Podcast #132 — Travel Apps on My Phone

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It’s a listener request podcast. A fellow Peacock, this one named Jack, asked “What travel apps do you have on your iPhone?” Paging back through the TravelCommons archives, I’ve covered different categories of travel apps,  — in the most recent iteration of my Top 10 Travel Tips I recommended some flight tracking apps and way before that, did a bake-off of trip management apps — but never covered walked through what’s in the travel folder on the home screen of my iPhone. I’ve now remedied that oversight. We also continue talking about overseas phone SIMs; the impact of the new EU ban on roaming charges. Also, my first encounter with some new TSA scanning equipment.  All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

Here is the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #132:

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you, as always it seems, from the TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago, IL. Seems that I’ve swapped the romance of hotel bathrooms for the sound quality of the studio here. Seems like yesterday when I was recording the intro in the business class toilet of a South African Airways A340 on the way down to J’burg
  • My travel since the last episode hasn’t been anything quite as exciting. Trips to Richmond, Baltimore and New York City. Indeed, if I tried recording in the toilet of one of those American or United A321s, I don’t think I’d get too far past “Hello, this is Mark Peacock…” before someone started banging on the door.
  • Richmond airport continued to be a problem for me — not the airport itself, just the carriers flying into it. I get up on a Tuesday morning — sidestepping the Monday morning road warrior crush — iPhone notifications from American, TripIt, and Google all say my flight is on-time. Pulling up to the terminal — everything still looks OK. I walk through the doors and my phone explodes — my 8:20 am flight is now leaving at 4 something pm! The next note is from American telling me they’ve booked me on the 11:45am flight, so instead of getting to RIC at 11:20am, I’m now due in at 2:40pm — over 3 hrs late. A quick call to Amex Travel tells me that the early morning United flight has already left, so this is my best option. Since, as I talked about in the last episode, I’ve given up depending on airlines being able to meet their schedules, I hadn’t booked any early afternoon meetings, so I just parked myself in the Admirals Club and got some work done. Nothing lost but a bit of sleep.
  • With this in mind, I was gritting my teeth when I had to head back to ORD the next week for my flight to LGA. I haven’t had to fly to New York much recently, and when I have, I’ve flown into EWR to avoid the nightmare-ish delays being reported from LGA because of the construction. There’d been stories of people abandoning their cabs on the Grand Central Parkway to walk into LGA. And then there’s just flying between two of the US’s most congested airports. I’ve always said that anything less than a 30-minute delay between LGA and ORD is on-time. So I booked my flights to avoid rush hours — leaving ORD at 4pm, arriving LGA at 7:30, and my return flight leaving LGA at 3:30 the next afternoon. I land in LGA on-time. There’s no taxi queue, and I’m into the Sheraton Times Square by a little after 8 — no flight delays, no traffic. I quietly offer up my first beer at The Three Monkeys to the travel gods in thanksgiving.
  • The next day, we finish up our meeting in midtown an hour early, I walk out of the building to find all sorts of cabs. The first cab doesn’t have the time to take me to LGA, but the second guy is happy to. We make good time across town to the tunnel and there’s no traffic on the Grand Central. I tip the guy well, walk up to an American kiosk and see that I can standby on the 1:30pm flight — which will be boarding in about 5 minutes. I hit the TSA PreCheck line — about 5 people in front of me, but the TSA folks are in good humor and moving things along. I hear the gate agent call my name as I walk up to the gate. The flight takes off on time and lands early. Hey, American made up 2 of the 3 hr-delay from last week! And on an LGA-ORD flight. I offered up a bigger beer when I got home.
  • Bridge Music — Hula Hoop Party by Stefan Kartenberg (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.  Ft: Martijn de Boer, Blue Wave Theory

