. That’s just intrusive.

    If a destination is 4 hours or less, I usually drive. If more than 4 hours, I fly. And keep in mind that making people all travel together can make it difficult for them. I hate it when I have to travel according to someone else’s needs and preferences (and they don’t consider mine). It’s awful to feel like you’re being held hostage for the whole trip when each person can easily get themselves to the destination and can meet up when they need to there. You know, like adults. So what if the others wanted to drive. Let them drive and let the person who wanted to fly, fly. Do you really make your employees hold hands and do the same thing together like kindergarteners?

    If you want your employees to travel, you need to be willing to cough up the money so that they can do so. I’m not saying you have to fly them first-class, put them up at the Ritz, and let them dine on lobster and a bottle of Dom on the company dime. But you shouldn’t make travel uncomfortable or a hardship for them. You need to be willing to have them fly a regular airline at a reasonable time (not where they have to get up at 4am to make their flight or get home at midnight), stay in their own room at a comfortable hotel, and be willing to pay a reasonable amount for meals. Business travel isn’t a ‘perk.’ Your employees are taking time out of their lives to travel for you. If you’re going to cheap out, you shouldn’t be making your employees travel.

    I’m also concerned about the dismissive attitude about the employee’s health issue. I wouldn’t want to work for a boss like that.

  71. What’s with Today, today?*

    A 5-hour drive doesn’t seem unreasonable, but I’m driving on my own. I have Crohn’s Disease and would not ride with colleagues did a long distance like that, even if it meant I ultimately ate the gas expense.

  72. Bookworm*

    With or without a digestive issue 5 hours is a really long time to be in a car.

    And as someone who doesn’t like driving I can empathize with the employee. It does seem like there should be better communication overall re: travel and/or whether some sort of compromise can be found.

  73. Bob*

    5 hours in a car is long but its not crazy. If you live in large cities your daily commute can be several hours a day, a couple days worth would be longer then this trip. And flying is not going to save much time and if your financial resources are limited then reducing cost is reasonable and this is not an reasonable thing, your not asking him to hitchhike.
    As for the medical issues i’m not convinced he has the issues he claims. That said i am no doctor, nor do i know the guy, nor do i have any other background to categorically make this judgement, just experience and the description provided.
    You can ask for a doctor’s note to confirm his issues, though some doctors will provide scripts even when its an exaggeration. But you would have it on file. But if you can’t afford a flight then its reasonable to say this is our budget and we need to find a way to make it work so we cannot cover a flight at this time.

  74. Brett*

    At last job, which was public sector so the rules were pretty similar to academia, if the drive was more than 4 hours, then the person had to leave the day before the conference started.

    This meant a full extra day of per diem and an extra day of hotel for each person. This often shifted the cost balance to taking a flight instead of driving, even with multiple people in the car.

    If you are not giving people driving 5 hours a full extra day on site before the conference, then you are wasting a considerable portion of the benefit of the first day of the conference.

    1. Brett*

      And by “started” I mean the first partial day of the conference.

      So if registration opened at noon on Tuesday and there were 1-2 activates on Tuesday but the Opening Plenary was on Wednesday, then we left for the conference Monday morning if driving more than 4 hours and had hotel booked for Monday night.

  75. Kella*

    OP, as a fellow person with chronic illnesses, I know that sometimes we fall prey to a silly mistake which is that if our illness is the same or similar to someone else’s, we think we know what they can and can’t do. But everyone’s illness is so incredibly different, we never know and it’s always best to default to assuming the person with the illness knows the best ways to manage their own illness. Consider how unlikely it is that OP has ever been in a situation where he needed frequent bathroom access and couldn’t get it because it would interfere with other people’s plans. He knows how to make these excuses and where they do and don’t work.

    Which leads me to point out something important that I think you missed in this conversation. In recommending that OP come up with a cover story for his coworkers about why he needed frequent rest stops, you failed to recognize *that he was doing that with you right then*. Saying “this trip is too long, I’m not comfortable driving for that long,” was his cover story. Then he specified he had a medical condition but you still said no. If *you* won’t listen to his own assessment of his needs what guarantee does he have that his coworkers will, who likely would have control over whether they stop the car or not? He clearly didn’t feel comfortable taking that risk.

    1. Rectilinear Propagation*

      “In recommending that OP come up with a cover story for his coworkers about why he needed frequent rest stops, you failed to recognize *that he was doing that with you right then*…If *you* won’t listen to his own assessment of his needs what guarantee does he have that his coworkers will, who likely would have control over whether they stop the car or not?

      That, all of that, especially that.

