More thoughts on flying, and laptop bans


Just back from California, my first trip in a few weeks. Back into the swing of long haul flying.

I enjoy being on a plane, most of the time. It’s a nice space to think, to do some writing, and also to watch bad movies. Now that there’s entertainment on a plane, people have stopped trying to talk to their seat companions. This is a good thing. It’s ages since I had a conversation on a plane. I will be unfailingly polite and perhaps exchange a few comments, but I’m really careful that I don’t give the impression that I’m looking to make new friends. I’m very sociable, but a plane is not a good place to make new friends. You are stuck there for 11 hours or so, and there’s no escaping, so best not to start chatting or you could regret it.

This trip I flew BA from Heathrow to San Francisco on an A380, lower deck economy. The upper deck is quieter and you have nice window seats with stowage at the side, with only one seat next to you, so that’s usually the best place to fly in economy. But the lower deck has more overhead stowage, and you get off quicker, and if you are flying to a country where there’s the potential for a large queue at the border point, then getting off quick helps. The A380 is nice because it’s quiet and new, and new planes are usually much nicer to fly in whatever the airline. They also have seat power and large entertainment screens.

On the way back, I flew with American Airlines via Chicago. The first leg was OK: the usual issue on full US domestic flights popped up again: if you don’t have status and board late, you have to check your bags. There are just too many people taking large hand luggage on board. The second leg was on a new 787, and it was one of the best economy class flying experiences I’ve had. The seat configuration of 3-3-3 means you really want an inside aisle. And for the first several rows AA have what is called main cabin extra, which gives you 6 inches extra leg room. This is complimentary for anyone with One World Emerald (BA Silver), and it’s as good as premium economy. I’d fly American any time if I could be on one of these planes.

I’m a bit concerned about proposed new laptop cabin bans on flights to the USA. This would affect me: I don’t know what I’d do if I had no laptop on a flight. Also I rarely check a bag, and it would be annoying to have to do this on every trip. I’d be cautious about putting cameras and laptops in the hold. What about lenses? Do these count as electronics?

Now there’s talk of worry about placing lots of devices with lithium batteries in the hold. It’s not too much of a stretch to see the banning of taking laptop computers on planes at all. This would hammer business users, some of whom are already being told by their companies to clear their computers of any data before travelling, and then reload the data once they are past homeland security.

Are there any solutions? This could create some business opportunities. If I were one of the airlines already affected by the ban, I’d consider offering customers loaned tablets or netbooks for the flight, with access to a decent internet connection so they could work off the cloud. And then at arrivals, there might be an opportunity for laptop hire companies. This might be an interesting opportunity for laptop manufacturers to expose customers to their products, too. If you have spent several days working on a hired laptop, you might fall in love with it.



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