Joining the crush at the carousel adds to woes of business travel

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 May, 2007, 12:00am

Travelling light has for years been one of the few pleasures of business travel. A suit carrier and a laptop bag is basically all you need for a flying visit overseas. Check in, step on the plane and step off with only immigration queues to contend with - no need to wait at the carousel wondering if your suitcase has been misdirected to Kathmandu while you're in Kuala Lumpur.

Not any more. In the era of justified paranoia that we now live, you have to repackage all your toothpaste, shaving foam and hair mud in 100ml bottles and put them in a transparent zipped bag - should you happen to find that they're in your carry-on hand luggage before check-in. Why bother? You might as well pick up what you need at your destination, if you have the time.

But that's a minor irritation compared to the new one-bag only rule for hand luggage imposed virulently by carriers such as British Airways. Permitting a laptop bag to be carried aboard with another case is to be no more. Check in your other bag and join the hordes jostling for position at the carousel while your luggage makes its way tortoise-like from the plane.

At some airports laptops even have to go through the security scanner and not in a bag. If it's in the suitcase you have to unpack your underwear and more embarrassing items in front of dozens of amused passengers and security staff while you drag the computer out.

Yes, the business traveller's lifestyle has just had an extra niggle added to the long list of mind-sapping bugbears that run the gamut from the soulless existence of staying in anonymous hotels to being overcharged by an avaricious cabbie.

Advances in technology, however, mean 'Road Warriors' don't have to waste a minute en route to a meeting. While previously you could tinker with a 6,000-word report on your laptop, the availability of phones and internet access on board mean multitasking can continue unabated at 35,000 feet. But is that a good thing? Whether on a three-hour jaunt to Bangkok or a red-eye to New York, one of the guilty pleasures of business travel is being able to switch off for a while. It was time where the only real decision was whether to have chicken or beef and the rest could be spent watching James Bond, fretting whether your leg cramp was deep-vein thrombosis or imagining a re-enactment of Ralph Fiennes' toilet escapade with one of the flight crew. Now you're likely to have 30 e-mails in your inbox by the time you've settled in your seat.

And with your Crackberry in hand you can't even escape them while you're waiting for the luggage chute to spit out your case. By the time of the meeting, you will not be so much prepared as exhausted.

However, the golden rules of business travel remain. Always have a PlanB in case your flight is cancelled. Establish a healthy routine of eating well and getting enough rest. And never take your spouse or kids. Let's face it, any spare time you do have will not be spent enjoying some familial fun by the pool, but rather explaining why your meeting went on 16 hours and spilled over to the pub where to please your Korean host you had to drink a whole bottle of soju. Far better to fly solo and bring them back a gift that hasn't been bought in the duty-free shop on the way home.

Choosing where to stay is another crucial factor in overcoming the side-effects of business. The downtown hotel might be close to some fun bars, but perhaps a little too close. An apartment a little removed from the 24/7 whirl of Roppongi is likely to mean more time recharging your batteries than charging the company credit card. Besides, those 5am bar-bills never look good to the firm's accountant.

The biggest rule of all though, remains to travel light, though this is easier said than done nowadays. Squeezing your clothes, laptop and business papers into a standard carry-on bag about half-a-metre long is unlikely. Still there's a business opportunity for someone - designing a suit and laptop holder, with wheels and an extendable handle of course, that fits hand luggage size restrictions and comes in a see-through variety. That's something you could ponder on your next trip - if you have the time.