      OP’s response was basically, “Either drive the entire 10 hours so you can stop when needed or hope your co-workers are more accommodating that I am”.

      Not to mention hoping there’ll always be a place they can stop at and use the bathroom. Your employee shouldn’t have to convince their co-workers to stop in a sketchy area so they can use the bathroom.

  76. zaza*

    5 hrs drive each way is a long time. On the airplane I can work and sleep, after which I arrive at the destination energized. 5 hr drive is way too much stress, I don’t like others driving me unless they are professional drivers, which you were not going to pay for.
    Also I get car sickness and believe me it’s not fun for me or for others.
    Finally, once we arrive, what would be the plan? We’re all stuck together to go anywhere? Additional stress.
    Totally get why Jeff decided not to go. The stress is not worth it.
    One other thing to think about: if there is a. accident, you will possibly lose (temporary or permanently) 5 people at the same time. My company would never allow that, it’s way too much risk.

  77. Jaybeetee*

    Having read through all the comments that have appeared so far, I’m wondering why no one has suggested Jeff take a train? I would think if there are airports on both ends of this trip, there would also be trains running relatively nearby, and it would be a good “split the baby” option for Jeff or others who can’t drive to conferences. It would be cheaper than a plane, about the same length of time as driving, and Jeff would be able to get up, walk around, access a bathroom when he needs to, and also potentially work while ge travels. There are a number of daily trains between Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto for this very reason.

    There are a number of medical/mental health reasons why a person may not be able to drive/be in a car for substantial lengths of time – not to mention if there are other situations where you expect people to drive themselves but they don’t have cars or licenses? I would think it would be a good idea to have an accommodation in your travel policy for those who can’t tolerate car trips for whatever reason.

    1. bleh*

      Train travel in the US is near impossible unless you are on a very established regular route in the Northeast. Exxon Mobile et al have made sure that all transportation $$ goes to roads, roads, highways, and more roads.

    2. Bob*

      I thought about that after i posted my reply above, the reason it did not come to me when i was writing was that i was addressing the specific issue raised.
      If there is service its a perfectly good option.

    3. Colette*

      Even in Canada, it’s not easy (and sometimes not possible) to take a train outside the Ottawa/Toronto/Montreal corridor.

      1. DarnTheMan*

        Not to mention that sometimes taking the train can be even more expensive than a plane! My BiL regularly commutes to/from Montreal and got a great deal on plane tickets where he bought a block in one go, so each ticket came out to something like $100 apiece. Whereas for love nor money could he find a single round trip train ticket for less than $200.

    4. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

      In addition to all of the above, in the south, there are barely any trains. Taking a train for a trip in the south is almost unheard of.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        Yes, there are very large swaths of the US with no train service, and many states with either no rail service at all or maybe one or two lines that run through limited areas of the state.

        Illinois, where I live, has more rail lines than a lot of states, but they all radiate out of the major hub of Chicago like spokes on a wheel, all heading in different directions. The result is that you can get a train out of Chicago to pretty much anyplace in the country that has rail service, but using the trains to travel among individual cities in the state is not practical or even possible in many cases. Unless you’re traveling between Chicago and another place that is on a rail line, travel within the state is usually going to mean driving or (depending on the distance) flying.

    5. Morning reader*

      Too bad it’s not an option in many places! I’m in the Midwest about 2 hours east of Chicago. If I want to take a train eastward, I have to go west to Chicago first. Amtrak just cut a bunch of routes too, only one train per day where there were 3 before to my town.

      1. Epiphyta*

        Yep: in the PNW and the Coast Starlight route is going from daily service to one train in each direction three times a week; the Cascades route switched to bus service in Seattle for anyone heading north of the city when the border with Canada closed.

    6. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      “I’m wondering why no one has suggested Jeff take a train?”

      Freedom. We have crap trains in US the because F R E E D O M.

  78. Luna*

    This most be a US-thing because I do not consider 5 Hours of driving a ‘reasonable’ distance to drive for work. Two hours, maybe pushing three, is the absolute limit of what I think would be an okay time to drive for a work-related issue. And even then, I would be casting a wary eye on that driving time.

    Another thing you may not have factored in, perhaps this guy isn’t comfortable being in such close proximity with other people for such a long time. You could say that flying in an airplane, likely economy class because you are trying to keep costs down, is just as cramped. The difference is, as you say, the flight itself is 2 hours. Let’s call that three hours, including boarding, stowing luggage away, and taking off, as well as landing, taking luggage out and leaving.

    That is a shorter time because, before boarding the plane, he would be not too close to other people and could relax, before going on the flight. Maybe he even finds flying a lot more relaxing than driving, even-or-especially-when being just a passenger.

    And if I put my personal experience onto this, I can point out that I get carsick. I have had roadtrips with family, where we had to stop suddenly and take a long break because I threw up. And the break was so long because I threw up before I could warn them or ask for a stop, so I could vomit in peace and quiet outside of the car.

    To put this the short way: he could have dozens of reasons why flying would be emotionally, physically, mentally, etc better for him than driving.

    1. MistOrMister*

      I’m in the US and 5 hours in the car for a work trip would be a deal breaker for me. I start getting antsy after 2 hours. 3 is about what I can handle and stay sane. Once you get into a longer trip than that I might lose my marbles. I can do it with my family, but not coworkers. But yeah, 5 hours is just not reasonable at all.

      I have digestive issues that come and go and I can tell you right now that I would NOT be comfortable having to stop every so often and pretending I just have a small bladder. I really did not like that suggestion of OPs. It’s one thing to ask your family to stop. But a car full of coworkers?? Yeah, because that wouldn’t be uncomfortable at all….

      Further, I am not comfortable riding with people I don’t know. Too many people drive aggressively and/or way too dang fast on the highways. And when you find that out once you’re 2 hours into a 5 hour trip, it’s too late to get out for your sanity.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s def not a US thing, it’s a personal thing. It only sounds like a US thing because of the heavy US population on this blog and people keep bringing up they live in the middle-of-nowhere and are used to longer car rides :)

  79. jamberoo*

    Oh noooo. On prolonged drives I will get carsick in every seat save the driver’s — it even triggers migraines if I’m not proactive. I’ve ridden in those passenger vans: they suck, are uncomfortable when full, and for that long a ride I would be crawling out of my skin being so permanently close to coworkers. Dear god please no.

  80. Sasha "Potato Girl" Blause*

    Just because someone doesn’t immediately disclose a medical issue with elimination, doesn’t mean it’s a lie. Admitting that I have a bladder issue that causes UTI-like symptoms and spasms is a last resort. If you tell someone about a medical issue, you then have to defend yourself against accusing know-it-alls. “Have you tried this? Have you tried that? My neighbor’s sister’s brother-in-law cured it with a holier-than-thou diet. Are you sure you’re trying hard enough? You’re sick because you’re a negative person, you should read The Secret. If you don’t use essential oils you’ll never get better.” IT’S SO EXHAUSTING.

    1. jamberoo*

      ALL THIS bleaaghhh for real. Migraine sufferer here… the amount of times I’ve been asked if I’ve tried Excedrin. Excedrin!

  81. Angelie*

    I think it depends on where you are at. Living in Washington state. I’d totally assume I’d be driving. Many of our conferences are at small resort towns 4-5 hours away

  82. Caliente*

    I think its totally unreasonable for a company to ask their employees to drive for 5 hours. And I’m a driver, love to drive but this is WORK. I am so tired of employers who act like employees should treat them like friends (doing them favors) but the company treats you like toilet paper. No and no.
    However, If you told me to van up with co-workers and refused to provide the air ticket then I would’ve just driven myself in my own damn car.

  83. Blue Eagle*

    This question is definitely a conundrum for the OP. I would prefer to not be in a van for 5 hours with co-workers, but have done it when I was with a not-for-profit. And no one put up a fuss about it.
    However, if my co-worker was allowed to fly while I had to be in a van, I would NOT be happy – even if the co-worker had a digestive issue. In this case the OP has to balance two things (1) different treatment between employees and (2) the addition cost of the “flier” taking a plane versus being a free-rider in the empty seat in the van. Either way it is a problem if you require some employees to to take one method of transportation while others get a preferable type of transportation. {However, if the preferable person is the big boss, then never mind – the big boss is always allowed to choose the method travel and can have a different method than staff.}

  84. WantonSeedStitch*

    I work at a college, and I can’t imagine my office forcing me to drive five hours each way to attend a conference! We’ve had multiple folks carpool together for trips of less than two hours each way, but five? Ugh. Everyone is going to be fried at the end of that trip. And it seems unlikely you’ll be able to completely avoid rush hour, so make sure you add traffic time to that. The medical issues on top of all this make it seem really unreasonable to force your employee to drive. Let the poor guy book an aisle seat on a plane, for goodness sake!

  85. RussianInTexas*

    For me, personally, 5 hours is a drive distance, not fly distance, because I am used to the Texas distances, and I don’t want a hassle of an airport. But I can see how it can be too long of a drive for many people.

