Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Vacation from my vacation

I am back. Whew! Travelling is not so easy with a 9 month old.
Overall the trip was fine. I may post some photos of it later.
But it wasn't really really restful, mostly because of travel glitches.

It struck me as odd how unreliable and frustrating travel can be. I am at a loss to find an analogous experience or business transaction to make comparisons. Consider this trip.
Raleigh to Oakland
San Francisco to Hawaii
Hawaii to San Francisco
Oakland to Raleigh

1. Bought tickets online. Usually this works well. This time, because we were travelling with a infant I tried to select bulkhead seats. The system broke down because Expedia is limited to the seats it sells, and the airline does not do seat assignment ver well.. They refused to allow us to change our seats until we reached the gates of each flight leg.
2. Easy Ticket - the new hightech way of processing your tickets and getting a boarding pass. By eliminating most of the ticket agents they prevent you from making any changes and generally lose some problem solving ability (it used to be it seems to me, the the ticket agents had considerable latitude for adjuesting the seating as needed). Much of this authority has been transferred to the gate personnel, but not all or as well.
3. Seating... Everyone complains how small and uncomfortable the seats on planes are. So I will not go into that. What would be nice is some kind of guideline as to what sorts of infant carriers can fit in the seats. The airlines universally recommend them for children under two, but our seat (approved for her size and weight) barely fit in most of the seatrs and prevented anyone from reclining in the seats in front of them. (a) guidelines would be nice, (b) a computerized seat assignment that took safety seats into account would be better, (c) recognition on the part of the airlines that safety comes before seniority in seat assignments, if a passenger cannot be safe in the assigned seats (like an exit row) they should be moved to a safer place.
4. General chaos and inefficiency. Movies start on time despite seating hundreds of people a showing, ships sail with tonnes of cargo despite it coming from distant places, busses and light rail traverse our cities with regularity; what is so hard about shuffling a couple of hundred people onto an airplane and taking off on time? Why do people feel compelled to horde around the entrance desperate to get on board? What can the airlines do about it? Possible answers.
(a) Insufficient carry on space. Since seats are assigned, the carry on space seems to be the only thing people compete for when getting on a plane. So if they increase that, people will have no reason to rush on. If the space cannot be increased, enforce carry on size limitations. If enforced, people will eventually give in.
(b) maintenance and weather issues. These can't really be predicted, but they can be avoided with a little redundancy. If they had a back up plane, or didn't over book every flight, they could move people, and or take them by alternative routes to the same destination. Person travel should be analogous to internet travel. A vast horde of planes in the air people moving from one airport to the other in the most efficient means to their destination. This is somewhat radical, but I bet it would speed traffic considerably.
(c) too small airports. They need to make airports, especially the gate areas more comfortable. More space means less tension. We sat on teh floor in Chicago because of the heat and lack of sseating. It was not pleasant, it made us irritable and easily frustrated. There should be one seat for each ticketed passenger, with storage area equal to that available on the plane.
(d) anxiety about missing flights - I think passengers want the confidence that they will get to where they are going. The airlines to not foster this. So one thing to do would be to create a system that acknowledges that the passenger is there for the flight and alerts her to when she should board.

New invention - The Interactive Travel Pass - Copyright Me Right Now.
This device, no bigger than a traditional boarding pass has a small computer chip inside and display. When you receive the pass it does the following:
1. Indicates the terminal and gate of your next flight. Updated to ensure the most efficient flight possible. If it looks like you cannot make a particular flight, the pass indicates this and directs you to another. No more racing through an airport to end up missing a flight, or racing to a gate out of breath only to find out that flight is delayed.
2. Gives flight information, status and such (miles for frequent flyer, location of baggage, seat location, directions to gate, etc..)
3. Vibrates, sounds and/or lights up when you personally should queue up to board the plane. Flyers with an illuminated travel pass may not board.
4. Your security clearance is marked on the card (for TSA purposes)
5. The pass is coded to allow you and only to remove your baggage from a carousel (so it acts likea backage tag)
6. Passes could be keyed to a fingerprint to other biometric to prevent use by anyone else.


At 12:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my pre-parenting days I wanted my vacations to be exciting: rafting, hiking, exploring. My new goal, as a mommie, is to do as little as possible, preferably in relative silence.

Congratuations on the soon-to-be new arrival.


At 1:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The sad thing is that even with the horrible way they treat passagers and the full planes with no space and pressured to 10,000 feet and etc and etc that they are STILL losing money. How did they ever make money in the past? Why must something as dangerous as air flight be done with airlines that are bankrupt. So scary.



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