The Laptop Ban – An Opportunity To Review Travel Spend?

The laptop ban on certain air routes dropped out of the news quickly last week after the Westminster events and then the Trump healthcare failure. But for many businesses, it will have long-term implications, and is something that travel managers and procurement professionals with responsibility for the travel category need to consider.

We won’t get into the logic of the ban here, or explore the mystery of why the US has included flights from the UAE (Abu Dhabi and Dubai) in the ban, while the UK has not. There is also the obvious flaw that if other countries like the Netherlands and Germany do not follow suit, then surely if I were a terrorist in one of those banned countries, I would just fly to Amsterdam or Frankfurt then change onto a UK or US flight if I wanted to hit those countries.

Anyway, the ban will cause real problems for many travellers. We assume that civil servants, diplomats and spies will be able to claim some sort of diplomatic immunity, as we wouldn’t want their laptops stolen from the hold somewhere over the Mediterranean. James Bond would be in a private helicopter piloted by a stunning Latvian blond double-agent of course, so he’s OK.

But for normal people, the issues include the loss of productivity, issues of confidential information, and what insurance provisions apply if expensive equipment is lost or damaged in transit. Incidentally, this is not just business people with laptops that re affected here; photographers, film makers and scientists all carry expensive and critical equipment as cabin baggage for obvious reasons.

So, to turn this into an opportunity in the business context, organisations should be reviewing all travel to these countries and asking how much of it is really essential. We understand the importance of face-to-face contact in some situations, but can tools such as video conferencing, WebEx, Skype, Facetime and so on be used instead?

The cost of business travel is a top-ten expense category for many private and indeed public sector organisations, and even if it is reviewed every so often, our experience suggests it is a cost line that has a way of creeping up again even after a blitz on spend approvals!  So this ban might be a good reason for a thorough review of travel and related expenditure anyway.

In most organisations, this will be most effective if it includes travel / category management experts, human resources and finance functions, who all have roles to play in defining and policing effective travel and entertainment policies.

We suspect this might also lead to organisations looking a more closely at what confidential information their staff hold on personal electronic devices, and indeed what confidential information suppliers hold on our behalf.  This might lead to more focus on encryption and other security precautions, or holding information in a secure cloud and not allowing it to be stored on local devices at all.

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