Get flight info and airport reviews with RouteHappy

flight infoWhen it comes to booking hotels, travelers have plenty of options for finding information, recommendations, and tips with TripAdvisor, booking engine reviews, and other user-generated sites, in addition to guidebooks and other traditional media. But as air travel gets more restrictive and less comfortable, how can you choose the easiest flights, or at least be prepared for the inconveniences? RouteHappy is a new user-generated social network for flight info, reviews and tips for airlines, airports, and routes. The site is populated with comprehensive global flight schedules, Wi-Fi availability by route, and on-time history. Users can enter their tips and experiences from getting to the airport, check-in, airport amenities, and boarding to in-flight comfort, arrival immigration and transportation options.

From searching on RouteHappy, I decided it was worth the extra money for JetBlue’s Even More amenity program for a shorter security line (plus more legroom and other perks), and discovered a much easier connection from Frankfurt to Austin through Denver instead of the much busier (and often delayed) Chicago. I’ve also left tips on the site for navigating airports in Istanbul, London, and Budapest with a baby. You can follow “Route Experts” for hidden gems and “flyer bewares” on frequently-flown routes, and learn about which airport shops are worth a stop, which airlines make your coach experience feel like an upgrade, or where you should be prepared for long immigration lines.
flight infoRouteHappy gets better with every review added, so be sure to add your advice while searching for info. You can also link to your TripIt/LinkedIn account to automatically remind you to review flights and pre-populate flight info. Currently in invite-only “alpha” mode, the site has over 1,000 members in 45 countries and counting with more than 7,500 comments and tips.

Gadling readers can try out the site before it goes into public beta mode soon by using the code GadlingFliesBetter. The RouteHappy team is incredibly responsive to users and active on social media, so be sure to follow along as they share their best tips on Facebook, tweet travel news on Twitter, or just send them a message at tellus@routehappy.com.

Top five social media destinations

Do you live your life in 140 characters are less? Have you almost lost your life several times because you had to get that shot of a crazy cab driver uploaded to Facebook? If this is anything like you, here are five cities you’re just going to love.

NetProspex has ranked the cities in the United States by social media activity, and the results are not at all surprising. Using the NetProspex Social Index (PDF), which the company developed, it was able to rank activity across a number of social media platforms, including Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Here are the details on the methodology:

The data was mined from their database of business contacts. There are three components to the score. First there is social connectedness: the number of employees with at least one social media profile. Second there is social friendliness and reach: the average number of connections per employee across major social networks. Third is social activity: the average number of tweets, number of followers, and number of users following.

So, who wins? Take a look below:
1. San Francisco: home of Twitter and long-time tech city, is this really surprising?

2. San Jose: okay, like San Francisco but not as cool … pretty easy to see this one coming

3. New York: 8 million people with nothing better to do and plenty to TwitPic

4. Austin: who knew the country’s sexiest city would also be one of its most socially connected? Hot people flock together and like to stay in touch

5. Boston: another tech center, especially the metro area, and there really is nothing better to do up there …

[Thanks @zimmermitch, photo by Laurie DePrete]

Corporate travel databases: give morale a shot in the arm

“Corporate,” “database” and “morale” usually don’t show up in the same sentence – at least not without some sort of negative word nestled in there. Images of tedious data entry are conjured, which does nothing for your state of mind while on the road. Yet, these words can be joined, and the resulting concept can be a gold mine for any company with legions of road warriors. Every employee accumulates knowledge while traveling. They learn which restaurants are best (and worst) in a particular city, and they develop coping strategies that their colleagues may find useful.

The curse of a travel-heavy company, of course, is that the employees don’t see each other often enough. When they do, talk turns to business first, and many of these tips remain hidden. A single place where the collective wisdom can be stored and shared can make business travel much more enjoyable tolerable while fostering communication where it might not exist otherwise.

I’m still stunned by the fact that I only saw the corporate travel database in action once during close to a decade of frequent business travel (frequent = around 40 weeks a year). It was pure genius, worked well and was used regularly. With the social media tools now available, it’s even easier than it was back then to implement the concept. Rather than a “database” in the traditional sense, a company could use a Facebook page, LinkedIn account or even a simple message board to share ideas, experiences and advice with coworkers.

So, how do you get a corporate travel database off the ground?

1. Someone needs to own it

No project gets off the ground in Corporate America without a “champion.” Clear it with whoever has the rubber stamp before pulling the trigger, and become the first contributor. Post regularly, and tell people about it – especially those who are going where you’ve already been.

2. Identify likely helpers

Find the eager beavers who will join the cause – every company has a few. Everybody wants to be heard, and this is a save and easy way to gain a voice.

3. Publicize your successes

As people take advantage of these shared tips, let everyone know, especially if there was a business impact. For example, “John Smith’s client loved dinner at Pomodoro Rosso … we was so tired of restaurants in midtown.”

4. Get granular

Simply being redundant with TripAdvisor and other user-generated content sites won’t help you out. Think local, unusual and relevant to the travelers in your company. You’re looking to solve a problem. So, find and contribute real on-the-ground intelligence. Late-night bars that will be open after a day of marathon meetings, for example, are both valuable and had to find when you’re new in town. The names of restaurant managers who are sympathetic to a little palm-greasing can be gold when you need a table on short notice. Every detail counts.

5. Respect boundaries

Know your company’s policies, and abide by them. If you use Facebook for your travel-sharing tool, be sure access is tightly controlled. Also, management needs to be on board, and the “right” people (different in every company) have to be kept in the loop. If your tool is developed properly, you’ll have one hell of an intelligence file. Just think of what would happen if it got into the wrong hands!

So many companies fail to tap the collective knowledge of their employees in so many ways. While a corporate travel database may not boost sales or share business information, it can help with morale and client entertainment (and, ultimately, relationships). Knowledgeable people become more productive, especially when they don’t have to cope with the quirks of a strange place while figuring out the intricacies of a new project. And, it’s always good to have at your fingertips the info you need to blow off a little steam. In the end, performance goes up, and people feel better about their jobs.

We have the tools at our disposal, and there’s no shortage of information. The only thing missing is the effort that pulls the two together.