The Air Travel Tipping Point

Could the disrupted in-flight bombs on planes out of the U.K. become a tipping point for business air travel? Longer waits, no laptops, no cell phones, and no water — while necessary for security reasons — will make many business travellers (and their investors and boards) think long and hard about the merits and risks of hopping a regularly scheduled plane for that upcoming meeting.

I’m not alone in thinking this way, as well as in thinking that this will continue to drive web video, persistent audio connections, and so on. It will also be good for the fractional flight business, as well as privates.

[Update] Relatedly, while this plot seems have centered on liquid nitroglycerin, there is ample reason to believe that would-be airborne suicide bombers’s use of Semtex (a kind of explosive Silly Putty) would be even more difficult to detect — and even more catastrophic. See video here of a mere 200g of Semtex detonating on a pressurized Boeing 747.


  1. Let’s hope so. Business travel is hideously overrated. The amount of people who hop on a plane to see me is crazy. It does nothing for me but waste my time because a 15 minute meeting by default has to turn into a 1 hour meeting to make the trip worth it.

  2. Not to disagree with the “experts”…but we have to remember that security and intelligence forces have a structural bias towards exaggerating threats. It makes them more important, moves their agenda items to the forefront of policy debates, and usually results in increased budgets and political/bureaucratic power.
    The “clear liquid” issue doesn’t fit with known useful explosive profiles. If they are legitimately suspecting semtex then it cannot be made into a clear liquid. And if they are thinking nitroglycerin — well, that just isn’t practical. Nitro has been around for 150 years, and it does NOT make an effective weapon that needs to be transported and deployed – it is just far too sensitive. There are ways of making nitro less sensitive, but the process of making it a useable explosive again are so hideously dangerous that I cannot see it working for multiple planes and multiple terrorists. And it’s too easy to check clear liquids for innocuousness: “excuse me sir, but would you mind tapping your water bottle against your forehead?” kaboom….
    There could, of course, be a credible threat that is being masked by deliberate disinformation. The radio-control stuff could be the genuine threat (triggering explosives in the cargo hold, perhaps?) and the clear liquid ban is a red herring.
    We will find out more over time, but the information that I have heard so far doesn’t make much sense. This is quite in contrast to the twin towers attack five years ago – the potential destructive threat of a fully-fuelled object possessing the kinetic energy of a jet plane is obvious to anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of physics.

  3. Paul,
    You are right that this is a tipping point.
    I have been working with the new “very light jet” or VLJ air taxi industry for the last few years and they are finally ready to launch service in the fall.
    Many thought that since they were a little more expensive than a full fare coach seat that people would fly on them. For those business travelers (everyone) who need their laptops and god forbid have to leave it in the hands of baggage handlers, will never fly the airlines in flights less that 1200NM.
    All the air taxi have to include in their marketing is this:
    – 5500 airports at your disposal
    – space for your laptop
    – and oh yeah, you get to bring your coffee with you
    – Steve

  4. Good call on the fractional jet. Though I understand it, I’ve grown tired of taking my shoes off and dressing down at every check point. That’s only going to get worse now.
    As such, I’m now willing to pay a premium that involves no threats, no frustration and amenities that keep me sharp enough to tackle the very reason for taking the trip in the first place.