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Can mobile make flying easier for travelers?

July 10, 2012 No Comments

Bob Sutor, Vice President of Mobile Enterprise, IBM

Summer is here and like many people planning a vacation that involves a plane, you’re dreading the experience at the airport.

With travel forecasters predicting busy skies this summer, people can expect delays and cancellations while at the airport. As many have experienced, this often results in panic over connecting flights or concern about how to entertain the kids and prevent a public meltdown. Instead of taking it out on the airline crew, what if you as an individual could minimize the stress caused from last minute changes with a smart phone or tablet most people already carry with them?

I recently experienced a three hour layover in a large US Midwest airport en route to New York from California. It was about an hour after I arrived at my departure gate when I suddenly became concerned I was not in the right place. A feeling all too familiar for many, I’m sure.

I decided to do what any logical person would do and pull out my iPhone — only to discover my new gate was miles away from my current location at the complete opposite end of another terminal. Most people would have registered for automatic updates from the airline and been satisfied with that solution. For me as a frequent traveler and mobile strategist for a global IT company, a series of ideas came to me that could make my life, and the lives of airline employees, much easier with a smart phone. Here’s how:

First, with geolocation, an airline can accurately pinpoint where the majority of the flight’s passengers are located and determine a gate change that makes the most sense for the majority. Knowing passenger location data can improve customer satisfaction by having the new gate closer to the old one, minimizing the distance passengers have to walk, and eliminating the chance of missed flights.

Next, on my walk to the new gate, the airline could access the available data they have on passenger preferences and make personal suggestions based on individual itineraries and push them out via phone alerts. For instance, on my trip, the airline should have known it was late in the day, I had just arrived from a more than three hour plane ride in coach where I didn’t cave in to buy any expensive onboard snacks (and they certainly hadn’t fed me dinner), so I was hungry. One would think there was a possibility I would like to grab some dinner on my 20 plus minute trip to the next gate.

Via personal preference stored on my phone, or one time “in the cloud,” mobile software could have suggested where I would like to eat. This could have been combined further with analytics using airport data and passenger recommendations to suggest where the good places were and how long it would likely take to get me in and out of each restaurant.

Based on this, I could have a good meal and still make my flight. Then I could have accepted an automatic suggestion to send a text message to my wife letting her know I had eaten.

You might say that this sounds like it can be done already today. Sure it can, but it’s done by cobbling many features together with multiple apps. For the above scenario to truly work to your advantage, the apps need to be seamlessly integrated. Via analytics and the cloud, tomorrow’s apps will be more all-inclusive and offer greater value.

So, to all those travelers sitting at the airport passing the time on your mobile device, think about what more it could be doing for you. Expect more transformational mobile apps in the future, ones that significantly improve the quality of your personal or business life, allowing you to do things you have never done before, and permitting you to be more effective and productive.

And for any of you wondering, I did make my connection to New York.

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