Are These Innovations Ruining Travel?
Posted by Caroline Costello on Monday, April 21, 2014
A seamless swipe-and-go experience is supplanting long lines and human-to-human exchanges in the travel industry. As the technology of self-service kiosks, apps, and wristbands becomes standard, the old way of doing business—waiting in line for a service to be provided, usually by a person—fades. You could call this a countermovement to the community-focused sharing economy, a system built on collaboration.
But everything has a price. Automation may come at the cost of customer service and diminished social relations. So is it worth it? We'll let you decide. Discover eight travel-industry innovations that are pulling people away from face-to-face interactions and facilitating lightning-fast service.
Smartphones as Hotel Key Cards
As I reported in Seven Super Hotel Innovations You Need to Know About, some properties have implemented virtual key cards that allow guests to use smartphones to gain access to their rooms, thereby skipping the hotel check-in desk altogether; this is a change that could go industry-wide in coming years. Starwood Hotels is testing this new technology at properties in New York and California. At select locations, guests can use the Starwood Preferred Guest app to check in, receive room numbers, and unlock doors to guest rooms by tapping phones on a Bluetooth-connected scanner. You might miss the quick chat with the front-desk agent, but you won't have to wait in line upon arrival.
(Photo: John Lamb/Getty Images)
Anyone who's been on a plane in the past couple of years has heard of this one. Mobile boarding, also known as e-boarding or using electronic boarding passes, features paperless smartphone passes that have encrypted 2-D bar codes. These passes are downloaded through airline apps. Or, during check-in, you can sometimes have your e-boarding pass sent via email. With mobile boarding, flyers bypass check-in and go right to gates. A security agent at the gate will use a scanner to verify your mobile pass, and you'll be required to show your picture ID.
This technology isn't available in all airports just yet, but it's widely used by all major airlines, in most major hubs. Delta's website has a list of airports that accept mobile boarding passes, and it's safe to assume that you can take advantage of electronic boarding with any eligible airline at any of the airports listed on the Delta page. If an airport location accepts one carrier's pass, it likely accepts them all.
Can an app—instead of an agent—check your ID? Maybe. A few years ago, Apple patented an app called iTravel that would allow travelers to store electronic identification in smartphones. It's not available yet, but it's something we might see in the future. Using this technology, a flyer would zip through an agentless airport-security queue using only a smartphone (and possibly identification by way of fingerprints or a retina scan) as an all-in-one identification and boarding pass.
This would work using near-field communication (NFC) technology, which, according to some reports, could be available in the iPhone 6.
Vacation-Rental Booking Platforms
In the old-school vacation-rental system, trust was built upon references, solid communication, and often a healthy security deposit. Those security deposits are still around. But now, rental sites like Airbnb and FlipKey harness reviews, profiles, and social media verification to establish credence. Communication, whether by email or phone call, is left by the wayside as guests and homeowners vet via third-party platforms. Even conflict mediation takes an indirect route. These days, guests generally deal with dissatisfaction by writing reviews or submitting claims or complaints to booking sites—not renters.
If you want, you never have to communicate directly with your renter. While some property owners greet guests personally, others keep keys in lockboxes and remain anonymous. So from booking to check-in, the process can be void of human interaction.
(Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)
Automated Customs Kiosks
New Global Entry customs kiosks are facilitating a faster, more tolerable experience for travelers reentering the country. At select airports, hours-long customs lines are virtually gone. According to reports, wait times for customs at JFK's Terminal 4 were reduced by half thanks to the arrival of automated customs kiosks. Global Entry members scan identification and fingerprints in a machine, bypassing the security agents that traditionally process travelers arriving in the U.S.
To use the kiosks, you have to belong to Global Entry, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Trusted Traveler program that gives expedited customs clearance to approved travelers. Read more in this review of Global Entry.
(Photo: saitowitz via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)
Smartphones as Subways Tickets
The MetroCard, that iconic New York City subway ticket, celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. Soon, though, the card will retire and your smartphone will take its place. New York City officials hope to replace the cards with more advanced technology: smartphones or credit cards equipped with NFC or radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. Chips or tags embedded in your device or card will allow the city to identify, track, and bill riders, and the tap-and-go model will shave seconds off of the current swipe system.
(Photo: Ricardo Ricote Rodriguez via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)
Skip-the-Counter Rental-Car Programs and Kiosks
The interminable wait at the rental-car check-in desk is one of the many petty inconveniences of travel—especially after a long late-night flight. If you're a member of some rental companies' frequent-renter programs, however, there's no need to wait. Most major car-rental companies allow frequent renters to skip the paperwork and the face-to-face chat with the rental agent and go straight to a vehicle, sometimes after receiving vehicle information by way of a smartphone. These programs are generally free to join. And though they're called frequent-renter programs, anyone can sign up. Check out Hertz Gold Plus Rewards, Budget Business Program, Avis Preferred, and National Emerald Club.
Additionally, Alamo offers self-service kiosks for quick check-in. Drivers get to avoid the counter altogether and review rental information, upgrade, add drivers, and more using the touch-screen machines.
(Photo: matt44053 via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)
Flash Pass, FastPass+, and MagicBand
New scheduling innovations are making the hellish theme-park-ride lines of your childhood obsolete. Make ride reservations with Disney's free FastPass+ program and forget about standing in line for three hours to experience Space Mountain. Park-goers can reserve ride times in advance via an app or through the Disney website. When walking around the park, look for FastPass+ kiosks, with which you can make changes to your schedule.
But wait, there's more. Check in at FastPass+ entrances with your MagicBand, a waterproof tracking device; you can order one for each member of your family. Once you set up an account, use this band as payment, ticket, and hotel key at Disney Resorts.
Similarly, Six Flags parks offer The Flash Pass, a device that can be used to schedule rides—but it's not free. There are three "speeds" from which to choose, ranging from regular to platinum, and a limited number of passes are available for purchase each day.
You Might Also Like:
- How the Sharing Economy Opens New Doors for Travelers
- 10 Consumer Issues in Travel That You Need to Know About
- 7 Super Hotel Innovations You Need to Know About
This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Are These Time-Saving Innovations Sucking the Humanity Out of Travel?