Following Up

  • Mike Skinner took a couple of minutes to stop by the TravelCommons web site and leave a comment about the last episode. Mike writes
    • “Long time listener, really enjoy the show.“Your comments on the Dreamliner were very interesting to me. I’ve flown one long-haul on several occasions, and yes, the windows are fun to play with. But you didn’t have any comments on what I think is the most important attribute. The 787 isn’t just another “metal tube”….. It is constructed from carbon fiber, and can be pressurized to a higher level than most normal passenger jets. The environment inside is at higher air pressure (like being at 6,000′ rather than 10000′ elevation), with a higher level of humidity (air not so dry), and more refreshes. I found it a great plane to fly on a long red-eye! Or any 5+ hour flight.
      “I’m looking forward to this fall, when I’m flying one r/t LAX-SYD in UA’s BF cabin (14 hour flight)”
  • Mike, thanks for the comment. You’re absolutely right about the 787’s carbon fiber build allowing it to be pressurized at a lower level — I’m not sure if that’s because of an increase in strength from the carbon fiber or because it’s less impervious to the higher moisture content of the denser air. But I didn’t notice a difference between my flight out to on an A330 and my flight back on the 787. Of course, it might be that I wasn’t paying enough attention to the negative — less dry eye; less “cotton mouth” — or that that the LHR-ORD flight wasn’t a red-eye; and so I was able to keep myself hydrated more than I would on a red-eye. Maybe I would’ve noticed the difference on those 17-hr SAA flights to Joburg those years ago. Whatever the reason, anything that makes those long-haul flights more bearable is a great thing. Safe travels on your upcoming flight to Sydney.
  • That A330 flight didn’t go direct to London. I was late booking my ticket and so instead flew Aer Lingus to Gatwick via Dublin. It was the first time in at least 25 years that I’ve been through Dublin airport. It was a nice enough airport, but crowded for an early Monday morning. I was glad I didn’t have to go through security again, because when I looked past the scanners, it looked to be a bit of zoo parade. But, adding again to the multiepisode thread about buying and using local phone SIMs during international travel, I saw the first benefits of the EU’s ban against mobile roaming charges. On the flight over, I’d swapped my US SIM for my UK SIM. Coming out of airplane mode in Dublin, I get what look like the typical welcome texts, but instead of giving me the roaming charges, they tell me that my UK plan is good in Ireland. Might seem kind of a minor thing, but at least for traveling within Europe, there are some real benefits. First is not having to burn through an hour or two at the beginning of a vacation finding a phone store and then going through the hassle of buying a pay-as-you-go SIM. In Paris, I had to go to 3 phone stores to find the SIM I wanted. In Hungary, T-Mobile wouldn’t sell my wife a SIM without a Hungarian citizenship or registration card — which, of course, she didn’t have. Luckily, my wife’s cousin was with her and she was able to buy SIMs for all of us. If I don’t need to buy a new French or Hungarian SIM to avoid roaming charges, this kind of hassle goes away. I wonder also if there’s a bit of an arbitrage opportunity. Now that I have a UK, French, and Hungarian SIM, do I figure out which one has the cheapest rate and then use that one for all of my trips? I need to read the new regs on that one.
  • On my last couple of trips through ATL, it seems that the lines for PreCheck are configured differently every time. Not quite sure why that is. Every other airport, it’s pretty static — go to this set of lanes, but ATL, for some reason, wants to change the entrance to the maze each time. They also have put new parallel loading baggage X-ray machines in the ATL PreCheck line. These are pretty common in Europe but just now dribbling into US airports. Rather than queuing up and waiting for each person to put their stuff on the belt, there are 4 loading stations where a group of people each reach below, grab a bin, put it in front of you, put your stuff in it, and then push it onto the conveyor. Since there are 4 people loading at the same time, there’s no “performance anxiety” to make sure you have your belt-loading choreography flawless, and there’s no eye-rolling and foot-tapping while waiting for those who don’t. There are a couple of hassles, though. First, since it’s new, most people are still in serial mode; they don’t know that it’s OK to break queue and step around to an empty loading station. At many European airports, they have someone telling you which loading station to go to (usually with numbered stickers on the floor — “You, station 1; you, station 6). The TSA hasn’t quite got with this program. Second, if you’re in one of the front loading stations, it takes a little, uh, muscle to break the stream of bins, to shove your bin onto the conveyor. Too polite and you’ll just stand there watching a stream of bins go by. All in all, it’s a definite improvement, but needs a bit of, say, process optimization.
  • And if you have any thoughts, questions, a story, a comment, a travel tip – the voice of the traveler, send it along. The e-mail address is comments@travelcommons.com — you can use your smartphone to record and send in an audio comment; send a Twitter message to mpeacock, or you can post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page — or you can always go old-school and post your thoughts on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
  • Bridge Music — H2O by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2015 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.

