One bag. One bag to bring on board. That was the theme in the British Airways check-in as travelers lined up to head for other climes and those used to the common American definition of carry-on items were befuddled as they protested.
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"It's just a purse."
"It's a bag. Only one bag is allowed," was the unyielding response.
The airline implemented the rigid policy in February and it has a lot of implications for American travelers who have grown accustomed to the idea that they can bring on one piece of luggage, plus a personal item such as a briefcase, laptop computer, or purse.
Under the British Airways definition, your purse, Dell computer, or wheelie are all bags and you can protest the unfairness of it all, but you will not get on a BA flight unless you can combine items into one bag, or check the ones that you can't.
So what happens if other airlines adopt this stringent policy? We may all be lining up for backpacks that double as laptop carrying cases. But even solving the problem that way, as security seems destined to get tighter, we may face some uncomfortable choices.
However, security in this instance may work for the benefit of all. Having so many people carry so much data on board aircraft has never been a really good idea from a corporate security viewpoint. This stuff can all get damaged and lost as it gets toted through airport terminals and rental car pickups.
A movement toward the BA system would probably accelerate the use of handhelds and propel the development of more features. Frankly, many people carrying computers should be carrying handhelds since they are probably sending and checking email, accessing reports, and other activities that don't require the full keyboard and range of activities available on the modern mobile PC.
With any luck, as airlines increase the number of wireless services available in flight, mobile users will be able to connect to Wi-Fi and access the necessary streams of data. [However, we might want to make sure the airlines get the idea that providing cell phone services is likely to lead to in-flight fist fights.)
Frankly, this is not a bad trend to discourage. Perhaps the BA approach can lead us to a point in which business travelers are both more productive, and acting a little less like corporate pack horses.
Editor Robert Scott also writes "Consulting Insights," a free, twice-monthly electronic newsletter that addresses issues concerning the consulting and reselling market. It's insight with an attitude. If you want to subscribe, you can do so at http://www.webcpa.com/newsletters.cfm.