Technology has revolutionised the life of the business traveller. 24/7 connectivity anywhere, anytime, has brought with it unquantifiable benefits. But is the last frontier of tranquility about to be taken away…
In some respects, the proliferation of mobile devices and high-speed Internet connections has been a good thing for the business traveller. Being online 24/7 no matter where you are in the world makes for a far more productive employee.
Social networking sites and increasingly sophisticated travel and itinerary management apps are also making it easier for those on the road to make informed decisions about where they eat, sleep and play. You’re in constant contact with bosses, colleagues and family.
Over the last 12 months UK airports have made positive moves towards meeting passenger demand for free Wi-Fi. Heathrow, Gatwick and Glasgow, for example, all offer travellers free access for 30 minutes, after which time you provide your credit card details and let the fleecing commence.
Running out of battery is also now less of an issue, as power points are peppered throughout lounges, waiting areas and even at some gates. Finally they’re listening to the customer.
According to Gartner, the US-based IT research and advisory company, tablets will outsell PCs over the next two years. You only need to look around a train carriage or airport lounge to realise it’s easier to count the number of people who are not staring into touch-screen, hand-held devices.
And this trend will continue apace next year. High-speed 4G connections will be more widely available in the UK as it spreads beyond just the big cities. EE was first out of the blocks earlier this year, but now O2, Three, Vodafone and the others are set to follow.
So what’s the flip side to all this? Well, that’s easy. It’s harder to find a moment’s peace. Employers and travel managers now take for granted that they can communicate with travellers at any given moment. And as for the wife and mother-in-law…well, don’t get me started.
Until now one of the few places the business traveller had been able to switch off from the world was in an aircraft cabin. But even that airborne sanctuary is to be taken away from us.
Network carriers, including British Airways, United Airlines and Emirates have provided onboard Wi-Fi for a few years, though it requires a remortgaging of the house if you are to afford the premium.
But earlier this month US carrier JetBlue revealed its new Fly-Fi aircraft, in which super high-speed broadband is available to all passengers for the duration of a flight. The service is to be free of charge during the trial period (which lasts until July), and at present is only available on certain aircraft.
The airline has promised it will be rolled out to the rest of its fleet throughout the next 12 months and that a certain level of the service would remain free of charge.
Silence is golden
However, as the onboard technology becomes cheaper and more sophisticated, it begs the obvious question: will passengers be able to use their phones to talk in-flight?
Checking emails, uploading selfies to Facebook or carousing on SnapChat is all well and good. But the JetBlue technology means passengers can now call, Skype or FaceTime people on the ground. Is that really a path we want to go down?
I posed the question this morning to three high-profile business travel leaders, all of whom are frequent flyers. The answer was a unanimous no.
There’s no doubt the ability to make a phone call from 35,000 feet could be, depending on the situation, a terrific benefit. But ultimately passengers enjoy a quiet environment, which is part of the reason the A380s and B787s have been so successful.
It’s also one of the few occasions where the traveller can switch off from work and enjoy the food and in-flight entertainment. Fortunately for JetBlue passengers, management has already decided, after pressure from social media followers, to ban the use of VoIP (voice over IP – which is jargon for…talking) onboard.
So thumbs up for carriers introducing high-speed broadband in the cabin. But let’s keep talking to a minimum.