  86. Persephone Underground*

    I’m surprised OP didn’t reconsider after the employee decided not to go at all because of this. I think that shows they were serious, and they shouldn’t have been effectively denied a development opportunity their co-workers had access to because of a medical issue that the OP refused to accommodate. If you thought he could handle it he made it very clear he couldn’t and that the drive was prohibitive when he cancelled his plan to attend. Unless you thought he was bluffing (which we know he wasn’t), I don’t see how that outcome didn’t drive you to seriously reconsider… I know hindsight is 20/20, but as Alison pointed out, you really need to trust your employees’ assessment of their own medical needs.

  87. Reluctant Manager*

    This seems like a situation in which reasonable accommodation is required but it may not be exactly what the employee prefers. Telling him to make up a story is not a reasonable accommodation (and, sorry OP, is offensive), but a reasonable employer can decide that a car trip with frequent stops is no less accommodating than a plane where a bathroom is not always accessible, nor is it on transportation to/from an airport.

    1. Reluctant Manager*

      OK, after reading a bunch of other comments I’m revising my opinion somewhat. I’ve generally had coworkers who are pleasant and accommodating on car trips; my spouse, on the other hand, was forced into a 7-hour car trip with his boss who listened to and discussed a racist/sexist talk show for much of the drive, and I would feel very differently about that.

      Still, it has come up before that a reasonable accommodation may not be the employee’s preferred one. At what point does the employer need to make the exact accommodation the employee prefers, understanding that there are financial trade-offs?

      1. Colette*

        Possible accommodations in this case:
        – Jeff flies to the conference
        – Jeff takes his own vehicle to the conference and is reimbursed appropriately
        – Jeff takes a form of public transportation that includes a bathroom (bus, train)

        I would guess that none of these would be financially prohibitive for one employee one time.

    2. Persephone Underground*

      Yeah- there may have been other options but OP stuck the employee with a “take it or leave it” unreasonable accommodation. Can you imagine being afraid you’d soil yourself in front of your colleagues (if you suddenly needed a bathroom and they couldn’t get to one in time) for 5 hours? Of course he cancelled instead of risking that level of embarrassment! Also, as a manager, you need to be more open to dialogue on problem-solving because your position of authority makes disagreeing directly with a bad solution very difficult. This could have gone so much better had the OP said something like “It will be much more expensive to send you separately by plane, can you suggest any other alternatives that would meet your needs and maybe mitigate the cost difference?” (Possibly even listing a few potential options to get things started and show an open mind.) Then given him time to consider that, rather than trying to solve this themselves when they don’t know what his specific concerns are.

      1. Persephone Underground*

        Sorry for the wandering pronouns there, “you” equals OP in this case.

  88. Colorado*

    For me, 5 hours in my car with me driving reaping over $.50 a mile, preferably alone would be no big deal. Add in a van where I can’t drive and would get terribly car sick, no way. I think in this case your employee should have been accommodated with an airline ticket.

  89. whistle*

    I *love* road trips and can easily do a 12-hour day with my husband. But this works because we both travel the same way. We like the same music at the same volume. We both like to have windows down (no A/C). We both like to make frequent quick stops. We both like to drive, and we trade off at each stop.

    Five hours in a van with coworkers where I cannot control all of those factors sounds horrible.

    LW, these travel conditions need to be spelled out in advance at the time when travel is being requested/approved.

  90. Koala dreams*

    In this case there was a health reason to choose flying over the car ride, and so it’s unreasonable to have the employee travel by car. It’s also a bad move for the manager to tell an employee to lie about their health issue. People can describe their own issues however they want, but a boss shouldn’t ask employees to lie about their health issues.

    It isn’t unusual for organizations to have policys about when to travel by air and when to travel on the road, and my feeling (from my vantage point here in Europe) is that 5 hours as a shared car ride (or train/bus) is close to the limit, but not that uncommon. The reason for the policy could be cost (maybe you have a deal with the car rental company, or the train/bus company) or environmental. I’m surprised over the amount of commenters who find 5 hours too long for a car ride in general!

  91. ZeldaFitz*

    I’d argue you should believe and accommodate all employees who say they have a health issue, not just “good” ones.

  92. bluephone*

    I’m not generally prone to getting car sick but just the thought of a 10-hour road trip, in a van, with coworkers, for a work-related event…oh god, the nausea is rising now :-(
    Your company needs to make more money, OP, so they can stop robbing Peter to pay Paul like this.

