Rushing to catch a ride to the airport the other morning, I realized there was no rush at all. My flight to from San Francisco International Airport to Las Vegas was delayed from 10:30 a.m. to 11:05 a.m.
Since signing up several months ago for TripIt, I have realized how travel technology sites and services can help make air travel a smoother experience.
TripIt's enhanced service, known as TripIt Pro, costs $49 a year, but for frequent travelers it's money well spent, based on my experience. TripIt Pro sent a text alert to my Blackberry about my late departure, allowing me to slow down in the rush to the airport.
More Accurate Info Than the Gate Agent
Just several weeks earlier at Los Angeles International Airport, Tripit Pro again notified me of a delay -- the departure time of my Southwest flight to San Francisco had been moved from 8:45 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Unfortunately, this time I was already at the airport, since I did not get the alert until 7:51 a.m.
Still, it was better than Southwest's own notification service. I signed up on the airline's Web site for a cell-phone voice message that I would receive if there were any changes to my itinerary but didn't receive the alert until 9 a.m.
Ironically, TripIt Pro had more accurate information on my departure time than the Southwest departure gate agent at Los Angeles International Airport. Let's face it, anyone who has ever asked an airline gate agent what time their delayed plane is taking off knows the agent is usually the last person to have the information. And at least my Blackberry doesn't snap back at me!
Another nice feature of the TripIt Pro alert service is that you're given the scheduled new arrival time for your delayed plane. The information can also be shared with friends, relatives and business associates by designating them as part of your inner circle.
In the case of long delays, TripIt will also offer alternative flights that can be taken to your destination, including those on other airlines.
Scott Hintz, one of three-year-old San Francisco-based TripIt's founders, maintains that knowledge is power. He says telling the gate agent what flight you want to be switched to will get better results than just playing helpless. Still, unless you're flying on a high-priced, fully refundable ticket, convincing the gate agent to switch you to a competitor is no easy task, assuming there's even an open seat at the last minute.
Another feature for passengers who are connecting to a different flight: TripIT alerts you to the new gate information as soon as you turn your mobile phone back on.
I was pretty impressed to have that information on a recent journey to Baltimore International Airport via Atlanta on AirTran. The flight attendants on the Atlanta-bound first leg of my journey said they didn't have connecting gate information. Armed with the TripIt gate-change information, I whizzed by the line for the waiting attendant reading off a long list of gates for connecting flights.
TripIt is not the only option for getting real-time flight updates.
A competing service, WorldMate, also offers real-time flight information, but travelers must download an application that's only compatible with iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads. TripIt makes it much easier: You can sign up for the service on its Web site, and no special application is needed to receive updates on your phone.
Travelers can also opt to sign up for free for alerts from their own airline concerning flight delays and cancellations, but if you fly with multiple airlines, you have to sign up for each one. And whether they will tell you about a flight delay or cancellation before TripIt does is another question. Hintz says TripIt often gets the information before the airlines update their system.
I pressed Hintz on how his service can be first on information like flight delays and cancellations. He wouldn't tell me everything, but he says his service monitors data from not just airlines, but a variety of sources. Hintz says this includes the Federal Aviation Administration, individual airports, and various proprietary databases that track flight information.
For those flyers who don't want to pay a fee, the basic TripIt service is free but doesn't come with the flight-notification feature.
The free service does have some value, however, because it will store not just your airline itinerary, but your hotel and car rental reservations, where you can easily access it though e-mail in one organized itinerary. TripIt will also track frequent flyer and travel reward points if you provide the service with your passwords.
The coolest part of the TripIt experience is probably the ease of entering your reservation details into the TripIt system. TripIt works with over 1,000 travel Web sites, so you just copy your hotel or airline reservation into an e-mail that you send to TripIt, and it's there.
The process is called the "Itinerator," and Hintz says the system was developed by TripIt engineers. "People think its magic,'' he said.
Actually, the magic developed by engineers was a reason TripIt was able to get $13 million in seed money from investors when it started three years ago. The technology now provides a valuable service to the traveling public.
Now if only the airlines could learn a lesson or two from TripIt on customer service, all of our lives would be a lot easier.
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