Warren Buffett is an interesting guy, but Charlie Munger is hilarious.
I had the opportunity to take a trip to Omaha to check out the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting. I’ve always been interested in finance, investing, and successful people, so I knew I wanted to go.
The first thing you should know is that you don’t have to actually own stock in BRK.A or BRK.B to attend. BRK.B is trading around $100 and BRK.A is around $150,000 per share, so if you want to buy a share of BRK.B to attend, that’s an easy option. But it turns out that there are tickets available through current shareholders or other connections. I was invited to join a group of entrepreneurs and our host was based in Nebraska so he took care of everything.
The second tip is that you must book your flight and hotel as early as possible. More than 35,000 people descend on Omaha for the weekend, so there’s a lot of competition. We were fairly last minute compared to most people, and all of the downtown Omaha hotels were booked. I found a room at the Hilton Garden Inn in Council Bluffs, Iowa which also happens to be next to the Horseshoe Casino. Warren and Charlie say to never make a decision when you’re tired. I learned that lesson on the poker table late Saturday night…
My flight was booked through United Airlines, and the weather looked fine but apparently there were visibility problems due to rain. At 11:24am, I got this automated email from united.com:
United flight to Omaha, NE (OMA) on May 3 is canceled.
To see available options, go to united.com/flightupdates, access an airport kiosk or see a United representative at the airport.
I quickly scrambled to check things online, and found that there were no other flights that day on United. At 11:49am, I got this automated email:
Flight 3MAY to OMA is cancelled. You are now confirmed on 4MAY departing 8:04 am from gate F14. The flight is now estimated to arrive OMA at 9:33 am. This flight is operated by ExpressJet Airlines Inc. dba United Express.
To obtain new boarding documents, please use self service kiosks, United mobile app, visit united.com, or see a United representative.
So I was automatically rebooked by the computer onto the following day, which was unacceptable since I would miss Warren’s opening. I started checking other airlines, alternate airports nearby, rental cars at those alternate airports, etc. Each time I thought I found a flight, it would literally be gone before I could book it. Apparently, lots of other people were trying to do the same thing at the same time.
Finally, I realized that I should just go to the airport and take my chances that I can talk to someone there. That was the best move after all.
As I was arriving at the airport, I got more automated emails and text messages with the subject lines “Flight reschedule” and “Gate change” and “Flight delay”. These were all signs of hope, and it turned out that my original flight was actually reinstated. But the computer didn’t know enough to put people back onto their original flight. That would lead to lots of problems during boarding.
I decided to wait in line at the check-in counter to have them check my reservation, and that ended up being a good idea since they found that yes, my original flight was back, but no, I wasn’t on it because the computer had moved me to the following day. The United rep was able to move me back onto my original flight, in a different seat.
During boarding, I had my printed ticket from the check-in counter, but a lot of people around me had their printout from their computer at home, which was no longer valid. So the boarding took forever as the gate agent had to try to rebook most of the passengers back onto the original flight, which was no longer full since everyone had been bumped, but there were probably a lot of standby passengers who were competing for seats now too.
In any case, I eventually made it to Omaha and landed in time for the business dinner, so my lesson was to just go to the airport and try to sort things out there rather than doing it online.
One interesting thing was that Eppley Airfield was full of rows of private jets when we landed. Bill Gates was sitting in the front row at the shareholders meeting, and I took a tour of one of Berkshire’s companies, NetJets, who let us check out their private jets. They said this was one of their busiest weekends for private air travel.
I didn’t take any pictures of the actual jets in the hangar, but suffice it to say they were impressive. I’d much rather take a private jet than deal with United again. I’ve seen some travel startups working on ways to organize group trips to split the cost and search for an empty leg flight at a discount. I think a lot of people would take advantage of the opportunity if there was a good marketplace for it.
Anyway, the weekend overall was fun, interesting, and productive. I made some good business contacts and got to share knowledge with other entrepreneurs, and it was entertaining to watch Warren and Charlie on stage. Warren would give these thoughtful answers to questions by the audience, and then Charlie would drop a one-line zinger. I highly recommend making the trip if you have the opportunity. Just make sure you have your flight and hotel set way in advance, and if you’re flying commercial, hope for the best. If you’re flying private, good luck finding a place to park your jet on the crowded tarmac.