Could Apple fix airports?

Maybe this is exactly what we needed – someone from outside the aviation industry to fix it. With Apple‘s latest patent, iTravel, the company stands to make some cash on mobile payments and paperless ticketing, and it could alleviate the bottlenecks we rush into at so many points while traveling. New regs look like they’ll yield a substantial paperless boarding pass/check-in market, according to a post on SocialTimes, and Apple wants a big piece of it. Hell, Apple probably wants all of it – who could blame them?

Now, it appears there’s potential beyond merely taking paper out of tickets and boarding passes. Other reservations and rentals could be brought into the system, using an approach similar to the iPhone-based payment system adopted by Starbucks. The possibilities are endless, as suggested by the hypothetical proposed on SocialTimes:

Imagine this scenario: you visit an iTravel-enabled website (or via your iPhone), book a vacation package including hotel and car rental, with details downloadable to your iPhone, which in turn triggers information for the NFC chip. A barcode or QR code on your iPhone, displayed by the iTravel app, is scanned for your airplane boarding pass. You can check in your luggage yourself, at a special unmanned kiosk, and claim your luggage on arrival at a similar kiosk, thereby reducing wait times at carousels. You arrive at your hotel without manually checking in, go straight up to your room and wave your NFC-enabled phone near the NFC-enabled security plate, and voila, your door opens. Later, when you go to the check-in desk to ask about restaurants, your iPhone gets a push notification to join an ad hoc network (courtesy of Apple’s iGroups patent) which lets you see if any contacts you know might be nearby. You also get access to special coupon offers for transportation, if you decided not rent a car. You might even potentially be able to pay transit fees with your phone – something trialled successfully in various places around the world.

Apple may not own the travel market yet, but it certainly has the potential to seize a decent portion of it. If Apple were to launch an online travel agency and integrate it with a variety of device-driven services that make lines shorter and reduce frustration, it would be an unstoppable force in this business. To see how Apple could change the business, go visit your local Tower Records. Oh, right …