Over the last few months I've been on the road meeting with many companies and travelling between Electronic Design's East and West-coast offices. The rough weather that the East coast suffered in late January brought home to me the issue of communications and information access and how far we really have to go. I say that due to the multiple delays and missed flights I encountered during several weeks of back-to-back trips.
Although airlines have been tranporting people and luggage for well over half a century, their ability to handle non-routine occurrences still seems to border on the stone age. Pilots dispense minimial information, coordination between connecting flights seems minimal to nonexistent, and the carrier's ability to figure out where your bag is seems more dependent on luck than on procedure. What's needed here is integration and ubiquitous communications!
The airline industry actually has the tools to provide better real-time information about luggage and flights. For example, just by adopting some type of RF ID scheme for luggage, easier, faster routing of the bags can be done. Additionally, finding a bag and rerouting it to a new location would also become much simpler. To do all this, the cost of the RF scheme must come down since it must compete with existing solutions.
Communications between the terminal and incoming planes could also be enhanced. There currently seems to be a lack of coordination been late incoming planes and ready-to-roll outgoing flights, with little or no information available to late-arriving passengers. More interactive displays could really help ease the passenger's journey.
Personal communciations do seem to be improving though, with more Internet access points around the airline terminal to allow the harried executive to send out that last memo before hopping onto a plane. And even on the plane the picture is starting to improve, with universal power adapters starting to appear on a number of planes, and modem-capable phones now popping out of the backs of seats.
However, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Faster data connections are a must. Perhaps voice-over-IP capabilities can be added to reduce the cost of communications from the desk up in the sky. And oh yes, perhaps they can finally create a seat that is actually comfortable.
What do you feel can be done to improve airline capabilities to keep travelers happy? What technologies can be put to work to make it happen? Do we have all the technologies we need to make it happen and is it just a matter of reducing their cost so that they can compete with existing approaches? Let me know what you think.