What future for business travel?


While it is far too early to predict the long-term effects of yesterday's events in Britain on the already fragile global airline industry, we must be approaching the point at which the stress and inconvenience we are prepared to undergo as part of the air travel experience starts to have a significant impact on our decision to fly at all.

As the travel editor of the Independent, Simon Calder, suggests today, a continuing ban on hand luggage will have a major impact on airlines even if they do manage to devise some means of enabling passengers to take valuable electronic gadgets with them without the risk of them being stolen or destroyed by baggage handlers.

Much of Britain's commercial aviation is kept afloat by the premium fares paid by business people. Judging by some of the scenes at check-ins yesterday, executives might more readily surrender their children than their laptops, Blackberries and mobile phones. But technology also provides plenty of alternatives to face-to-face meeting, should the stress of air travel - and the inability to work during the journey - prove too daunting.

The Financial Times makes the same point:

With business travel a healthy contributor to airlines' profit margins, any switch from face-to-face meetings to virtual alternatives such as video-conferencing could be a problem for the industry, said Dominic Armstrong, head of intelligence at Aegis, a London-based security company.

"Passengers will rightly ask themselves whether air travel is going to remain an easy option," he said. "There will be structural changes for anyone flying to the US."

According to Robert Mann, an airline industry consultant quoted by the Associated Press, banning laptops, PDS and phones "would be worse for airlines than long security lines"

"For business travelers in particular it's kind of a Charlton Heston-type of moment," he said, referring to the former head of the National Rifle Association. "You can take my laptop or my Blackberry or my PDA out of my cold dead hands."


Older Comments

Unless the current restrictions are lifted, I think the simple answer is 'essential trips only' - which will very rapidly kill a large proportion of the airline industry.

Steve Boston

I find it almost inconceivable that airlines haven't considered the possibility of a hand luggage prohibition and don't have any sort of contingency plan in place. Until the can come up with a safe, secure way to enable us to transport essentials and valuables, I suspect the number of people flying will take a major tumble. I would NEVER trust my laptop or other personal gear to airport baggage handlers.


Steve and Gemma have it right. There's no way on God's green earth that I'm going to trust baggage handlers with my laptop. I travel about 30% of the time, and when I look out the plane's window and see baggage handlers THROWING bags around--needlessly, I might add--it gives me further reason NOT to check any luggage.

The latest events means the already sagging airline industry, many posting record losses, is going to sink even further. The problem? Knee-jerk reactions, politically correct but empty policies, and only an illusion of security.

I can never forget sitting in the Salt Lake City airport a few weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, talking with a Delta pilot (I can give you his name if you like), about how even the 'beefed up' security measures were nothing but a joke.

Amazingly he said 'We're only trying to create an illusion of security. We need to get people flying again.'

What?! An ILLUSION of security? Sadly, this is the mindset of not only the pilots, but the TSA as well.

A trained soldier can kill someone with a simple pen. But instead of (dare I say it) identifying passengers who fit a particular profile, the airline industry continues to play footsie, all in the name of fairness and 'safety.' In my opinion, it's a crock.

Steve from Boston has it right when he says business is heading toward 'essential flights only.' But since a large part of all air travel is business-related, I'd like to propose two alternatives for the air terminals to consider: 1) A no carry-on 'express' line for quicker screening 2) A thoroughly-check-you-out carry-on line if you want to bring gadgetsâ€'or toothpasteâ€'with you. I, for one, would gladly go through an extra hour at check-in---and even pay an extra five or ten dollars---IF I could take my laptop and my toothpaste with me. (That extra cash incentive might even get them to consider the idea).

On occasions when such would not be needed, I could save time and go thru the express line.

In the mean time, all travelers will continue to feel the bureaucratic game-playing squeeze all done under the ILLUSION of security (his words, not mine) until travel official get their heads out of their dark caverns and start doing what needs to be done instead of playing politically correct games

Dan Bobinski

As far as travelling from the UK goes, unless the crazy hand luggage restrictions are eased soon, I can't see much future for BA and the other airlines that rely on business travellers for their survival.

I'm due to fly to Tokyo next week with several colleagues. We're now taking Eurostar to Paris and flying from there instead of Heathrow. That's 4x full-fair top-deck tickets BA have just lost. Apparently we're not the only ones - Eurostar is booked solid, so I'm told.

Mark S London

While I understand WHY airports have to behave how they do, I'm also fed up with parting with large sums of money to be hearded like an animal and treated like a criminal every time I go to an airport.

I have to travel to Toulouse regularly. Next time I'm taking the Eurostar / TGV.

Sue Bristol