What future for business travel?

Aug 11 2006 by Brian Amble Print This Article

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."