How smartphones are changing air travel

smartphones changing air travelAccording to SITA/Air Transport World’s 2011 Passenger Self-Service Survey, airline passenger use of smartphones has doubled in the past year, making it now 54%. Not only that, but 74% of business and first class passengers had a smartphone on them at the time of data collection. The survey questioned 2,457 air passengers from 70 countries and 73 airlines.

In an article from The Press, they state that the CEO of SITA, Francesco Violante, is calling this type of smartphone enthusiastic traveler the “mobile-centric passenger”. These fliers expect “personal and timely communication from airlines, airports and other providers of travel-related services.”

The data collected by the survey shows that passengers aren’t just using their smartphone for work and personal reasons, but also for travel. For example, 31% of passengers have used a smartphone to check-in for their flight and 17% had used mobile boarding passes. While this percentage may not seem huge, it is most likely because not all airports and airlines are using technology to its fullest capability yet. In fact, 73% of survey respondents said they would like to use mobile boarding passes.

Airports aren’t ignoring this data, as plans for 2014 show, including 97% of airlines planning to offer web check-in, 89% planning to offer mobile check-in, 87% planning to offer bar-coded boarding passes for mobiles, and 63% planning to allow fliers to print luggage tags at kiosks.

While technology isn’t going to change air travel overnight, it is certainly on its way to altering the way people travel and fly. Only time will tell what else technology has in store for the future of travel.

Gadling gear review: Grace Digital Audio Eco Pod

The Grace Digital Audio Eco PodGrace Digital Audio is probably best known for its line of Internet radio devices, but the company also produces a line of waterproof cases for smartphones and mp3 players as well. In fact, we positively reviewed their Eco Extreme case back in 2010, and now are similarly impressed with their new Eco Pod as well.

As an active traveler and avid outdoor enthusiast, I almost always cringe when I tuck my iPhone into my backpack with just a regular case to protect it. With that in mind, I was looking forward to seeing what the Eco Pod would bring to the table in terms of protection, and I wasn’t disappointed by what I found. The case’s solid construction and durable poly-carbonate parts definitely give you the sense that it can take a lot of punishment, while still ensuring that your smartphone or music player will remain safe and working properly.

The interior of the Eco Pod is spacious, offering plenty of room for nearly any smartphone or mp3 player on the market. In fact, it is even large enough to store most point and shoot cameras as well, which give the case added versatility for travelers. The Eco Pod also has space for stashing a pair of earbuds and a handy column for winding the cable. Two elastic bands hold your devices in place, while an audio cable plugs into your phone or mp3 player’s audio jack, passing sound through to a similar audio port on the exterior of the case.

Once the Eco Pod is closed, two large and rugged latches lock into place, completely sealing the inside. With those latches closed tight, the case is water proof and rated to withstand being submerged at a depth of three feet for up to 30 minutes, although Grace Digital Audio is quick to point out that the Eco Pod’s waterproofing is designed to protect electronic devices under normal conditions and isn’t intended to actually be used underwater. Still, your gadgets will be well protected during unexpected rainstorms or from accidental submersion just fine. In my testing, not a single drop of water found its way inside the case, even while running it under a kitchen faucet.
The Eco Pod comes complete with a set of waterproof earbuds that are designed to plug directly into the audio jack on the outside of the case. I’m not a big fan of earbuds in general, but the included set were more comfortable, and provided better sound, than I was expecting, and they worked well for listening to music and taking phone calls, while the device stayed safely locked inside the case. A simple rubber knob, located next to the audio jack, adjusts volume while on the go, and is easy to use, even while wearing gloves.

Grace Digital Audio provides multiple ways for carrying the case while in use as well. An integrated strap with a carabiner on the end easily latches the Eco Pod to the outside of a backpack for instance, while a slot on the case allows it to be worn on a belt as well. I personally found it a bit too large and bulky to be comfortably worn in that manner, although others will no doubt appreciate the option. That same slot can be used with an optional bike clamp, which lets you connect the Eco Pod to your handlebars. I didn’t have the chance to test it on either of my bikes, but I think it would be fantastic on longer rides, where a smartphone’s navigational options could be put to good use.

Hikers and cyclists aren’t the only outdoor enthusiasts that will find this case intriguing however. I think paddlers in particular will find the Eco Pod a fantastic addition to their gear closets, as it seems tailor made for kayakers who want to listen to some music, or take phone calls, while out on the water. The rugged and waterproof case can easily be secured to the deck of their boat, allowing for quick and easy access when needed, while still keeping the gadget inside safe and functioning properly, even in the wettest conditions. The fact that the Eco Pod also floats, doesn’t hurt its functionality either.

For travelers looking to protect their electronic gadgets on the go, particularly smartphones and mp3 players, the Eco Pod is a great, and affordable option. I was very impressed with its build quality and well thought out design, and while it is a bit bulky, it also functions like armor for whatever is secured inside. The MSRP of $49.99 is a small price to pay for protecting that fancy iPhone or Android device from harsh conditions that we can encounter while visiting remote places.

Five Tips for Successful Last-Minute Hotel Booking

One of the best things about a road trip are the last-minute detours, whether that’s stumbling across an antique car club meeting in Western Massachusetts or deciding to speed to Boston to see a million people cheer for a hockey team. Even along my planned route, I don’t even have a place to stay for the night when I pull into a city, hotel or otherwise. Sound crazy? With new internet tools and some winning strategies, a last-minute hotel stay is not only possible-it can be an unexpected money saver.

