For the frequent business traveller, being connected in-flight means being able to work. We asked five tech-savvy executives about their recent experiences with technology on board aircraft and at the airport. These “power users” all come from, or have a connection to, the world of modern horology (the art and science of timekeeping). The watch industry requires executives to travel regularly. It’s not unusual to find manufacturing centers, design departments, and marketing offices on different continents. All of our interviewees see newfound access to inflight connectivity as a benefit, but their real world user experiences vary. Still, they know what it means to make the best use of time since it’s their business.
Paul Bucalo is a technology consultant for Sirius Computer Solutions. The company builds Internet-based solutions and counts multi-national watch companies among its clients. Bucalo travels at least once a month to clients’ offices and works on-site. Based in Akron, Ohio, his travels mostly take him to Los Angeles and Seattle. “My longest flights last about four hours. The shortest would be Baltimore and New York City. It takes longer to get through security on Monday mornings than the entire flight to Baltimore. I frequently have layovers because direct flights are rare,” he says.
“I love the inflight Wi-Fi. I’ve gotten so used to it that I notice more when they don’t have it. Just a year ago it was only on 30% of my flights. Now it’s almost everywhere. I hate paying for it. If I couldn’t expense it, I wouldn’t do it. Airports without functioning Wi-Fi enrage me: Cleveland Hopkins, I’m looking at you.”
As far as entertainment goes, Bucalo doesn’t see any benefits to him in using airline-provided inflight entertainment: “I almost never (use IFE). I watched the movies on a flight to Rome one time, but on domestic flights I don’t have time for it. I have two small children ages four and 16 months. I value any solitude I can get, so I try and do some pleasure reading when I travel. When work gets busy though, which is often, I get on the laptop and pay for the inflight Wi-Fi.”
What apps do you use to make you more productive or enhance your travel experience? “I just started using an app called Tripcase. It keeps track of my trips by showing a timeline of flights, hotels, car rentals, etc. It’s actually helpful. I no longer try to remember the details because I have them all in Tripcase. A tablet is a must-have: You can read, work, or play video games.”
What emerging technology are you eagerly awaiting? “I’m waiting for the car that drives itself. I’m going to be one of the early adopters. Then I can work on the way to the airport too.”
TripCase (travel.tripcase.com; iOS, Android, Webapp): Keeps travel details like flights, hotels, restaurants, and rental cars organized and accessible in one master itinerary accessible through the app or via email notification. TripCase notifies the user if any changes occur to travel plans. It delivers critical flight alerts and reports weather, driving directions, and other trip-related data in real time. If delays offer, the app lists alternate flight options. Past trip details are archived and accessible through the mobile app or website.
Gary Girdvianis is publisher of WristWatch magazine. He reports on modern timepieces and makes six to eight major trips per year to Europe and Asia on assignment. “I typically have 6-8 hour flights packed in cattle class at the back of the ‘bus.’ Had to do Hong Kong a few years ago and will never complain about the ‘short’ hop to Europe again.”
What kind of work do you typically do while travelling? How do you stay productive? “At the airport I’ll generally work the phone and email via the smartphone. My Blackberry handles emails, text, and voice just fine and my laptop fills the void when I’m at my destination.
“Once on board I find it difficult to focus on work and typically will get less than an hour of writing or organizing accomplished before I revert to cocktails and movies until I pass out.”
Do you make use of inflight entertainment provided by the airline? What is your experience? “It varies wildly. I do like the fact that some airlines have finally smartened-up and let you use the entertainment system before finally reaching cruising altitude and even while on the ground awaiting departure. Can’t really understand why that was not done before.”
As a business traveller what tricks and tips can you share to make your business travel easier and more productive? “Two Martinis and an Ambien – don’t bother me until we land in Zurich!” [Learn about the dangers of mixing Ambien and alcohol here.]
Oliver Carding is an online marketing consultant based in Manchester, England. He works with several clients including Watch Harbour. Primarily, his business travel is within the UK and Europe – travelling to London and Basel, Switzerland (home of the international watch and jewellery show BaselWorld).
“My typical business flight is domestic, travelling from Manchester to London. The flight only takes around 50 minutes. Most of the time it actually takes me longer to get from London to Kent where the agency is based,” he says.
“When travelling, I always have my iPhone, Macbook, and iPad on me. I regularly check my emails and try and complete as many last minute tasks as possible. My regular meetings in the South of England are often combined with client reviews, so I sometimes use the time to update report documents and look at new ideas.
“I use my iPad whilst in the airport to keep colleagues updated and read emails whilst on the move. I have not used Wi-Fi on board a flight yet. It’s not offered on any domestic flight I have been on board.”
While at the airport, Carding tethers his iPhone to other devices for Wi-Fi access, foregoing airport Wi-Fi: “I have found it slow and not great value for money (Wi-Fi access in Manchester and London). My 4G Internet is quicker and included in my phone tariff,” he says.
