What Would a Ban on Electronic Devices Do to the Training Business?

Those of us who live and work with a large degree of travel are probably well aware of the US and UK’s recent ban on carry-on electronic devices from certain countries. It’s said to be based on specific intelligence, but is also set to be an “indefinite” rule, much the same way that the liquid ban was to be an indefinite rule, that has never gone away.

Of course, the problem, as many have pointed out, is that a rule that is only enforced on certain departures is easily routed around by those committed to terrorism. So the question has to be, will this eventually become the rule everywhere, and what would that do to the travel industry?

I think it’s clear to everyone involved that a rule that prevents people from bringing laptops and tablets on board would put a massive dent in the business travel market overall, let alone the market for onsite training. Going somewhere on business and need a laptop? Your choices seem to be, do without, put it in a checked bag, or ship it ahead. None of those seem likely.

This might create a niche market in laptop rentals though. Especially if you could securely wipe the device after use.

Even that, however, would not address the massive loss in productivity. Many of us spend countless hours working on planes, whether it’s writing emails, reviewing information, editing presentations, and so on. How would the business world cope with that lost productivity?

Simply, it wouldn’t. Much of what we travel for now, would be done through online communication tools. It would be a boon for Webex, Skype, Facetime, etc. Training, it seems to me, would rarely be done in person. It would be done online. Much of our training is already done online because of the cost, in dollars and time, of travel, but the online tools do not currently provide us with the same level of interaction among students that we get from in person classrooms. Take away their ability to work during the trip though, and I’d be hard-pressed to think of any company that would not forego the benefits of in person training over having their people with their computers.

As a trainer, that would make me sad. I understand why online training is necessary, but it truly does not replace the experience of training in a classroom. It’s the group dynamic that can’t really be replicated. When you travel to a training class, you are surrounded by other people, from other places, taking the same training. It is an immersive experience. You learn during class, but you also share ideas during breaks, or over lunch. With online training, you might well be in the office, doing work, and being interrupted by coworkers who are not on the training class. That’s very different, but if new security rules like this become commonplace, I can understand why business travel would simply be a thing of the past. The lost productivity isn’t worth it.

It’s that fact that gives me hope that this ban would not become the new normal for travel, but I’m not naive enough to think that it hasn’t been discussed. It would gut the airline industry as well as many, many other industries that depend on business travelers for their existence. I don’t see them sitting idly by while this happens, but it’s not impossible that it will anyway.

I guess we should all start upping our online video presentation skills, just in case. We may be spending a lot more of our days on webcam.

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