Travel Apps on My Phone

  • A few weeks ago, Jack Peacock from northern Florida — kinda near where the panhandle connects to the peninsula — pinged me on the TravelCommons website with a couple of questions. First was a genealogy question. Peacock isn’t a common last name in the US and so when we meet, “where’s the last name from” is a common icebreaker. Peacock is probably more common down South where Jack and other southern Peacocks will trace their roots back to a Samuel Peacock born 1671 probably in Colonial VA. My line is from more recent immigrant stock, though. My dad grew up in Southport, on the northwest coast of the UK, between Liverpool and Blackpool, and came over to the US in 1956.
  • That out of the way, Jack said that he and his wife are retired, have put their home and vehicles up for sale, and are getting ready to Airbnb the globe. “Geriatric gap year” as Jack put it. I am officially jealous. Which leads to his second question — what travel apps do I have on my phone? A very timely question since Carlson Wagonlit Travel just released a survey where 80% of business travelers said their smartphone was the “travel tool they can’t live without”, and 45% used airline and hotel apps as their main travel technology.
  • Paging back through the TravelCommons archives, I see that I’ve touched on some categories of travel apps — in the most recent iteration of my Top 10 Travel Tips I recommended some flight tracking apps and way before that, did a bake-off of trip management apps — but never walked through what’s in the travel folder on the home screen of my iPhone.
  • As long time listeners know — and have suffered through — I can’t just go through a laundry list. In other words, I can’t just quickly answer Jack’s question. First, I need to build (and drag you all through) some kind of framework that provides some structure to my laundry list. It’s my own little piece of OCD. One way to start is to split between apps with broad general use — say like Google Maps — and those more specific to a situation — the apps of the airlines you use the most, or, say, mass transit apps for a city you’ll be visiting.
  • Let’s dig down to the next layer of the specific category. I have apps for the airlines I use for 90% of my travel — American, United, Southwest, and Delta — in that order — because living in Chicago, American and United have hubs at ORD and Southwest owns MDW. I have Delta for the odd flight between, say, Atlanta and New York. The mix will change based on what you fly — in Boston, you may have JetBlue, in London you certainly have BA. I mostly use these apps for two reasons — electronic boarding passes and flight status. I talked in the last episode about how I used the “Where is my plane now” feature of United’s app to track back to the source of a RIC flight delay to GRR. Helped give me a sense of whether that delay could shrink or grow. Also, these apps are getting much quicker about pushing flight status and gate change notifications. Indeed, these apps have gotten good enough that the independent/more general flight tracking apps on my phone — FlightAware, FlightView, and FlightStats — are on the bubble. I’ll probably delete two of them and keep one — either FlightAware or FlightView because of how they show the projected flight path on a weather map. You can find this in the United app, but you have to dig a bit. FlightAware and FlightView have it as their primary app view. It’s another good piece of information for when you’re thinking through flight delays.
  • I didn’t load up the Aer Lingus app for my flight to London last month (if they even have one). It’s not worth it for a single flight. Same reason I’ve never loaded Alaska Air’s app even though I seem to end up on them at least once a year. It’s not worth the phone real estate. Which is the same reason I’ve deleted hotel apps from my phone. I’ve never found any value in the Marriott or Starwood apps. Same with the Hertz and Avis apps. However, if I was Airbnb’ing around the world like Jack is planning, I would probably load up their app.
  • Another specific app I have is My EE — the app for the UK mobile carrier who’s pay-as-you-go SIM I use. The last iteration of this app made it easier than EE’s website to do a SIM top-up, so it’s now in my Travel folder.
  • A bit more general is the Priority Pass app which gets me access to international airport lounges through my Amex Platinum card. It regularly updates its list of available lounges and has airport maps to help you find them. This came in real handy in Dublin where the lounge was tucked away on a second floor with very minimal signage.
  • Another kinda general app is the companion app to my Bluesmart roller bag. It connects to my bag via Bluetooth, automatically locks it when it’s out of range of my phone, and displays the bag’s location when I have to check it. The auto lock is probably the most useful thing. It’s consistently on the bubble.
  • I have both Uber and Lyft in my Travel folder. I’ll typically light both of those apps up when looking for a ride somewhere, comparing price and wait time. As I mentioned during a broader discussion of ride sharing a few episodes back, all things being equal, I’ll choose Lyft, but I use both of them regularly.
  • Five years ago, I reviewed the 3 main trip management apps — Tripit, TripCase, and Worldmate — that recreated the old company travel agent’s printed trip itinerary by integrating separate airline, hotel, and rental car reservations for free, and real-time flight updates for a fee. I liked Worldmate the best, with TripCase a solid second. Today, I use Tripit. Carlson Wagonlit closed up Worldmate at the beginning of the year, and Sabre’s TripCase is hot mess of advertising. Tripit has continued to improve their app. The ability to share a piece of an itinerary (a flight, a hotel) through iPhone’s iMessage is surprisingly handy. But the $50/yr Tripit Pro is also on the bubble because of the airline apps’ improved notifications.
  • Google Translate has grown into a critical travel app. I’ve talked in a previous episode about how, with real-time translation through the camera, it’s becoming pretty close to magic.
    Transit is another app that continues to solidify its hold on screen real estate. Transit covers mass transit across North America and major cities in Europe. Google Maps suggests mass transit routings, but Transit goes much deeper — with things like real-time bus and subway data and bike share locations for cities like Chicago and New York.
  • And then, of course, there is Google Maps. I use it to plan trips, find hotels, check out neighborhoods, figure out where I am, share locations — as well as getting me from Point A to Point B. It is probably the most indispensable travel app on my phone. Indeed, it’s the only travel app with its own screen real estate rather than sharing space in the Travel folder
  • What are your suggestions?

Closing

  • Closing music — iTunes link to Pictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #132
  • I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
  • If you have a story, thought, comment, gripe – the voice of the traveler — send ‘em along, text or audio file, to comments@travelcommons.com or to @mpeacock on Twitter, or post them on our website at travelcommons.com. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to send in e-mails, Tweets and post comments on the website
  • Bridge music from dig.ccmixter.org
  • Find TravelCommons on Stitcher, SoundCloud, and iTunes
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  • Direct link to the show
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1 Comments.

  1. Hey Mark this is great!

    Love your Work!

    :mrgreen: