- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 27, 2001

John Backus got back on a plane one month after the terrorist attacks, settling into a front-row seat in first class.
When flight attendants on the plane told the 6-foot, 5-inch Mr. Backus they were glad someone as big as him was seated up front, he realized he wasn't just another guy in the front row, he was the last line of defense.
"They asked if I would help if something happened. I'm a big guy, and if I can use that to help people, I will," said Mr. Backus, a managing partner at Draper Atlantic Venture Funds in Reston, who flies 100,000 miles a year to check up on the nascent technology companies his firm has invested in and to help find them business.
Business travelers like Mr. Backus are returning to the skies with a renewed awareness, less willing to surround themselves in briefcases and papers in the airplane seats that have increasingly become their mobile offices.
"I used to be in a travel cocoon, where I did my work and hoped no one would bother me," said Bill Brydges, a managing partner at PWC Consulting Inc., the management-consulting arm of PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Now he finds himself paying close attention to others on the flight.
So does Todd Henry, a vice president at Baltimore investment banker T. Rowe Price Group Inc.
"When I'm walking down the aisle, I look at people and think, 'I can take him. I'll need help with him,'" Mr. Henry said.
Business travelers have become the self-appointed defenders of the skies.
The thought of body-slamming someone in an attempt to protect an airplane's crew and passengers had not crossed Mr. Backus' mind previously. But now, even before boarding a plane, he looks around at the crowd in the terminal to check out his traveling companions.
"I'm just wondering who would be trouble. I'm doing my own profiling," he said.
Mr. Backus, Mr. Brydges and Mr. Henry are required to fly for their companies and have few options.
"It's part of the job," said Mr. Henry, a portfolio specialist managing investments for institutional investors, who flies an estimated 75,000 miles a year.
All of them say teleconferencing and videoconferencing have proven to be useful short-term options, but that technology can't replace flying and face-to-face meetings.
"When you're managing $300 million for a company, they want to put a face to a name," Mr. Henry said.
Some bosses have given their workers latitude and are allowing more teleconferencing.
But the timing isn't right to let technology replace travel, said Mr. Brydges, who oversees information technology projects that PWC Consulting does for clients along the East Coast. A difficult economy, in which companies are cutting back, compels him to try harder to keep business.
"Just about the time that times are tough is when you want to meet with people, take them to dinner," said Mr. Brydges, who works in Falls Church but flies an estimated 100,000 miles a year.
These air warriors do not feel like they are being forced to do something they do not want to do. None of the three men plans to travel less.
"For us, the reality is you've got to move around. We would love to have our clients where our employees are," Mr. Brydges said. "But we're going to go wherever we have to go."

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