Just this last week as I was flying from Heathrow to San Francisco, I plugged in my iPhone into a socket under my seat and connected to Wi-Fi to thin out my email inbox. It dawned on me that this ability to be connected on a plane was a gift — something that was unimaginable, only a decade ago. Who would have thought that we could connect like this, 35,000 feet in the air? Technology is ever so important for air travel in ways that go beyond that online connectivity in-flight.
As a frequent flyer, I clock in more hours on a plane than I care to. There’s a harsh reality as part of taking redeye flights, changing time zones, and trucking luggage back and forth. It’s often in these moments of convenience provided by technology or good process in air travel, that makes the entire experience that much more pleasurable and enjoyable.
Technology has changed the way I see flying. In fact, it’s made it better and a much more comfortable experience. The first thing that comes to mind when I think about technology and airlines is the tangible — in-flight connectivity and entertainment. Ever been on a flight and there is no movies or Wi-Fi? It’s a game changer, and for me, has led to airline loyalty where I will stick to certain airlines knowing that the experience on board is that much better. One company that has made an incredible impact in air travel is IBM and it’s in ways that you may not even know.
Technology in air travel goes beyond what we see. For instance, did you know that before a flight, Alitalia (Italy’s largest airline) uses a tool from the Weather Company, an IBM company, to calculate weather data so that the flight avoids turbulence? Using the technology from the Weather Company has led to more comfortable journeys, less stress in-flight, all because Alitalia used this vital data.
One of my favorite examples of technology in air travel that has impacted me is IBM’s work with Delta. There was a need for cutting down the amount of lost luggage, so working with IBM, Delta used RFID tagging to help create more consistency in how the baggage is processed. RFID is a system that uses small radio frequency identification devices to help create a tag and locate based on data transmission. What does this all mean for you? You get to track where your checked bags are at any moment via the Fly Delta app. It’s the little details like this that have the biggest impact. These steps to transparency in the airline industry are crucial for creating a better air travel experience.
To me, the most stressful part of the entire process of flying is check-in. I’ll do anything to speed up the process and eliminate stress. Things like paying for priority check-in and having TSA Pre have helped made it more enjoyable. Before a flight, I always download the app for the airline as well. I’ve found the data to be more accurate, to have more control over the check-in process, and I like to have a mobile boarding pass. One example of IBM’s work in this space is with Japan Airlines, where they used big data to create an app for the Apple Watch. As a passenger you could check flight status and gate information, as well as have your boarding pass, all in one place. These types of details are crucial to streamlining the process of flying.
As I think about how technology is involved with air travel, I start to see more and more examples. As I write this now, I am checking applications like Seat Guru to choose a seat that will best suit my needs, I have a mobile boarding pass, and I will be using Priority Pass to check if I have a partnering lounge at my departing airport. These small details add up, in ways that can be quantified — for me, it’s a much more enjoyable air travel experience.