How Airlines and Airports are Taking the Stress out of Thanksgiving Travel

Therapy dogs, LAX
As much as we all start to get those warm and fuzzy feelings around this time of year, anticipating the holiday season and being reunited with our loved ones, the process of actually getting to our destination is often a source of stress for air travel passengers. This year, a projected 12.3 million roundtrip passengers will be traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday, the highest since 2007. In anticipation of the crowds and stressed-out passengers, airlines and airports across the US are preparing for the increased volume, and some hope to delight passengers as they journey through the busiest travel day of the year.

Staying Connected to Loved Ones

Flying through an airport with Wi-Fi service provided by Boingo? Passengers traveling nation-wide can look forward to free Wi-Fi on Thanksgiving Wednesday. The initiative, launched by Verizon Wireless and coined as “Connection Day,” allows users to stream movies, music, audiobooks and more from their personal devices. “We hope that not only our customers, but everyone, will take advantage of this day—a day to connect with family and friends, to learn something new about their device, or just to provide a little more entertainment during what can often be a hectic kick off to the holiday season,” shared Ken Dixon, vice president of marketing, Verizon Wireless in a statement last week.

And free Wi-Fi won’t be limited to the ground. Passengers flying low-cost carrier jetBlue will enjoy free Wi-Fi  for the full duration of their flight, and airlines serviced by Gogo will offer passengers 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi. Participating airlines include:

  • American Airlines
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Air Tran
  • United Airlines
  • US Airways
  • Virgin America

Furry Friends

LAX, one the busiest airports in the US over the Thanksgiving holiday, will be taking a “furry friend approach” to help passengers manage their stress levels. On the Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving, pet therapy dogs will be making their way through terminals accompanied by LAX volunteers. Travelers may take some time out from their hectic day to stop and pet the dogs, who are trained to relieve passenger anxiety.

Thanksgiving Goodies

jetBlue, known for their “Terra Blues Potato Chips,” have put a together a fun Thanksgiving campaign promoting their “always free” snack service. They sent out this tweet yesterday, which playfully arranges the infamous chips in the shape of a turkey:

Oh and they’ve got dancing turkeys too:

But jetBlue isn’t just all fun, they’ve got games and prizes for Thanksgiving travelers too as part of their #travelhappy campaign. The airline has once again paired up with retail giant Zappos this year to bring travelers unexpected gifts and prizes at the baggage carrousel at JFK airport. If a passengers’ luggage lands on a prize square, they’re handed a gift.

The campaign has been a hit on Twitter today:

With free Wi-Fi, dancing airport turkeys, therapy dogs and freebies, Thanksgiving travel is looking a little less stressful and a lot more fun.

Wearable Technology Makes for Smooth Passenger Experience

TripCase - Sabre

Sabre’s TripCase app

Wearable technology, defined as clothing and accessories incorporating computer and advanced electronic technologies, is lessening our load and putting access to information closer to our fingertips. We’ve come a long way since the wrist calculator of the 1980s and with the Apple Watch set to hit the market early 2015, the idea of wearing our technology as a fashion statement, is gaining momentum. In September at the Future Travel Experience Global conference, the SITA/Air Transport World Passenger Survey proved that passengers are ready for wearable technology to play a role in their travel process.

Earlier this year, Virgin Atlantic demonstrated the personalized service available by incorporating wearable technology. At the Airport Operators Association Annual Conference this month in London, Craig Kreeger, CEO of Virgin Atlantic, confirmed that Google’s glasses were moving into permanent usage in the Upper Class Wing at Heathrow.  He credited the devices as a step towards a seamless customer experience.

Virgin Atlantic isn’t alone. In the next three years 16 percent of airports intend to implement wearable technology says Kevin O’Sullivan, lead engineer at SITA Lab, in a recent op-ed. Kevin will be sharing the latest updates in March 2015 at The Wearable Technology Show in London.

Casio C-80, the original smartwatch
Casio C-80, the original smartwatch

With baggage restrictions getting tighter, the switch to wearable technology is becoming popular with passengers as well as crew. Sabre is working to make their travel itinerary management app, TripCase, compatible with wearable technology. TripCase users with wearable technology “will receive real-time flight alerts, gate changes and other travel information conveniently on their wrists.”

Wearable technology options are becoming far more aesthetic, some even look stylish. With the Apple Watch available in a sport model or 18 karat gold, this technology is set to become a fashion statement as well as a convenient gadget.

On Developing NextGen TSA: Faster Interface, Better UX, Less Hassle

Tomorrow’s aviation security is technology-based.  Think of the TSA in tech terms, and it’s easy to see why its users want improvements. The role of any security application is to ensure that no harm affects operations, without slowing down the system’s performance. If the TSA is aviation’s firewall, it’s been a sluggish performer.

But, the TSA recognizes needs for improvement and has crowd-sourced innovation ideas. Introduced this July, a public TSA Contest offered a total of $15,000 in cash prizes to those who designed more streamlined waiting line systems.

“Current queue layouts at TSA Pre airports will need to adapt to support the increasing population of TSA Pre passengers. TSA is looking for the Next Generation Checkpoint Queue Design Model to apply a scientific and simulation modeling approach.”—TSA

Submissions closed this August, but the TSA has yet to announce winners.

Industry groups have recognized the progress made the TSA.  At the AVSEC World Conference, Tony Tyler, IATA CEO and director general, referred to the TSA’s Pre-check program as “a big success,” and suggested it should be “exported to other countries.

