Heathrow Is Now Tracking How Late You Are

eGuide Travel, Flickr

Is your flight in 30 minutes or 45? You don’t have time to look at your boarding pass, so you hustle as fast as you can, awkwardly managing your oversized carry-on which you know that you are going to get scolded for. When you get to security, instead of being waved through you are turned right back around and sent off to the check-in gate. You won’t be making your plane, and the pilot of your flight knows it.

Creepy or helpful?

While it might feel Big Brotherish, Heathrow Airport’s new “positive boarding” initiative is intended to help not only keep flights on time, but also ensure that passengers have up to date information to know how much they need to hustle or not.

When a passenger passes through a security checkpoint now, individual information about that passenger will pop up on the screen, showing which flight they are on and whether or not they are going to be able to make it. Passengers who are too late will be turned around, and the information will be passed along to the airline so that they can immediately begin removing the passenger’s bag.Although Heathrow claims it’s the first technology of its kind, tracking passengers is nothing new. In Italy, a couple of airports track Bluetooth signals, and SITA is a known service that provides real-time tracking software and line management.

This all might sound like an excessive use of technology, but Heathrow claims that in the first week of using its new service, 35,000 passengers used the positive boarding technology as part of their trip. Data shows that of the airlines using the technology, 44% of the flights had passengers who could have delayed the final departure. 10 passengers who were running very late were turned around and told they didn’t have the time to make it through security. Those 10 passengers probably weren’t too happy, but I’m sure that the passengers on the flights that departed promptly were satisfied. All the more reason to give yourself ample time to get to the airport and board your plane.

Cockpit Chronicles: Navigating Paris with an iPhone GPS

I’ve lamented on Cockpit Chronicles about my distaste of four-day trips. I’ve come to realize that I shouldn’t be flying such long trips after I came home once and I could actually see the growth in my two daughters.

But when a rare (for the Boston base anyway) six-day trip showed up on our bid sheets, I had to rethink my bidding preferences. The trip had a 24-hour stay in New York between two Paris layovers, and since my wife and kids were already away visiting relatives, I figured I may as well be working.

I’d be flying as a relief pilot working with Boston, Miami and New York pilots. The layovers in Paris and downtown Manhattan easily made up for the loss of stick-time since I wouldn’t be at the controls for any takeoff or landing. I would likely meet some new people from the other bases as well which can be nice.

The evening trip to Paris started off with a Boston crew that I’ve flown with before, and went without a hitch. We managed to catch a nice view of the high altitude (300,000 feet) noctilucent clouds, a spectacular phenomenon that I’ve written about before. It never gets old, especially since it’s visible for just two months out of the year.
Captain Mark flew a beautiful morning arrival into Paris, after which we piled onto the crew bus for the long ride to the hotel, near the center of the city. While the location is amazingly convenient for sightseeing, the bus ride on weekdays can take as much as 2 hours and 10 minutes to travel just 21 miles. I’ve often thought we’d do better on a bike.

On this morning though, we were lucky to keep a relatively good pace, arriving at the lobby just an hour and a half after we left the airplane.

While on the bus, I did a bit of sightseeing. Since my iPhone required a data connection to view the maps as we traveled, I couldn’t use the GPS function to get a better feel of where we were. Since the iPhone doesn’t store the maps by default, an extremely expensive roaming data charge would be needed to see where we were. In fact, as an experiment, I once checked my location on the map in Paris and racked up $6 in roaming data charges in less than a minute.

But then I remembered a really inexpensive iPhone app called GPS MotionX (itunes link) that allows you to cache maps just for the area you’re traveling to by drawing a circle and pressing the download button. With the fast WiFi network and an $8 a month Boingo account, I managed to download the maps back at the hotel.

So many times I’ve followed other crewmembers around the city, checking out museums, restaurants, shops and of course the bike tour through Paris and I would have loved to have known what our route had been between the sights.

With the recent ability to run apps in the background on the iPhone, GPS MotionX allows you to track your path through the city, and even take pictures along the way at each stop or at an interesting sight. For those without a privacy concern in the world, you can even share, in realtime but at designated intervals, your path via Twitter or Facebook.

It also lets you know the distance traveled, the current, average and top speeds, and the elevation that’s depicted in a profile view. The ability to snap a picture at certain waypoints would have given me a much better understanding of a city. Paris is probably the best example, since there’s just so much to experience.

It’s a big city. A GPS could come in handy.

So when the other two Boston pilots and I decided to meet up at 3 p.m. to venture out around the city, with no specific plans, I could tell this would be a good track to record on the iPhone.

Once I explained the function of the GPS app, the path almost became a quest itself as we proceeded. We stopped at a cafe to meet up with the flight attendants, but decided not to eat dinner there, since we had already made plans to go to Willy’s Wine Bar, a restaurant that I hadn’t been to before, which meant I could add it to my list of conquered Parisian restaurants.