Here are my five tips to successfully booking at the last minute, to keep your plans flexible and keep your travel budget in check.

Load your smartphone: Web-booking tools are great for last-minute shopping, but you can never be sure you’ll find wifi when you crack open your laptop. Instead, download booking apps that are always on. I’ve been using Hotels.com for its broad selection of properties and its buy 10 nights, get one free loyalty program, but others are available. HotelTonight is an interesting option that announces deep discounts on three hotels per city per night. In only a few cities so far, it’s one to watch.

Shop smart: Local boutiques and quirky properties are fantastic, but when I’m booking at the last minute, I prefer to shop by chain. Brands like La Quinta and Quality Inn may be inexpensive, but they have a consistency guaranteed by the flag flown out front, meaning I’m sure I’ll find free internet, free parking and free breakfast when I arrive. You can’t always say the same for one-off hotels that may otherwise be perfectly nice.

Look for deals: Because a hotel can’t sell a room for yesterday, they’ll often offer a discount if they still have a vacancy for the evening. On Hotels.com, I’ve seen offers of 15, 20 and even 25 percent for the night-of. Don’t be shy about taking advantage of the hotel’s predicament! Hard bargainers can even try calling the hotel directly to negotiate, but remember that properties still have bills to pay and have a limit to how low they’ll go.

Check the reviews: Of course a booking site or app will tell you a property is a winner: They’re selling you the room. Even at the last minute, I like to pull up a few second opinions. Hotel reviews are Tripadvisor’s bread and butter, but other sites, like Yelp, have marginally more intelligent comments. Google’s “place pages” for hotels-the info that pops up on your smartphone when you search for a specific property-aggregate web commentary, making for easy comparison shopping. One thing to remember: photos, unlike anonymous commenters, usually tell the truth. I didn’t book the Holiday Inn Express in Cleveland, pictured above, until I’d seen some convincing photos.

Be patient: Even with from-your-phone booking, it can take time for a reservation to arrive at a hotel. In Providence, Rhode Island, I walked into the Biltmore hotel just five minutes after booking a room. When I learned my reservation had yet to appear, I said “No problem” and got some work done in the lobby. A few minutes later, my room was ready-and a front desk employee had upgraded me to a suite for understanding. All the more reason to keep booking last-minute.

Will the iPad kill business travel?

iPadThe business travel market comeback has been going on for quite some time, but it looks like the corporate folks may be losing interest in getting on planes. I can relate to that: back when I lived the road warrior life, there was a certain amount of dread that came to be associated with the alarm clock, the town car and the boarding process. So, it’s hardly surprising that online events are starting to chip away at business travel.

VentureBeat reports that marketing folks are leaning more toward “virtual happenings” in 2011 and are cutting back on physical events. In a survey by virtual events company Unisfair, 62 percent of respondents say they’re pouring more money into online events this year … and that 42 percent are spending less on the physical alternative.

What’s interesting is that it isn’t an aversion to boarding a plane that’s driving this trend. Rather, there are a variety of reasons, all of them customer-driven. Sixty-two percent of respondents indicated that they preferred being able to attend a virtual event via a mobile device or smartphone (e.g., an iPad), and 58 percent like virtual over physical events because they can multitask.

So, how does this affect the future of business travel? Well, VentureBeat notes:

The numbers confirm what much of the business world is already experiencing: That physical attendance at conferences and tradeshows is becoming less frequent as companies switch to cheaper, easier-to-access virtual events.

In fact, the situation is poised to worsen: 87 percent of the survey’s respondents “predict hybrid (part physical, part virtual) events will represent at least half of all events in the next five years.”

In the next half-decade or so, checking in will have more to do with location-based services than hotel rooms, it seems.

Orbitz listens to business travelers, goes mobile

OrbitzWhen you’re out on the road for your company, wouldn’t you rather use a mobile device to book your trips and get information? Well, the travel industry is catching on.

Orbitz for Business, the division of Orbitz that caters to laptop-toting folks, just announced that it has launced an “end-to-end mobile solution” that the business travel community can use to book their flights, hotels and such from their smartphones via a mobile-optimized website. This could make life a lot easier for road warriors who don’t book until the last minute … or look up hotel details until they are en route to the airport.

“Business travelers increasingly want to use mobile devices to search and book trips that adhere to their companies’ travel policies – we do not believe a comprehensive, end-to-end solution has been available until today,” said Frank Petito, president, Orbitz for Business. “The Orbitz for Business mobile solution enables travelers to plan and purchase air, hotel and car travel through a streamlined, intuitive interface optimized for mobile devices. Equally important, the solution was built to support the policy, control and compliance requirements of corporate travel managers and their programs.”
So, what does this new solution do? The company said it allows users to make new reservations, track their trips and itineraries and watch for flight statuses and updates. It can also be used in accordance with a company’s travel policies … always important when someone is approving your expenses.

What really makes this development interesting is that business travelers have been leaning in this direction. In a Deloitte report on business travel back in November, we learned, “Twenty-six percent of respondents have downloaded a hotel app to a device, with 54 percent of them using it ‘primarily to book a room.’ “

See, someone’s listening!