  93. Gonzo*

    We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive…”

  94. I Will Steal Your Pens*

    For what it is worth – at the very least you should allow for a rental vehicle at the company’s expense. I had to drive once for an orientation event 300 miles away for a new contract, and on the way home a piece of flying debris hit my windshield. thank the lord it didn’t hurt me (other than thoroughly scaring the crap out of me) but my windshield was absolutely shattered and I had to be towed home the last 250 miles. My company paid for everything (as they should have) but after that I was too scared to ever drive to any out of town events, so I insisted on a rental.

  95. Pigeon*

    An org with whom we have a close relationship is a little over four hours from our location, and we routinely drive when we need to visit them. It is completely standard, and we’re not a non-profit or a small company. Standards vary from company to company, and from industry to industry.

    I’m not sure OP is really a villain here. I think she possibly made the mistake of assuming the employee’s digestive issue was the same severity as her own (which she obviously had no way of knowing). I also think that she may not have had much leeway to approve air travel on her own (again, at my employer, exceptions to travel policy must be approved above team manager). But in that case, it would have been more appropriate to pass the request along.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Thank you for suggesting I’m not a villain. I can take constructive criticism but some of these comments have come off as more mean than constructive. I care about the people on my team and in many other situations I’m confident they would say I advocated for them and had their best interests at heart (e.g. allowing work from home, setting a culture where not coming into work when sick is the norm – these were before COVID).

      Air travel is the exception rather than the norm for my department. It just so happened that Jeff had been to conferences before where the distance was so great or (in one case) he was the only one going so the cost of air travel or one person driving were identical. I should have passed the request along to HR once the medical issue came up. Now I know for the future!

      1. Persephone Underground*

        Wanted to chime in here that I agree you probably meant well, and hope that you’ll be able to make better calls in future. I hope my posts further up didn’t read as overly harsh. It’s easy to project what you’d do in a situation onto others, but we each have our own limits and needs so doing that inadvertently backed this employee into a corner where he felt his only option was to cancel. I hope you’ll consider it a lesson learned about being more accommodating of other perspectives and work needs as a manager.

        A less charged example might be WFH- I struggle with productivity working from home, but others are more productive that way. So if I were a manager, should I be restrictive about WFH because my experience is that it doesn’t work? I attribute this to my ADHD, but I have friends with ADHD who thrive working remote, so I can’t presume we have the same work needs even with the same disability.

  96. RussianInTexas*

    This sort of sideway to the topic.
    Boyfriend’s company does what they call “commentary drive”. Basically it’s a safe driving test you have to take every 18 months to be able to drive for business purposes, even your won car.
    Last year he had to go from Houston to Austin (3 hr drive), and one person in the group (a VP no less) have not passed the drive on time, and requested the whole group (4 of them) to travel on a bus.
    Apparently there is a $75/person VIP roundtrip bus service with wifi, soft drinks, and nice seats. Who knew.

  97. MissDisplaced*

    5 hours is sort of a gray area. If it’s within your state, or the drive is to a non-major city/airport type of place, driving can make more sense because you’d have to rent a car at the airport anyway and still drive another hour. Cost wise, diving can work out to be less expensive. If the company is renting a van or multiple people, it may well make sense, but this depends on the event and location.

    I’ve done a 5 hour drive by myself with a company paid rental car. It honestly wasn’t that bad! I left on a Sunday for something starting on a Monday morning. I mean, I wouldn’t want to do that on any kind of regular basis, but once a year was fine.

  98. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

    ” I felt it was reasonable that he could make up a reason”
    No no no. Suggesting someone else say something that is not true is terrible, particularly coming from a manager.

  99. aebhel*

    Oof, yeah, expecting your employee to make up a reason that he needs to make frequent rest stops is inappropriate, and puts him in a really awkward and potentially humiliating position (to say nothing of what happens should he urgently need a rest stop when they’re on the freeway with no good way to pull over). I’ve also drive 5+ hours for work from time to time, but you really shouldn’t be second-guessing your employee’s health issues or expecting him to lie about them (!!!)

  100. IWishIHadAFancyUserName*

    Another thought: as someone who has suffered a pulmonary embolism caused by DVT, I’d be requesting a 2-hour plane ride bookended by 1-hour drives to/from the airport vs. five hours in a car. Actually, I’d probably try to get out of both. And I don’t think I should have to disclose that reason to an employer.

    1. Dahlia*

      I’m also on a medication that can increase risk of blood clots. When I had to drive home from the hospital, they recommended stopping to get up and move around every 45 minutes or so.

      That’s gonna add some time to a drive.

  101. Gray Lady*

    In my world, five hours is not unreasonable for someone to be asked to drive, all other things being equal. It’s probably close to the top limit, though.

