Airlines Need to Wake Up and Embrace Technology

Now that I’m traveling by air more often, I’m frequently astounded by the inanities and bureaucratic nightmares of modern airlines. While I’m certain many share a disdain for airlines, I’m specifically annoyed at the ways they seem to go out of their way to appear technologically backwards. Take for example this AP report on the current “issues” airlines are having with implementing in-flight internet access.

The issues, as I see them, are fairly typical for a sector with no experience as an ISP. They include:

  • Passengers viewing pornography and violent content
  • Passengers using VOIP services to make lengthy and noisy calls
  • Convenience issues, for example making it more difficult for the person next to you to get up and use the bathroom

Now honestly, I believe any society that has already survived the great coffeehouse wifi wars of this millennium can easily adapt to the addition of Internet during air travel. What the airlines really need to be looking at is how people use their computers in other tight quarters. Most tend not to browse their porn collection in plain view of others, and in general, I think we tend to be more self-aware of our phone calls when faced with an audience. The fact that the airlines haven’t realized the similarity in these social situations is telling of their disconnect with consumers.

Now of course the situation is somewhat different on an airplane. After all, you can’t easily get up and move to another seat if someone near you is being obnoxious. But I still believe that. if given this new service, passengers would eventually adopt new etiquette rules without any hand-holding by the airlines.

On another air travel related note, the New York Times Jet Lagged blog posted a great rant this weekend about the utterly broken airline ticket system. Primarily, they take issue with the airline’s need for passengers to solidify travel plans weeks in advance. The typical $100 fee for making a change to a flight date gets a lot of flak, as well as the fact that tickets are paradoxically non-transferable. Of course the latter is most likely done in the name of “security”, but it all still seems strange in an e-commerce age.

The problem here is mostly philosophical, as the airlines are surely making a mint with their vastly overpriced fees. The answer towards making that more consumer friendly is simple; lower the prices and reap the benefits of more widespread usage. Keeping the prices high now is nothing more than greed.

As for reselling tickets, the author of the blog proposes an Ebay-like auction system run by the airlines. That’s certainly a possibility, but more than anything the airlines need to wake up and make themselves open to the notion. The technology to make it happen has existed for more than a decade, all they need is the will.

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