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Publisher relies on agent, ocean views

One in a series of occasional profiles of business travelers.

December 02, 2006|James Gilden | Special to The Times

Not many people are lucky enough to lay claim to an office with a sweeping ocean view, especially when the company they work for is based in Manhattan.

Yet during all of her nearly three decades in publishing, C. Deborah Laughton has worked a short distance from the Pacific. A publisher of methodology and statistics books for New York-based Guilford Press Inc., Laughton works from her home in Bluebird Canyon in Laguna Beach.

"I have always tried to live near the ocean my whole working life," she said in a recent telephone interview from her home office. "Publishing is a real high-stress business."

Although her home may be a stress reliever, she doesn't feel that way about parts of her air travels -- notably the crunch of the seat in front of her moving back.

One of her pet peeves on a plane while traveling is people who lean back without regard for what is behind them.

She was sporting a fresh bruise on her leg from a recent run-in with an inconsiderate seat-back pusher when I spoke with her.

It is an issue that causes much consternation among business travelers. One airline is making an attempt to reach a compromise that might be satisfactory to those who recline -- and those seated behind them.

Southwest Airlines Co.'s seats now recline as much as 4.5 inches, but after each plane goes in for routine maintenance, the seats will go back no more than 3 inches.

The 1 1/2 -inch difference "is so subtle to the person reclining but makes a world of difference to the person behind," said Southwest spokeswoman Paula Berg. But don't expect immediate relief. "It's going to take several years [to adjust] the entire fleet."

Weber Aircraft, a Gainesville, Texas-based subsidiary of France's Zodiac, sells an economy-class airplane seat that allows passengers to recline by moving the seat bottom forward, minimizing how far back the seat back has to go, but no U.S. airline uses it.

The problem of whacked knees has even inspired an invention called the Knee Defender, made by Washington-based Right Brain Ltd. (www.kneedefender.com). About the size of a key, these gadgets slide onto the arms of your tray table, keeping the person in front of you from slamming his or her seat into your laptop or lunch.

Some airlines have reportedly banned it because it can lead passengers to force their seats back and break them in the process.

Another issue for Laughton is reservations. She has become adept at booking online, but she often travels to destinations less visited. And that can mean difficult connections, unfamiliar accommodations and unexpected delays. In cases like these, Laughton turns to an expert for advice. She has used the same travel agent since 1980.

When I spoke with her, she had just returned from a business trip, though not to Guilford Press' office in New York's SoHo neighborhood. Her travels, which she estimates take up about 25% of her work time, tend to take her off the beaten path.

Her trip to Lawrence, Kan., where she met authors and potential authors at the University of Kansas, was no exception.

"I seem to have a need to be at land-grant colleges that are difficult to get to," explaining that after a connecting flight through Denver, it was still a 55-mile drive from the airport in Kansas City, Mo.

"I do a lot of my stuff online if it's not complicated, but I'm often going multiple places," she said. "I have [my agent's] home phone number so I can call" if there are problems on a trip.

She is among a shrinking group of business travelers who still rely on travel agents. More than three-quarters of businesses use online booking tools, according to a survey of corporate travel managers conducted by the National Business Travel Assn., a lobbying and educational membership group based in Alexandria, Va. And 13% of companies surveyed planned to implement online booking in the future.

Laughton's travel takes her around North America to academic conferences where she meets with authors and has books on display in the conference exhibit hall. Her most recent was in early November in Portland, Ore., for the American Evaluation Assn. and the next is at the end of January in Memphis, Tenn., for the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

In fact, working for a New York-based company lands Laughton in the Big Apple only about once a year, she says.

"I prefer to go during opera season," hoping to catch a performance of the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, says the Los Angeles Opera season ticket holder.

Laughton balances her otherwise serious work with a keen sense of humor.

"I scintillate people at the bar in hotels," she quipped. " 'Gee, I just saw some of the coolest growth-curve modeling.' "

james.gilden@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

C. Deborah Laughton

Job: Publisher of statistics and methodology books

Business travel nights per year: About 50

Frequent-flier/guest programs: American Airlines, United Airlines (Premier), JetBlue Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Starwood, Marriott, Hilton

Preferred airline: Whichever has the best schedule out of Long Beach or John Wayne Airport.

Preferred hotel chain: Starwood

Next business trips: Memphis, Tenn., in January and New York in January or February

Most recent leisure trip: Drove to Asilomar in Big Sur for Thanksgiving weekend.

Favorite hotels (when on own dime): The Standard, downtown Los Angeles; Hotel Hana Maui, Hana, Maui; Ventana Inn in Big Sur

Los Angeles Times

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