    However, there are all kinds of legitimate reasons a person might not be able to do that, and I don’t think it serves anyone well to argue over his reasons at this late date. If your company truly isn’t willing to pay the cost of him flying, then I think you have to give him the option of skipping the conference while the company eats the registration cost *without penalizing him in any way with regard to attendance at future conferences.* And going forward, take the advice of commenters above and require travel arrangements to be part of the approval process for future travel.

    1. Letter Writer*

      I’m happy to say that there was no penalty to Jeff, financially or professionally, for him not attending. There was a small admin fee for withdrawing from the conference and the department ate the cost. He did attend a different conference a few months later, and I did ensure we talked about all logistics including travel plans before he registered.

      Going forward (assuming there is a time we can travel again, LOL sob) I think having clearer department guidelines around this rather than norms is something I’m going to bring up with the broader management team.

  102. Brain the Brian*

    Three of our C-level execs took an eight-hour car trip together last fall when a crucial client wanted to meet with them in-person the next day and they couldn’t get plane tickets. Thank goodness that’s not a normal expectation for the rest of us. Whew…!

  103. Deborah*

    I wonder how much of the difference between how people feel about 5 hours being a flying or driving distance depends on where we live and whether there’s anywhere within 5 hours driving distance that we could actually fly to. I live in a city in the South that is a major freight hub but no longer a major passenger hub, and it’s actually not possible as far as I know to get a flight to any city less than 8-10 hours away by car. You can get a train or bus for North/South, but if you are going East/West you pretty much have to drive. And it’s almost impossible to get a flight anywhere at all that doesn’t have a connection, often in the opposite direction. So while driving 5 hours would be miserable, I wouldn’t expect it to be possible logistically to fly. But if one is located on the east or west coast, that might be completely different.

  104. Ines*

    When I worked at Old Job I was lucky enough to generally choose the transport for conferences. (Some people still liked to drive cause they “made money” on the gas reimbursement.) I found out later that there used to be a lot more emphasis on renting a van and carpooling several years ago. Then one day, they hit a child on a bike who darted into the road. (Child survived.) Everyone was so shaken up that no one ever pressured anyone to drive to conferences again. I believe this one was 5-6 hours away.

  105. Bowserkitty*

    I’m from the midwest US and even just driving 5 hours from Iowa to my mom’s place in southern IL was exhausting, and that’s alone listening to NPR, podcasts or music! I can’t imagine being stuck in a van with other people for that long, at the mercy of the driver. I hope the policy will change from now.

  106. Tiger Snake*

    Let’s go back to the master source. What’s your business’ travel policy?
    Your company should have defined when traveling by car is suitable, vs. when its considered excessive.
    In my company, it’s two hours; more than that, and you are expected to fly. If my manager insisted on making me drive, I’d only get paid for those two hours; you’d be costing me time, money and comfort all at the business’ expense, against the business’ own policy.

    I am not adverse to driving long distances. All my childhood, I spent fifteen-hours at a time stuck in the car to go to the family farm (30 hours both ways). My family deemed that suitable for a long weekend, much less any other break. And I still say at 5 hours for work purposes, you should fly.
    There’s a difference between a road trip and being stuck with my colleagues, all of whom have different opinions about the music, car temperature, how long the windows should be open, when toilet breaks should be, and what appropriate road-trip food are. You’re trapped in a small box with no escape. It’s a recipe for disaster.

    Also, don’t forget that any and all time spent travelling must be paid by the company as well. And in a lot of places, travel time is paid out differently to your regular hours. Where I am, it’s paid as a type of overtime that even exempt employees get. That’s even before we get to car rental and/or paid wear-and-tear and petrol. Even with normal-time pay, once you reach a certain time/distance, traveling by car is more expensive for a business, especially when you take company rates for flights into account.

  107. Dawnsname299*

    Two thoughts here. First, I do travel for a university and you would not believe the hoops we have to jump through to get things paid for, especially mileage. Usually airfare can be charged to the procurement card and doesn’t have to come out of the employees wallet, so many prefer to fly if possible. However, most universities require driving if it cheaper than airfare. I noticed that they would have to rent a vehicle however, and that is very expensive also, and should be figured into the cost. (Also, if they are renting a vehicle, they are probably NOT getting mileage.)
    My second thought is more personal; I get incredibly carsick if I am not driving and sometimes when I am. I don’t have “digestive issues” normally, but long road trips can trigger them. This is actually a diagnosed symptom of my anxiety disorder and makes it very hard for me to travel distances in the car. It’s also not something I enjoy explaining to people, many of whom like to tell me that dramamine and practice will cure something that has happened since I can remember (and I’m 53).