“This year we will conduct airport trials with Smart Security components and assess the impact on operational efficiency, the passenger experience and security effectiveness.”—Tony Tyler

The NBAA’s senior manager of Security and Facilitation, Sarah Wolf, outlined improvements presented at the 14th Annual Aviation Security Summit. Wolf explains that, “Learning how to adapt under different conditions and applying just the right measure of security are all components of a risk-based security program.” She commended the TSA for  “working hard to adapt its security protocols,” allowing for “greater flexibility for both its own personnel and the passengers and companies it considers its clientele.”

APEX Hollywood Shortlist: Team Hunger Games Makes Waves in Hollywood

hunger games
CBS Studios, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

If one movie based on a best-selling young adult novel is good, then, by Hollywood tentpole logic, two movies from a best-selling young adult novel should be even better, right? Well, these days, it all depends on who you ask.

Obviously, the studios are huge fans of the concept and, overall, critical reception has been split pretty evenly. But fan reaction to these so-called “placeholder” films has been mixed, at best, with many choosing to wait out the next film in the series rather than be left hanging for a year or more between instalments.

Opening with a $121.8M finish for the weekend, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is on track to pull in a solid $350M in theaters before its through. Anticipation continues to build for the final chapter of Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games saga, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, which is slated to hit theaters November 2015.

While $121.8M is a good haul for any opening weekend, it marks the franchise low for the Hunger Games series, following a pattern set by the first chapters in the two-part finales of the Twilight and Harry Potter film series, both of which took in less then the final chapter in their respective franchises.

julianne moore
Sony Pictures, Still Alice

In other Hunger Games news, perennial Oscar nominee Julianne Moore, who plays District 13 President Alma Coin in both Mockingjay films, is looking like a sure bet for another Best Actress nod this year for her searing performance as a linguistics professor grappling with early-onset Alzheimer’s in Sony Pictures Classics’ upcoming Still Alice. Opening in limited release on December 5th, Moore’s performance has already garnered her Best Actress honors from the Hollywood Film Awards and the upcoming Palm Springs Film Festival.

Pitch Perfect 2
Universal Pictures, Pitch Perfect 2

Also making waves last week was Moore’s Mockingjay co-star Elizabeth Banks, who is finishing up work on her directorial debut, Pitch Perfect 2 for Universal. Proving that Kim Kardashian wasn’t the only one who could “break the Internet,” Banks’ hotly-anticipated Pitch Perfect 2 trailer has drummed up a whopping 12.4 million hits in five days on Ellen Degeneres’ YouTube channel, and the movie doesn’t even open until May 15th. Can you say: “Aca-awesome?!”

Rounding out the top five over the weekend were Disney’s Big Hero 6 with $20.1M, Paramount and Warner Bros. Interstellar with $15.3, Universal’s Dumb and Dumber To with $14M and Fox’s Gone Girl which held strong with another $2.8M in it’s eighth week at the box office.

Seven Trends to Watch
at CES 2015

What happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas. It ends up in your home, at your workplace, and even aboard your next flight. We’re talking about the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, which kicks off January 6 in Las Vegas… so scratch that gadget itch. If you’re in the airline industry (or just a frequent flyer), here are some key trends and products to watch.

1. Bigger, Better Televisions

Big-ass TVs will still show up at CES, and their development ends up benefitting IFEC systems as imaging quality improves. However, the smartphone has become the very sun, around which a growing system of interconnected electronics now spins. Passengers, IFEC masterminds and airline cabin designers alike should be watching what dominates CES, because well-connected passengers make for a better airline industry.

2. Swivel Book

Aspire-R13_ModesAcer Aspire R 13 goes through its paces. Photo: CES

Acer will introduce the Aspire R 13, a contortionist laptop featuring the appropriately-named Ezel Aero Hinge. The Aspire R 13 swivels at two complimentary points, allowing it to function as a flat tablet, a notebook and everything in between: this includes a sort of tent-mode that will occupy the constantly-diminishing space between your eyeballs and the seatback in front of you. This is crucial in light of in-flight entertainment’s bring-your-own-device trend.

3. Digital Projector

Lenovo’s Android-powered Yoga 2 tablet carries its own digital projector and five-watt subwoofer. An ultralight business tool, or an opportunity to screen Frozen in the coach-class lavatory? The choice is yours, but remember: there’s probably a queue.

4. Luggage Lock

Also, you’ll want to keep an eye out for next-generation travel security. DigiPass is introducing the eGeeTouch Smart Luggage Lock: no more tiny keys to lose or combinations to remember – you lock and unlock your suitcase with your smartphone.

5. iPassport

To protect travelers from next-generation identity theft, iWallet is introducing iPassport. This RFID-shielded passport case is biometrically locked, 007, so only you can open it with your fingerprint or linked smartphone.

6. Eco Headphones

AudioQuest-NightHawk-detailAudioQuest NightHawk. Photo: AudioQuest

In the field of headphone design, AudioQuest is targeting Bose and Panasonic, as well as your very perception of reality: The company says its NightHawk headphones employ “mind-bending eco-friendly materials and performance that bests even the most pricey flagships.” The headphones are made with “liquid wood,” a combination of natural wood and reclaimed plant fiber. Even if you don’t know what “Balanced Equitangential Airflow” means, AudioQuest promises that the NightHawks will sound really, really good.

7. Portable Guitar

Jamstik stillJamstik in action, via product video

In-flight creativity doesn’t have to be limited to keyboards and sketchbooks. Jamstik is an ultra-portable guitar neck controlled via iPad or iPhone, which you can play without disturbing your fellow passengers. “Air guitar” has taken on a whole new meaning. Is there room in an IFE scheme for in-flight jam bands? I like to think so.

What makes CES so exciting for the airline industry is how the new generation of gadgets empowers the customer to take charge of his or her own travel experience.