Even before the latest mental defective attempted to use explosive underwear to blow up a Detroit-bound flight from Amsterdam, commercial air travel has been thoroughly unpleasant. As when we go to the dentist, we actually pay airlines to inflict pain and inconvenience on us. What a business model!
In a bygone era, when Frank Sinatra sang “Come Fly with Me,” air travel was seen as exotic and sophisticated. Now it’s an airborne bus ride, replete with endless travel delays, intrusive and humiliating security checks, and customer service that verges on the aggressively antagonistic.
Yes, the security procedures might be necessary in an era of unhinged madness, but that doesn’t make them any more palatable. (Moreover, even with the advent and widespread deployment of full-body scanners, “ass bombers” — I’m not making this stuff up, unfortunately — could still wreak havoc.)
Commercial air travel is a form of self-abasement. Even without the heightened security measures – in which we all get an inkling of what it’s like to be interrogated and processed as criminals – the penny-pinching accountants at the major airlines have been doing their worst to make commercial flights ordeals worthy of the Inquisition.
This is where I get to Cisco. No, Cisco is not a commercial airline, but it stands to benefit from increasing customer dissatisfaction with the airline industry.
As its tortuous $3.4-billion acquisition of Tandberg demonstrates, Cisco is banking heavily on video-based collaboration, such as high-end telepresence and videoconferencing. This is one of Cisco’s “market adjacencies.” in that video consumes larger amounts of bandwidth than does data or voice communication, and the adoption of video-based communication will drive network upgrades of routers and switches at carriers and enterprises alike.
For that reason, the intensive push into video represents smart strategy for Cisco. To be hugely successful, however, one needs a certain amount of good fortune as well as tremendous proficiency. In that respect, the increasingly disagreeable nature of commercial air travel should play into Cisco’s hands. Air travel has been costly for enterprises for a long time, and now it’s become an exercise in self-loathing for anybody who must go on a business trip. At some point, sooner rather than later, a growing number of enterprises will consider investments in videoconferencing as alternatives to a wide range of travel on commercial airlines.
There will, of course, be instances where seeing the customer or partner in person is necessary. On those occasions, airlines will continue to be patronized by reluctant business travelers. Even then, however, gilt-edged CEOs and their rarefied ilk will consider private jets over commercial airlines. They’ll justify the investment somehow.
What’s more, the bar will be raised on what’s considered essential business travel. More meetings will be done by videoconferencing. The quality of the product, and of the experience, has improved significantly. Now, instead of feeling like you’re participating in a jerky, jitter-delayed Russian satellite broadcast from the 1970s, you actually feel like you’re taking part in a natural discussion. Videoconferencing solutions will only get better, while it’s hard to make the same claim for commercial air travel.
Consumers, too, will become more averse to the airport experience. They’ll give more consideration to driving, to buses, and to trains. As desktop videoconferencing improves, they’ll give more consideration to that option, too.
Maybe it’s time, again, to short the airlines.