  108. RB*

    Just chiming in here. The driving version of the trip sounds like enough of a nightmare to me that I’d be prepared with an alternative plan such as “I’m going a day early to visit a friend in that city” or any on-the-spot excuse that would allow me to not drive both ways with my co-workers. I mean, you’re going to be stuck with them during the conference, so you need that private time on the way there and back for sheer sanity.
    I believe in always having prepared excuses. Like for this situation, “I’m driving separately to make a side trip at the end of the conference to visit the Grand Canyon” or whatever. I just can’t come up with one that allows him to fly instead of drive.

  109. Macarena*

    As someone who gets extremely car (and bus/van) sick, can I just say that is is absolutely horrible to have it dismissed and to have people act like you are being spoiled or precious because you need to fly or train instead?

    I don’t have a condition like IBS or anything, I just get horrible car and bus sickness to the point
    Regardless of whether I am the driver or the passenger, I can handle about an hour in a car at the absolute most before I need to vomit and I don’t feel any better until the driving stops.

    This is a huge reason I get annoyed at people who say “move rural” as a way to solve the cost of living in cities. I need access to trains/subways/airports or I am going nowhere.

    If anyone is familiar with the NYC metro area, I grew up in Paramus NJ and if I caught the bus between Garden State Plaza and Port Authority (~45mins), I was already feeling gross and light headed by the time I arrived, and there was more than one occasion I had go to straight to a bathroom to puke when I arrived PA/GSP.

    I can not be in a vehicle for long.

    I pay way too much to live in Brooklyn because I don’t need to own a car to live here.

    A five hour drive each way is out of the question for me.

    My employer can either fly me to where I need to go, or they can accept I will not be going.

    I will gladly get my doctor to write something for me explaining that if it ever comes to it.

    But yeah, it REALLY sucks to be treated like you are some spoiled pampered princess because…, I can’t “just drive” from DC to Boston.

  110. Keymaster of Gozer*

    One of my former jobs had a travel strategy I really liked:

    Location inaccessible by train? Hire car. For journeys under 2 hours it was a day trip. Over that you got a hotel room.

    Location accessible by train AND price was cheaper than flying? Train ticket. If the journey involved more than 3 changes or was over 3 hours you got a hotel.

    Flying cheaper than train? On a plane you go.

    All of these were subject to the medical needs of the staff. I for instance stayed in hotels a lot more because even 2 hours in a car is going to need a recharge period before I do it again.

    Also note: this was while working for the UK railway.

  111. cncx*

    I’m one of those people who as a passenger falls asleep as soon as a car hits cruise control- i can’t stop it, no matter how much caffeine, and I snore and drool. I also hate driving and would hate the peer pressure of dividing up the driving. Five hours in a car one way with coworkers is a hard pass for me.

  112. Catalyst*

    I’m really late this this party but, still thought I’d throw in my opinion. I agree with Alison on this one for sure. I drive 5 hours all the time without blinking an eye (the drive to my parents house is about that) so I personally wouldn’t think twice about driving that far for work. However, I would never expect others to do the same, for people who only drive a half hour to an hour on a regular basis or someone who uses transit even though they own a car a 5 hour drive is really really long! Especially with Co-Workers, who you might not have much to talk about with.

  113. selena*

    I had colon cancer a few years ago and so a lot of my digestive system is gone which creates issues for me. I would be furious if my boss required me to ride with others for five hours. They would probably be furious too having to deal with my stuff. If the guy needs to drive, at least let him drive alone. Flying–well that depends on the travel policy but at least give him the same $$ you would reimburse him to drive or you would spend to rent a car for him.

  114. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Spending 10 hours in a van to attend a conference with a bunch of co-workers sounds like my personal nightmare.

  115. JW*

    I felt like I didn’t even need to read the question (and after doing so and reading Alison’s answer, I was right). Five hours can be a really long drive for someone. And, he or she may not like to be a passenger in a car with a coworker driving, as the unfamiliarity with it can be scary. I think it’s totally reasonable to expect that a flight that far would be accepted by management (and, unless living in a very remote location, usually is only 45 minutes, non-stop). While reading the situation, I cringed at the request to make cover stories for very personal issues. That would be so embarrassing. Finally, I do think this was more a trust issue. Jeff went out of his way to explain why, without getting into too much detail, driving was not an option for him. That he cancelled his attendance at the conference altogether, is telling of the affect his manager’s decision had on him.

