How travel might change?

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions
my first high-tech mobile phone. Now children wonder what on earth it is?

my first high-tech mobile phone. Now children wonder what on earth it is?

In some ways travel has hardly changed in the last fifty years. Commercial planes travel at around the same speed, we still land at airports after checking- in or re-claiming our luggage and the booking process remains much the same other than you can buy travel online as well as at a high street travel shops.

In my lifetime, I have lived through some astonishing events. The Berlin Wall was built and came down shortly after Mr Reagan asked Mr Gorbachev to pull it down. I genuinely believed that when Russian tanks invaded Prague that we would go to war. Today the idea of war in Europe seems old fashioned. I bought my first mobile phone in the 1980’s and had the car wired so that it would work. Away from the car I carried it within a large sackcloth bag. My first portable PC was a monstrous thing called an Osborne where the lid served to house the keyboard. Carrying both at once risked back pains and drooping shoulders.

You didn’t think of holidaying abroad in the 1950’s unless you were rich. We holidayed in Lavernock on the South Wales coast or at Brean in Somerset. A journey to Bognor Regis on the old A27 took hours as traffic gridlocked on the single-carriage round. Cars were by the side of the road as they overheated after standing in the interminable jams. And when you arrived it was to stay in a B&B, a caravan or that latest invention – the holiday park which Sir Billy Butlin and Fred Pontin had mass marketed.  Then came the overseas package holiday from companies long since gone like Court Line and ILG as well as cheaper overseas flights pioneered by Sir Freddy Laker, Southwest, Ryanair, Go, Buzz and Valujet.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, the new year booking period for summer holidays was still crucial. We used to wander around travel shops after Boxing Day watching how busy they were so we could guage what sales were like. The holiday brochures were hoovered up by potential holidaymakers looking for two weeks in Benidorm, Torremelinos and, later, the Algarve.  People booked early, paid deposits months before their holidays and expected to take almost whatever they wanted  as hand baggage. You had a free meal on the flight, free luggage allowance and watched – if you were lucky – a film on a big screen.

now smart phones allow boarding pass checks, hotel bookings and a variety of other benfits. And you can still make telephone calls as well

now smart phones allow boarding pass checks, hotel bookings and a variety of other benfits. And you can still make telephone calls as well

Today, you can book your flights and accommodation yourselves. You can check via comparison websites the best prices and book on your smart phone. You can get panoramic views of where you will stay instead of those glossy pictures that showed every hotel room at its best. Locals can give you their views of what to see in their destinations and there are review sites to give views of travellers rather than tour operators. You check-in online and don’t even need to take luggage to the airport as specialist companies will collect it from your home and deliver it to the hotel at your destination. There are apps for almost anywhere and any attraction. If you turn on the GPS on your smartphone, messages will pop up suggesting restaurants, sites to visit or ads to lure you into shops that you are likely to pass as you walk around. You can opt for staying in a person’s home whilst they are away instead of a hotel or an apartment. Instead of a taxi to fetch and collect you can get one-way transport, a car that you hire by the hour and drop off at your destination. Whilst you holiday, you can let your house out for the same period through a network that has hundreds of thousands of prospective users instead of the tens of thousands that newspapers and magazines provided. You can sort you entire holiday details out in minutes with people across the world instead of relying on go-betweens that could take weeks.rohit-talwar-pic-300x216

If this is now, what will it be like in the future?

Last week, the futurologist, Rohit Talwar, the CEO of FastFuture spoke at the Aviation Festival in London and offered his ideas on what the future might be like.

He wonders whether – over large land masses – plane usage might drop as hyperloops go into production. Readers might remember that, three years ago, I wrote about a plan to introduce a pod system to carry passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in thirty minutes using a technology based on solar power and magnetism. Testing in the Californian desert occurred in May this year. Slovakia and Dubai are said to be seriously looking at the system. Hyperloops could travel city centre to city centre faster than planes could take you. Talwar believes that this could be a future method of transport and one that is looking closer and closer. The backers of hyperloops think that passenger travel could be just five years away.

hyperloop plan

an early hyperloop design© Tesla Motors

Would we book in the same way we do today? Could it be that surgical implants would contain health records, passport details and we just scan ourselves in order to top up medecines, buy tickets and pass through security without the need for paper passports, retina recognition or finger prints? Some already have surgical implants for medicine control so why not other things like passports. It beats turning up at an airport and suddenly realising that you left it on the bedside table!

Talwar believes that in the future you will be able to select seats after using an app which will enable you to “feel” the seats and “taste” the food. The advent of feel and taste/smell technology is available. Airlines and hotels are experimenting with ideas.

Not everything will be so apparent to the traveller. Airports are looking at systems where staff can be moved from one area to another to remove potential blocks so that the trip through the airport to gate is as seamless as possible. Above all he believes that passengers want someone to take responsibility when a problem arises instead of buck passing so one of the supposedly simpler things is to keep staff up-to-date so that they can pass on the information. That combined with having staff in the right place at the right time may diffuse passenger concerns. Not everything is high-tech it seems.

In the future why can’t airlines sell taxi services that collect you at your home and take you to the airport so you don’t have to concern yourself with parking? Would this mean that airlines would be responsible for passengers if they don’t get to the airport in time to catch their flights?

Could planes have more doors thus making it faster to board and leave a plane?

Could planes have more doors thus making it faster to board and leave a plane?

At present I some airlines you can select a meal in advance. But in the future might you not be able to select from a menu that’s as long as one at a Chinese restaurant, then prepared and cooked so that dining is more like going to a restaurant. Some airlines are likely to introduce this over the next few years where your meal could be the only like it on the plane. But you would pay and pay restaurant prices. Airlines see food as a new potential source of revenue.

Talwar wondered whether cars would be “self-owned.” You order one and it takes you to the airport, then it goes off on another journey. The same would apply in life since most drivers probably spend only a few hours in the car on average during any day.  Your ownership of a car is limited to the hours that you use it. For the rest of the time, the car is available for others. Alternatively, if you own a car, it could become a revenue source for you as others use it when you don’t. Airbnb for cars is probably a better way to describe it.

image of gin

Will duty-free personalise my smartphone so that when I enter the duty free area gin offers will netice me to buy?

When you get through the check-in procedures you might see the duty-free area in a different light. Screens could adapt the duty-free offering to match the types of things that passengers would be likely to buy on a trip to China or Argentina and this would be based on what items have historically been bought by people catching those same destination flights before.  Talwar used the example of a flight to China where passengers have been known to buy expensive premium malt whiskies as opposed to a flight to Singapore which high-tech gadgets might be more appealing.

In the past I have suggested that entry checks be done on a plane. Talwar says that the Indonesian airline, Garuda, are trialling just that. Imagine the time that would be saved by passengers. Instead they could land at an airport, be through it in minutes and ready to collect their personal vehicle to get to the hotel without having to travel off airport to a car-hire location.

There are othing things that Talwar didn’t cover. Why not vertical take off passenger planes so less airport space is required and noise trails can be reduced? What about airports where you deplane into ground passages so that planes don’t need tugs to push them about and back out from gates? What about planes where every seat row has a door so that getting on and off a plane is easier and faster? If this is not feasible then how about doors every ten rows rather than the usual one at the front and one at the back?

Predicting the future must be unpredictable because there is always something around the corner that experts – or any of us – hadn’t considered. I must try and re-visit this story in five years’ time and see how much change really has come about.

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