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 …

Travelers turn to seller sites for info

Where do you go to get information on destinations and travel? Well, you obviously come here – at least you did this time. And, we appreciate it. Despite the value of independent sources of travel news and deals, it’s the seller sites that are attracting all the action. Social media is moving the travel market, according to the latest research from industry research firm PhoCusWright, with user-generated content on online travel agencies (OTAs) leading the charge.

In 2008, hotel reviews on OTA sites accounted for only 52 percent of traveler-written reviews, with traveler review sites (not associated with an OTA), such as TripAdvisor, accounting for 46 percent of reviews written. Last year, the OTA sites were good for 74 percent of the hotel reviews that showed up on the web.

“Traveler review sites – led by TripAdvisor – created and drove the growth of the traveler hotel review category, demonstrating the potential role of user-generated reviews in the trip-planning process,” said Douglas Quinby, senior director, research at PhoCusWright. “The travel industry obviously took notice, and the major OTAs have remarkably stepped up their game in capturing reviews from their customers and incorporating the content into their hotel shopping path. Travel companies must keep a close eye not only on review sites such as TripAdvisor, but the growing volume of review content on OTAs as well.”

Enter to win jetBlue’s Jet and Drive Giveaway

I love a good travel contest, especially one that requires little effort to enter. So I’m excited about the jetBlue and Hertz Jet & Drive Giveaway, which runs now through through January 31, 2010. To enter, all you need to do is surf on over to the website, complete your free registration and then enter your email address. Easy, peasy.

For that minimal effort, you could win some pretty cool prizes, depending on the number of entries for the day. Yes, that’s right – the prizes will vary according to how many people have entered for the day, and you can enter every single day of the contest. If 2,500 people or less enter on a given day, the winner gets a $100 Hertz rental card. With 2,500 or more entries, the card’s value goes up to $250. But if 5,000 people enter, the lucky winner gets a $500 jetBlue gift card!

There will also be up to five grand prizes given away, one each time the total number of contest entries reaches another 50,000 milestone. The grand prize includes airfare to one of five destinations, Hertz rental car, and accommodations at a designated Starwood or Marriott hotel for two people. Destinations include New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orlando and Aruba.

British Airways computer glitch posts super low cost flights to India

Late Friday night, an alert went out on Twitter. Fares to Mumbai, India, from locations all over the US were being offered at rock bottom prices on British Airways. Flights from Chicago to Mumbai were just $550 per person.

I quickly logged on to Orbitz, selected my dates, and clicked purchase. I received an email from Orbitz confirming my purchase and then got to work planning the trip. My husband was out with friends and had left his cell phone at home, so I was hoping he’d come home just tipsy enough to not mind that I’d just bought $1100 worth of plane tickets without discussing it with him first. Besides, he is accustomed to me buying plane tickets on a whim, just because they are on sale.

Luckily, he was just as excited as I was….until Saturday morning, when I received an email from Orbitz saying that due to “limited quantities”, our order could not be fulfilled. As it turns out, it’s because the fare never should have existed. Someone at BA obviously messed up (how’d you like to be that person come Monday morning?) and entered the wrong number. The fare should have been more like $1550 per person. The fat finger fare was corrected, but not before several people, myself included, had bought tickets at the faulty price.

Word on the web is that tickets bought before the error was discovered will be honored, if they were purchased on British Airways. So far it seems that those of us who used Orbitz will be out of luck. Christopher Elliott posted the story on his blog, along with a response from the company. They say British Airways didn’t honor the purchases made with Orbitz ,so people who tried to book that way will not receive tickets.

This isn’t the first time a technical error has crushed some budget traveler’s dreams. In February, Northwest refused to honor $0 fares that were “purchased” online in error. So next time you see a fare that seems to good to be true, watch out. It might not be.

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AirTran provides obvious internet etiquette tips

Is AirTran the pot or the kettle? It’s hard to say, but the airline that has done a great job of making passengers uncomfortable – think of it as the Greyhound experience of the sky – is now telling passengers how they can keep from making their fellow fliers unhappy. It’s like giving a stern warning and nothing more to a bank robber caught in the act: it won’t do much.

Nonetheless, now that AirTran has wireless internet service on all its flights, the airline has issued Internetiquette: A Guide to Keeping Everyone in Line While They’re Online. This list of suggestions will be found in every seatback pocket, right with the emergency card.

This isn’t exactly a new concern. The debate over in-flight porn may be behind us but is not forgotten. And, even non-sexual computer interaction may involve some actions that disturb other passengers – from muttering to yourself to shuffling papers around.

So, what does AirTran recommend? Find out after the jump.

1. Flight attendants are not tech support (no shit)

2. Online investors shouldn’t give advice to other passengers (would be nice even on flights without wi-fi)

3. Be aware of anyone who could be reading over your shoulder

4. Don’t offer to land the plane for the flight crew

Yeah, not much to work with … you can check out the list here.