    1. JW*

      I realized only after submitting that I missed an opportunity to be more helpful…

      I do think it’s important to have parameters around what’s to be covered in any off-site training / conference / business trip. This is something I ask all my direct reports. I say something like, “Let me know if there are any conferences you want to attend this year, and be sure to provide me with a total cost estimate, including transportation, meals, and lodging, if any are necessary, in addition to the cost of the event.” That way I’ve set the stage for the conversation around what I can and cannot cover from a budget standpoint. This way, in lieu of a company policy, events like that are looked at like a business case.

  116. Pomegranate*

    Jeff’s medical-based request for a flight vs. a drive is understandable and should have been approved. I also agree with others pointing out that clear up-front guidance from the company on the type of travel expected for certain distances would have been good.

    However, I am surprised that there has been no discussion of the environmental impacts associated with air travel. While not directly related to the LW’s question where a medical condition is at play, so many people are saying that 5 hours in a car/van with their co-workers would be their personal hell. These are paid hours of travel, hence you are at work. If travelling to a conference, meeting, work event is part of the job, then putting up with your coworkers for that time period is also part of the job. I’m sure there are egregious situations out there when it wouldn’t be a good idea. But if we ever want to make any headway in getting a handle on the environmental impacts of work travel, we need to re-evaluate our comfort levels and what’s acceptable. Just because it may be uncomfortable to listen to somebody else’s music choice for part of the trip and talk/not talk during the trip, doesn’t mean it’s not the right choice.
    France has provided a COVID bail-out package to Air France dependent on them cutting short haul flights that would take a rail journey of 2.5 hrs or less. US and Canada obviously don’t have great rail networks, but the principle stands. Short flights are environmentally expensive and can be easily replaced by train/bus/car for majority of the population (medical conditions being one of the exceptions).

  117. HRArwy*

    Wow. In Canada, this would be a clear “duty to accommodate” trigger for the employer. I’m a little shocked that this wasn’t accommodated based on disability.

  118. Kerry*

    Well, aside from the fact that he had a medical issue and five hours one way is a long drive, I think it also speaks volumes about his co-workers, or at least how he feels about traveling with them, if he’s willing to drive to the airport, wade through security, take a two hour flight, and drive to his destination twice (there and back). Plus, airport and in-flight bathrooms aren’t exactly luxurious. But if we are going off of which ones tend to look cleaner to the naked eye, airport and plane bathrooms vs gas station bathrooms, in my experience the airport and planes win. He’s just choosing cramped, small bathrooms over possibly abhorrently disgusting gas station bathrooms.

  119. Jenn*

    What about people who get severe motion sickness? I can’t do car trips over about 30 minutes unless I am physically driving. I don’t get air sick though. I’d be really disappointed if my manager didn’t approve my travel for an issue legitimately out of my control. Not to mention the things everyone else has said about too much time with people not necessarily of your choosing. I recently flew somewhere for a (non-billable) client presentation that would have been a four hour drive ea way in one day. I was traveling with a coworker and we did the math and both of us flying was more expensive than driving (we have a company vehicle we can take to things like this so they don’t pay us mileage, just gas reimbursement), but I put my foot down a little. No one batted an eye when I said I preferred to fly. And the things the other posters said about work time in the airport is true. One extra hour worked at my billing rate more than made up for the cost difference.

  120. A Person*

    As someone who also has digestive issues that make it so I can’t even leave the house some days I have to admit this made my blood boil a bit. If a business intends to offer conference opportunities I’d really recommend having a policy in writing about driving vs flying somewhere based on distance, group travel plans, and possibly even max expenditure per person so it can be up to the individual to find a mode of transport that fits them and the company’s budget. That wouldn’t solve the whole issue, but it’d be a lot more to go off if at the start of this rather than an employee looking forward to an event and finding out later that they’re unable to go

  121. RedCat*

    Just for clarification: why is there just transportation by car or flight discussed?
    My company usually sends me train tickets when I go to trainings and meetings (I work remote). Worked fine for me since flying isn’t possible (no airport anywhere close) and I hate to drive.
    Is this a typical ‘German thing’ and just not done in other countries? Around here going by train is pretty standart and rather cheap for business trips.

  122. Deb*

    As someone who has chronic IBS and cannot really be in a car sometimes for five minutes without a bathroom concern, I certainly understand the employee point of view.
    In the past I have brought a doctors note to my supervisor explaining my situation and that has help with getting repaid for a separate travel arrangement. Even on casual trips (to another office for a meeting for example) everyone know that Deb drives alone. I have learned in 30 plus years that is is easier to be upfront and honest from the start of the discussion than to wait.
    I think the employer should have been more empathetic and let the employee either drive alone or fly and maybe pay only a portion of either option.

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