What apps do you use that make you more productive or enhance your travel experience? “[The] Skyscanner app has saved me hundreds of pounds booking flights over the last year. And cloud storage! If you regularly back everything up to the cloud, you are never without it as long as you have an Internet connection. I invested in a PogoPlug device which sits in my living room. It is not the most advanced of devices and is really lacking in comparison to most NAS (network attached storage) drives. It does however boast fantastic compatibility with my Apple devices through the PogoPlug app meaning that I’ve always got access to everything, from my favourite TV shows to all the files I need for work–without the need to store them on my device.”
Skyscanner (www.skyscanner.com; iOS, Android, Windows8, Blackberry, Webapp ): A global travel search mobile/Web app, that delivers real time comparisons for millions of flights at thousands airlines, as well as car hire, hotels, holidays and insurance.
PogoPlug (pogoplug.com ; iOS, Android, Webapp, NAS device): An unlimited online/NAS storage service, it allows users to store files and syncs files with the company’s cloud-based storage. Files can be accessed via desktop app, mobile app, or the company’s webapp portal.
Ariel Adams is owner & editor of aBlogtoWatch.com. The site is ranked as the most-visited wristwatch blog on the Internet. Adams regularly contributes to other publications including Forbes, Departures, Centurion, and Tech Crunch.
“I fly 6-10 times a year, mostly for business and mostly internationally. Typically I travel to Europe from LAX so it is about 12-15 hours. There are layovers about half the time. Otherwise I fly within the United States with as short as one hour,” she says.
How do you use your time at the airport, and in-flight to be productive? “I would do more work at the airport if free Wi-Fi was available–or more power plugs for that matter. I typically find a plug someone and try to get email done on my phone. Aside from that airports are for shopping and eating it seems.
“I always carry two phones, a laptop, and sometimes an iPad–often camera equipment as well. I also try to have a portable charger and various international adapters. All the wires freak out the TSA so it is an enduring headache to travel for business.”
As far as using inflight Wi-Fi access, “almost certainly not unless I am flying business class. I need power for the devices as well as connectivity. Space is a real issue of course, even in business class, but in coach you barely have room for your legs. I don’t see a point in charging more than $10 -$15 for access,” says Adams.
“My use of technology is limited by airline seating space, power availability, and connectivity. Fix those and they will make a lot more money. I’d gladly pay $20 per flight for use of power and Internet in my seat – assuming I even had space to open a laptop.
What apps do you use that make you more productive or enhance your travel experience? “I use TripIt Pro and I look at SeatGuru a lot. TripIt Pro works pretty well giving my real time info and reminders. It also keeps track of stuff. It would be nice to get an app that allowed me to know what seat are available and if upgrades were available.
Do you make use of inflight entertainment provided by the airline? What is your experience? “When there is a screen in front of me I tend to us it. On some of the newer planes the screens and systems are much better. When I fly using Swiss or Lufthansa for example the screen systems are low resolution with poor viewing areas. The entertainment systems themselves are ultra-slow and crash several times during a flight. I would certainly choose an airline based on its inflight amenities and the quality thereof.
What can the airline industry do to increase the travellers’ productivity while in the air? “I would love for flying to be convenient again. I am sick of luggage restrictions, weight restrictions, space restrictions, and extra fees. I am sick of little legroom, and the fact that even on business class things aren’t particularly great. There are so many new and fantastic systems that airlines refused to invest in. Get humidified air for inside the plane, get (more reliable) Wi-Fi for international use, get better entertain systems. Give frequent flyers an easy and affordable way to bypass most lines and go through security quickly.”
TripIt Pro (www.tripit.com; iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, Webapp): Organizes travel itinerary, and delivers real time departure, destination, and travel information. It syncs content to other users and to calendars. The functionality allows a user to email travel details to TripIt.com and the application organizes it.
SeatGuru (www.seatguru.com; iOS, Android, Webapp): Features aircraft seat maps, seat reviews, and a colour-coded system to identify superior and substandard airline seats. It also features information about inflight amenities and airline specific information regarding check-in, baggage, unaccompanied minors, and travelling with infants and pets.
Nicolas Lehotzky a manager at MYWA Swiss Watch and Jewellery (Far East) Limited. Living in Hong Kong, he flies internationally about twice a month. “The typical distance I travel is 7,000-9,000km and the shortest is 2,000km. There are generally one or two layovers per trip.”
What kind of work do you typically do while at the airport? In-flight? Do you attempt to work or are you more interested in IFE? ”I mostly respond to and write emails while at airports. I have a hard time working for more than an hour on cramped planes, so in flights I’m more interested in the entertainment offerings, but I limit myself to one movie,” he says.
“When I work, I use both smartphone and tablet, as these are truly compact, mobile devices that can quickly be pulled out and turned on, versus the old notebook that really isn’t very convenient. While in flight, work is limited due to the lack of an Internet connection (and quality). In our age, work requires accessibility and exchange of data (not simply an Internet connection).
“Until recently, Wi-Fi was excruciatingly slow and nothing more than a pricy gadget feature. It has only now started being really usable due to higher speeds. Prices vary greatly depending on geographic location and service provider. It is generally far cheaper in Asia than in the West.
“I believe we are moving in the right direction, but I will only be satisfied when we have high-speed Wi-Fi available in-flight and at airports, free of charge.”