August 18, 2006
Countless travel and business plans have been thrown into disarray with the recent terror plot disruption. While the worst of the security clampdown may be over, now it looks like it was just a glimpse of things to come, and sooner or later, a lot of us may be traveling without our laptops.
I don't know about you, but I can barely imagine hiking through Logan airport or O'Hare without that computer bag slung over my shoulder. And what about the hundreds of hours I've spent holed up in hotel rooms working late into the night? Without my laptop, everything would change. But I've got to admit part of me is liking the idea.Now before I'm hung by my thumbs by the angry hordes who have great affection for their machines, let me say I appreciate having a solid tool to get my work done on, whether I'm working at home, sitting cross-legged on the floor of an airport terminal, or shacked up in a Marriott in Newark. And this summer, I actually did spend a considerable amount of time with the fine folks at the Newark Airport Marriott, and I wouldn't have been able to file a fraction of the stories I did if it hadn't been for the company IBM ThinkPad I had in tow. But if there's a better way to do this, I'm all ears. Really. How many of us have schlepped through airports and train stations and down city streets with these machines strapped to our backs? And how many of us have bellyached about the sore shoulders and backs that go along with it? I also don't love worrying that some sticky-fingered fellow traveler is going to try to make off with the company laptop when I'm digging through my pockets or purse for my boarding pass or trying to buy the morning newspaper. Now it may well be that I'm in the minority here. As it quickly became apparent on this week's news meeting conference call, a lot of people get their backs up in a big hurry at the mere mention of grounding our laptops. You should have heard the reaction. You'd think I'd said that CIOs were thinking of buying one plane ticket for two people and making them share a seat on a cross-Atlantic flight. I wanted to say, "Hey, did you hear they're not going to let us carry on lip gloss? What's up with that?" I would have been kidding--well, mainly--but I was afraid they'd turn on me en masse. Right now, we're in the slowest time of the year for business travel, according to Bob Harrell, president of Harrell Associates, a New York-based airline industry analyst firm. He told me this week that airport systems will only continue to become more strained as we move out of summer and into the busy fall travel season. Think those security lines are long now as screeners check and recheck our laptops, BlackBerrys, and cell phones? Just wait. Harrell says work-related travel will begin to ramp up in September and hit its heaviest point of the year in October. He says the national team of baggage handlers and the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, which is in charge of protecting the country's transportation systems, need to get their act together before business travel moves into full swing in a few months. If they don't, frequent fliers can expect long lines, exasperated airline agents, and more than a few lost bags. Rick Sturm, CEO of Enterprise Management Associates, an IT research and consultancy based in Boulder, Colo., is a man who knows the hassles of business travel. He flew about 100,000 miles last year. And he's expecting the long lines and frustrations to rise this fall as all the extra checked bags strain the system, causing delays and loads of lost luggage. And that right there raises concerns for people who want to quicken the security screening process by packing their laptops in their suitcases. Sturm says he had his own incident last year that will make him think twice about packing his laptop in his suitcase, either to save time in security screening or because someday down the line he may be forced to if he wants it to go with him. He was flying back from Australia when a bag with bottles of wine in it was stacked on top of his suitcase in the hold of the plane. Sturm landed to find his suitcase covered in vino. What would have happened if his computer had been inside the bag, he wonders now? What would have happened to the data if the wine had seeped into the machine? MJ Shoer, president of Jenaly Technology Group Inc., a Portsmouth, N.H.-based outsourced IT firm, says he won't stop traveling for business, but he will try to find better ways to do it. Shoer sounds far more attached to his PDAs and cell phone, but he's rarely without his laptop. He's even the guy who takes it on family vacations. It would be tough for him to break the habit. There obviously are a lot of advantages to traveling with a laptop. But there must be other ways to get our work done and stay connected. I hope people keep looking for ways to travel to the computers rather than traveling with them. I don't need my laptop to be another appendage just to help me get my work done on deadline. Do you foresee a day when smart cards, SSL VPNs, hotel room computers, and laptop rental kiosks have us leaving our laptops at home? Or are some of us just dreaming?
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