There is much brouhaha at the moment about what you can and what you can’t take on planes. Due to various reasons that on all sides seem to boil down to mistrust, we can now longer take our laptops or tablets on flights from certain countries to the UK. We can take them there, but on the way home we need to wrap them in four miles of bubble wrap, inform our insurance company, and check them in with our big bags.
Unless you don’t have a big bag, in which case you’re stuffed.
Yes, yes, yes, the grounds are safety. The threat of terrorism has been hovering over the aviation industry like a dark cloud for decades, and truth be told I’d rather risk the laptop getting broken than meet an untimely end in the most horrific way imaginable.
In fact, when I fly most of the time I end up checking my laptop in anyway, but only because it won’t fit in my carry-on case. The reason for this is simple: it won’t fit. Not because my carry-on is full of duty free Glenfiddich and giant Toblerones, but because it is carrying my suit.
I cannot wait for the day when airlines bring in a law to ban the carrying of suit-bags on flights. They are to air travel what caravans are to Bank Holiday traffic – a menace. They are ungainly, heavy, awkwardly shaped and curiously exceed most budget airlines’ size restrictions.
When I’m asked to travel abroad, the first question I ask, even before I ask to what country I am being sent, is what attire is. If it’s strict suit territory then my heart drops.
I dislike wearing suits very much. I am told that appearance matters, and I agree, but appearance should also represent who you are. I am a journalist; I therefore spend most of my days typing and asking questions. I could do that in a loincloth, frankly.
Suits aspire to achieve the same thing as school uniforms: they level the playing field. They take class structure out of the equation. The rich Bentley drivers and the chimney sweeps may as well be kindred spirits. But’s it’s misleading. If I’m looking for an interview with a CEO from some huge company, then picking him or her out of a crowd becomes much harder. I don’t want to get five questions in only to discover I’m talking to a work experience student.
At a conference or show, I want people to know I am a journalist, and therefore I must stand out. I could wear a fedora with a ‘Press’ card sticking out of the band, but I find a smart pair of jeans, casual shirt and sports jacket does the trick nicely. It’s a fairly standard-issue journalist costume, and I don’t mind it. The moment, however, I have don the navy Bulman, I may as well be an estate agent.
I can survive domestic duties when suit-wearing is required, but when getting on a plane is involved the whole thing becomes a nightmare.
In order to transport a suit you need a special suit bag, which according to my research – and first hand experience – costs in the region of £450,000. You open it all up, lay the suit flat, carefully fold in the arms, close the flaps, fold it in half so that bottom half sits against the top, then zip the bag up. You then realise that you forgot to put the shirt in, so have to start again.
Things get interesting if your business trip lasts for more than two days, as you will invariably need two suits. This causes a problem, as it will likely tip the weight of the bag – which on its own is half the allowance – over the limit.
Then there’s the bothersome business of getting the creases out of the thing at your hotel. If you arrive in the evening then there’s no chance the laundry people have it ready for you by breakfast.
You can usually make a fist of giving the shirt an iron, if your hotel is luxury enough to provide such a thing – although in my experience, budget hotels don’t even have a communal one. This, though, always ends the same way: the front of the arms are fine, but you’ve creased the backs beyond repair.
At this point you may roll your eyes at me and tell me to just check the suit bag. But this is the whole point of business travel – you don’t check bags for convenience and to save time. Standing at the carousel is one of the worst things a person can do. And now the laptop has to go in somehow, too.
Good news, though: I am prepared with a solution.
As we know, suits are like wine. Only a minority of people can tell good ones from bad ones. I know someone who spent an entire night thinking she was drinking the finest red south of Bordeaux at £19 a glass. She cooed with smug glee, blissfully unaware it was in fact £1.99 slop.
As with suits, a man can stand before me in an Armani or in something from 1973 found at the back of a souq in Cairo and I won’t be able to tell the difference. So why don’t conference centres keep a stock supply of cheap suits?
They all have massive cloakrooms, and they could even charge a small hire fee to help cover the cost. Go out and buy 1,000 suits of different colours and sizes and I’m sure there would be a massive take up. I would.
Alternatively, if this scheme is considered too harebrained, then why not tell everyone to wear what he or she’d like? That way it would make picking out the important people much easier, and you won’t end up confusing someone important for someone who isn’t – like I did.