• iTravel Stress-free: flying with iPhones and Passbook

    Airports stress me out. I'm not really sure why. Maybe it's taking off to new places. Maybe I'm picking up on the general vibe of emotions: people leaving their loved ones behind, or being reunited; the general anger of business people and regular travellers pile-driving into holiday makers who are wandering the airports walkways in a stunned stupor—confused and wide eyed like stunned mullets. Or maybe it's just the general chaos and stress of people going all different directions, people running late, people getting lost ... And ultimately the fear that if one little thing doesn't go exactly to plan, you'll end up missing your plane or getting bent over a barrel when it comes to paying for airport parking.

    I have just always assumed that it was my own mind playing tricks on me, and that the whole idea of travel just made me a bit anxious as it pushed me out of my comfort zone. This theory seemed okay except recently I had to drop a work mate to the international airport, and though I was not actually going anywhere, the feelings of angst still started surfacing as we drank coffee and waited for his boarding call.

    I'm writing this article on my iPad in a plane right now on my way back from Sydney, inspired mainly due to fact that this has been the least stressful trip I've had in a long while ... largely thanks to my iDevices that have now become even more useful travelling companions.

    In the 'old' days, say maybe ten, fifteen years ago, you'd book your flights via ... the ... hell, I can't even remember how you used to book flights ... was it via the the telephone? Anyway, then online booking came along where you could book your flights, but that meant logging onto your computer at home and then hoping everything went to plan when you lined up to checkin at the airport (and that your booking hadn’t disappeared into cyberspace). Then the electronic checkin kiosks came along meaning you could print your own boarding pass—complete with scannable barcode—without needing to line up or talk to any humans. All you had to do at the airport was wait for an available kiosk, scan your printout and it would produce your boarding passes. Then online checkin came along, so you could log onto your computer (or more recently your smart devices) and checkin up to twenty-four hours before your flight. Rather than get an official boarding pass, you could simply print out a boarding pass at home and bring it to the gate to get scanned. In more recent years, a lot of airports (especially over in the US) would simply scan that same boarding pass straight off the screen of your iPhone or other smart device. And now as we enter 2013, the introduction of passbook is set to make things even easier ... though as I found out on this trip, the airports themselves have a bit of catching up to do with the new technology.

    We just happened to be flying with Virgin Australia, but I'm sure this process would be similar with the other airlines. Booking online happens has it has for many years now, and that is all straight forward. Then the slightly different part happens. Twenty-four hours prior to take-off our iPhones and iPads received emails saying 'it's time to checkin'. Opening the email provides a few options, one of which included 'mobile login'. My inner nerd channeled my finger straight for this option which launched straight into a mobile optimised checkin webpage where you checked your details and gave the option for choosing a seat location. Once that was done the site asked whether I'd like to print a boarding pass or receive it via SMS. Clicking SMS sent an message to the phone almost instantly, which when opened has a link, which when touched opens a webpage with your boarding pass and then a pop-up asks if you want to add it to Passbook. A simple 'yes' and up pops your boarding pass in Passbook. All of this is lengthy to type and explain in words, but in practice it's really just a few screen taps and you're checked in and ready with your boarding pass—with the iPhone doing all the work flipping back and forth between all the apps automatically and seamlessly. Even better was the fact that once my wife and I had both checked in, both our tickets were available on each other's devices. I'm not sure if that's an iCloud thing, but each device displayed both tickets very soon after checking in.

    Another great feature is that Passbook appears on your lockscreen when the time to be at the airport is close, which you can then access simply by swiping it—without the need to unlock the phone. It automatically brings the correct ticket to the front based on the time and your location. Very simple and it works well.

    The future is here ... almost ...

    Now I imagine that the dark night creatures that mysteriously design and implement the airline’s online booking and checkin system (probably while simultaneously playing World of Warcraft) are currently busy designing some kind of scanner that will pick up the QR-ish looking code that appears within passbook ... but unfortunately until then the boarding process at the gate consists of the following:

    • lady dressed in excessive amounts of red takes your iPhone and looks at the screen
    • manually types and looks up my name and flight number
    • hits a key on the computer
    • it prints out a boarding pass
    • she grabs that pass and scans it facedown as per everyone else who’s already got a boarding pass or computer printed e-ticket ...

    ... except that this whole process takes about seven times as long to complete as the people who already have paper tickets. So, at the moment it’s not much of a time saver, though it is still less effort on the traveller’s behalf as there’s no waiting in line or printing required. Having said that, once a dedicated iPhone screen scanner comes along, this whole process will be totally kick-arse and will save time everywhere from checking in at home to shortening lines and waiting times in the airports.

    Once we arrived in Sydney we cracked out our devices many times to use Apple/Google maps to find our way around the city. We used Google, Yelp and Urban Spoon to find some of the best food we've had in ages. And fired up the BeanHunter App to find some awesome local coffee. And of course we snapped some obligatory tourist photos on that magical iPhone 5 camera (including of the Harbour Bridge even though I don't really give a shit about that sort of thing ... when in Rome ... ).

    So between the online airport parking I'd booked the night before on my iPad (prepaid complete with map of the airport), the emails with our hotel booking details on our iPhones, and the plane tickets that automatically appeared on the lock screen an hour before the flight, all made for a seamless and stress-free experience for this normally panic-ridden fret-laced traveller.

    Ben is marketing communications manager for Britax Automotive Equipment. He also owns and runs his own creative company called Evocative (www.evocative.cc) that does graphic design, photography and creative writing. Holding an Honours Degree in Design majoring in Corporate Identity, Ben has over ten years commercial experience—most of which was achieved using a Mac. He's also into technology, audio gear, drums, music, cars and coffee.

    Follow Ben on Twitter @BenJohnston_ or on Google+
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