Unfortunately we discovered a full house at Willy’s, so we continued on to another place the captain knew about. While it didn’t quite garner a spot in my address book of favorite restaurants in the city, it wasn’t bad, and the appetizer, raclette covered potatoes, may make me want to come back for another entreé.

At least I’ll have the GPS track to remember just how to get there.

By the time we arrived back at the hotel, the MotionX app told us we had walked for 3 hours and 16 minutes, covering 8.16 miles at an average of 2.5 miles per hour. Adding up all the hills we climbed totaled 477 feet, so I don’t feel nearly as bad about the Crepe Nutella we had from an outdoor vendor on the way back.

I sent our route to the captain and first officer, but the .gpx and .kmz files it creates only store one photo from each outing. In fact, even in the app itself, there’s no way to view the pictures taken at each waypoint without digging into a few menus. If only you could touch the waypoint and the photos would pop up. Perhaps in a later version.

A few days before this trip, my wife told me she had found a great way to keep the kids entertained on vacation. She had just discovered geocaching from a friend of hers, and so she took our daughters out to a spot marked near her hometown in Germany. The kids were so excited, since they managed to go right to it without a GPS. But they were having trouble finding the next location on their list.

“Can we somehow do that with the iPhone?” She asked.

“Yeah, I’m sure there’s an app for that.” I told her. And now I think I’ve just found it.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Boston. Have any questions for Kent? He’s on Twitter @veryjr.

What? You’re still paying the airlines to carry your bags?

Now that the airlines have raised, yet again, their fees for checked bags, it’s time to take another look at the alternative: shipping your bags, or better yet (if you’re staying in one place once you arrive) just the contents of your bag ahead of your arrival using economical ground shipping services.

Why deal with the airlines, when UPS Ground and FedEx Ground offer better tracking, insurance and security, can be much cheaper in some scenarios, and will actually refund your shipping fee if there’s a delay or loss? No waiting in line at the airport! No pilferage! No schlepping!

Airfarewatchdog.com has looked at four domestic route scenarios (short, medium, and long haul) and compared three shipping services and two airlines (one with high bag fees, and one with low fees) to see how much you can save by not entrusting your bags to the airlines.

As you can see from the chart, depending on route and method, the cost savings achieved from shipping vs. schlepping range from little or nothing to dramatic. But as we explain, even if costs are the same, dealing with a company like FedEx
can be much less stressful than with an airline.

Consider: a single 25-pound suitcase or shipment from Boston to San Francisco by FedEx Ground costs about $31 vs. $23-$25 on Delta or nothing on Southwest.

But once that suitcase weighs over 50 pounds, excess charges kick in on the airlines, even on Southwest: you’d pay $56 for a 55-lb. bag using USPS on that same Boston-San Francisco trip, but twice that on Delta, which adds an extra $90 fee each way for bags weighing over 50 pounds. Even Southwest will charge you $50 each way.

And if your bag is both heavy and oversized (larger than 61-62 linear inches), you’ll get hit with triple jeopardy on some airlines: a fee for the first bag, plus an overweight fee, plus an oversized fee. Such a bag might cost nearly $300 on Delta on a trip from Los Angeles to Seattle vs. under $40 via FedEx Ground.

Also of note: the typical 22-inch rolling suitcase weighs 9-10 lbs. and airlines will shun responsibility for what they consider “normal wear and tear” if the suitcase or its wheel mechanism is damaged in transit. If you’re staying in one place once you arrive, do you really need a suitcase at all? Put your clothes and other personal items in a sturdy box and you’ll pay ground shippers even less than the prices shown in our chart.

But even if the costs are the same airline vs. ground shipping, consider these advantages of shipping:

  • Better tracking: You can track your shipment online step by step. Try that with an airline.
  • Safer: There’s less chance of something going missing or getting damaged.
  • Convenience: you can breeze through the airport without waiting in line to check bags.
  • Responsibility: If an airline loses or delays your bag, they’ll keep your fee and play the blame game. FedEx and UPS will at least refund your shipping fees. Plus, airlines refuse to take responsibility for losing or damaging anything they consider “valuable,” such as electronics or business items. You can insure these items with the shipping services for a small additional fee.
  • Less schlepping: True, you have to either drop off your shipment at a post office, UPS office or store, or FedEx or Kinko’s location (or you can arrange for pick up for a small fee in some cases), but let’s face it: fighting for overhead space is no fun, and lugging luggage through mile-long airport concourses is no fun either.

Clearly, we’ve only given examples for domestic shipping, but USPS Priority Mail rates for international shipping are surprisingly competitive with the airlines’ fees for checking bags on international routes.

And even if you’re the carry-on type, shipping on your next trip may reveal the joys of not fighting for overhead space and saving yourself a shoulder injury from hoisting a heavy bag into same.

Give shipping vs. checking a try next time you fly. You may never pay bag fees again.

George Hobica is the founder of Airfarewatchdog™, the most inclusive source of airfare deals that have been researched and verified by experts. Airfarewatchdog compares fares from all airlines and includes the increasing number of airline-site-only and promo code fares.