Can we think past the ‘ban’? An ancillaries approach
The dynamics of air travel are changing – drastically and rapidly. Recent policy decisions in the interest of passenger security have
There are many debates on the 'why' regarding the 'ban'. While the official line is that this is a measure of protection against terror threats, some experts claim this is a strategy to steal market share from Middle Eastern airline companies. Irrespective of what the underlying reasons may be, it is time for airline companies and their passengers must start thinking in a very practical manner about how to manage this significant change in their circumstances. The other kind of 'why' related to the issue – why passengers are so much against this move – might be a better topic to spend our time and resources on. Clearly, this has the potential to throw open the debate of what passengers have been missing in airline services.
- Passengers are worried about the safety of their expensive devices in the cargo hold, considering around 6 bags are mishandled (delayed, damaged or pilfered) for every 1000 passengers, as per a SITA report
- Checked baggage is not covered under standard insurance policies, which means a loss or damage would go uncompensated
- Business travelers may want to work on their laptops during long flights, which is one reason they spend a premium on purchasing business class tickets
- At least a small percentage of passengers (especially frequent fliers) still depend on their devices for in-flight entertainment, and prefer to avoid what the airline provides
One of the leading airlines in this sector has introduced specialized laptop and tablet handling services in their Dubai hub, designed to enable passengers to use their laptops until the very last moment possible – when they board a US or UK-bound flight. Post this point, the airline claims, they will securely stash it away in a designated section of the cargo hold. Most other airline companies appear to be playing it safe at this point of time, sticking to the rules and not really going over the top to make it easier for passengers. Can't blame them; such a sweeping move is not common in this line of business and they'll have to think really hard to see how to handle it in the days to come. Here are some possibilities:
- Better baggage handling services: Over the last decade, there has been a good 50% reduction in the number of mishandled pieces of luggage, as per SITA's Baggage Report released last year. But no matter what the numbers say, many passengers still consider checked baggage to be 'high risk' from their perspective. Even people close to the industry confess that damage to bags and the occasional item going missing can happen not just due to intentional misbehavior by a worker, but also because handling baggage is a high speed business for the airline with little or no room for error. A more transparent process in this part of the chain would be of great value to a concerned customer – something passengers may even pay extra for if the economics make sense. An important piece of luggage, such as an expensive laptop or one with sensitive business data stored on it, may be worth it to a business class traveler to pay a fee for transparent handling and processing.
- Comprehensive insurance: If, for operational efficiency reasons, an airline is unable to bring in adequate transparency to the baggage handling process, then the alternative would be a comprehensive insurance facility for laptops and other devices in the checked baggage. The problem here is, for many business travelers, the value will lie not in the device itself but the software or other data that is stored in it. Clearly, this is more likely to be a third party arrangement rather than directly administered by the airline
- Intelligent armored casings for devices: Baggage handlers themselves confess that they are not as careful with baggage as they could be. This isn't always on purpose, but since airlines have to load baggage and get flights in the air as soon as possible, careful handling isn't always a priority at the worker-level. Especially with the large amount of electronic devices which will now be in cargo holds post the new rule's implementation, you don't want any battery spills or fire hazards to damage your device. To be safe, rather than sorry, laptops with effective protection are a good bet. There may even be a business opportunity for savvy designers who can combine good armoring with great looks. Throw in an intelligent sensor system to recognize the ''most at risk'' zones and there is a winner!
- Convert your smartphone to a laptop: If it is clear to a passenger that his/her device cannot possibly be allowed in the carry on baggage, but is safely stowed away in the cargo hold, what is the next priority? We still need to solve the problem of a business traveler needing to work during his/her flight. An official statement from Emirates says that 90% of their passengers use mobile phones to stay connected on the flight. If a docking device can be provided in the aircraft to bridge the gap between a mobile phone and a laptop computer, this would solve that problem! This would employ the cloud for storage, and may take some preparedness from the passenger, but it is doable with today's technology. Granted, it may not come cheap for a large scale implementation; but that doesn't mean it can't be a good ancillary for business travelers. BYOD won't work, because that would again give rise to the same issues that stem from trying to bring a laptop on board.
Although not very easy to implement in the short term, the business traveler segment may be in favor of a protected channel for having laptops and other electronic devices
In the electronics ban, which is not limited to laptop and tablet, but any electronic devices larger than a cellphone/smartphone (or more than 16 cm), airlines can think of introducing new routes to reach the destination. The electronic ban is not applicable for flights originating from the restricted countries and flying through via Milan or Athens to reach US soil. But yes there might be inconveniences to the customer, but looking from an airline perspective, it is an opportunity to grow the business, by introducing new routes.