We’ve come to the close of another year in travel technology news. Each year, we see new and exciting collaborations between companies looking to advance the travel industry - innovations that break barriers, excite consumers and bring improved efficiency to all aspects of travel.
This year, as customers’ desire to travel increased post-pandemic, we saw companies strive for streamlined operations and to find innovative new ways to navigate disruption and ensure customer happiness. But the industry isn’t just looking back on what’s been done – instead, they’re building upon what they’ve learned this year to identify the next big travel technology revolution. In our last round-up of 2022, let’s see what’s in store for this month, and the year to come.
The Points Guy: Alaska Airlines Debuts Digital Bag Tags That Don't Come Cheap
Travel brands are continuing to pursue innovations that streamline the passenger airport experience. In an effort to combat lengthy check-in lines (a constant pain point for travelers), Alaska Airlines, together with Dutch-based BagTag have officially launched the U.S.’s first digital bag tag for checked luggage. Electronic bag tags are not a new phenomenon; companies like Lufthansa, KLM and Air France have all piloted their own testing programs, but Alaska is the first to start rolling out their tags to customers. One intriguing benefit is the potential reduction in wait time – Alaska estimates a 40% reduction in the amount of time spent at airline check-in.
The tags, currently only available to a limited group of Alaska MileagePlan members, are designed to allow passengers to bypass check-in desks and instead proceed straight to baggage drop-off. Passengers will fasten the tag to their luggage, which becomes available for activation 24-hours before a flight. Travelers sync the bag tag to their mobile phone through Bluetooth, which then connects directly to Alaska’s mobile app, allowing the passenger to effectively check themselves and their luggage in for their trip. Once at the airport, the passenger will just need to present a government-issued ID and the bag will be on its way to the destination.
While Alaska’s digital tags are limited in their capabilities (allowing only one piece of checked luggage per traveler), they plan to stagger the complete rollout in a few phases. Once available to the public, each tag will cost about $70 per piece, not including other applicable checked baggage fees. While it may seem a pricy investment, the tag itself is durable and doesn’t require charging or batteries – a price worth paying to avoid unnecessary lines, or the hassle of lost luggage.
While Alaska Air and BagTag look to solve one aspect of travel delay, startup Kquika is taking aim at another. Using machine learning and virtual AI, Kquika aims to minimize delays, automatically rebook passengers, and alleviate excess costs and anxiety. Airlines can directly connect to Kquika’s recovery platform to better manage disruptions related to delayed flights. When there is a ground delay, the platform notifies the airline and automatically searches for alternative options to rebook passengers on different flights, which saves employees hours of manual work and cuts down on passenger wait time.
Airlines can implement Kquika’s system with minimal cost and training, which will save them money long-term. In addition to saving time on delays, Kquika is currently developing a predictive maintenance system that detects mechanical failures, which will reduce the risk of maintenance-related delays in addition to accidents, while also minimizing excessive inventory for mechanical parts. In addition to reducing costs for airlines, Kquika’s innovation provides reassurance for passengers and airlines alike with the knowledge that delays are properly managed while optimizing aircraft safety.
Virtual cards have risen in popularity over the past few years, the result of an increase in facilitating technologies coupled with a desire to cut-down on high-touch, single use products. Virtual cards can not only help businesses streamline operations and manage disruptions, but within travel, can help to improve the passenger experience.
Airlines looking to issue refunds for canceled flights have turned to virtual cards rather than manual vouchers, which can be hard to account for and require sensitive passenger information. Physical vouchers for cancelled flights can compound the already extended wait time for travelers and require more manual labor to create. Virtual cards can be created and digitally sent to passengers the second the flight is cancelled, streamlining the refund process for airlines while increasing convenience and flexibility for customers.
Virtual cards can also help control business spending. As business travel returns, companies can allocate money to virtual cards so trips are more streamlined. Businesses can use virtual cards to simplify travel expenses and expense recording, making them an easier option for reimbursement and streamlining the corporate travel program. Virtual cards even offer a sustainability angle; the carbon impact of a trip can be measured using the data collected through the virtual card. Travelers who use a designated single-use card to book air travel and hotels can be alerted to the carbon impact of their trip, so that they can better understand their carbon footprint and make practical choices that may offset emissions.
The race for a spot in the Metaverse is on, and cruise companies have no intention of being left behind. Celebrity Cruises recently became the first line to offer a virtual cruise experience, a move the brand feels is just the beginning of a long adventure into the Metaverse. To enter into the virtual world, the Miami-based company partnered with Surreal Events, a business that designs metaverse worlds for organizations spanning different industries. Celebrity’s Metaverse experience is a complete virtual tour of a digitally replicated Celebrity ship; the journey begins with the user operating a small boat to the ship, where they board, choose their customized avatar, and explore the decks. Users can see and interact with one another while they test out amenities and participate in short games to discover the ship's potential destinations.
While anyone is welcome to virtually tour the ship, Celebrity’s main targets are potential customers who may not have taken a cruise or are hesitant to do so post-pandemic. Virtual travel is exploding, and the option to treat a vacation as a “try it before you buy” scenario has become increasingly popular for budget-minded travelers. As it stands, the Celebrity experience restricts what users can and cannot explore and depending on the number of users on the platform at a given time, the ship may not seem as crowded as a physical trip would be. But Celebrity sees the long-term value of the Metaverse as a worthy investment; as far as they’re concerned, this is just the beginning of an exciting new way to travel.
We couldn’t round out the year without the latest updates in supersonic travel. Those familiar with the iconic Concorde flights know that flying at the speed of sound is a (loud) luxury. A flight from London to New York took a mere three hours, but as with any form of supersonic travel, the journey was accompanied by a powerful “boom” – a painfully explosive noise like a crack of thunder that could be heard from the ground. But that boom may be a sound of the past, with NASA announcing they are looking to bring back quieter, quicker flights with the use of their X-59 aircraft. The X-59 QueSST (short for Quiet SuperSonic Technology) airplane is a demonstrator aircraft designed to fly faster than the speed of sound generating nothing more than a "sonic thump.”
The X-59 has been able to reduce sound waves to a ground level of 75 decibels, a noise level comparable to the sound of a nearby car door slamming. NASA and Lockheed Martin returned to the basic principles of physics and aerodynamics to design the X-59, a sleek, needle-nosed airplane that “looks like it was pulled from the pages of a 1950s sci-fi comic.” With noise now under control, NASA is looking at their next hurdle - convincing regulators like the FAA that the current ban on supersonic passenger travel over-land should be overturned. The X-59 could open a door into a future where supersonic travel isn’t only reserved for fighter pilots; it could allow for private companies and airlines to reintroduce supersonic flights across the world. Without a ban, the public flying supersonic could begin as soon as 2035 - a genuine revolution for the travel industry. After all, everyone wants to get to their destination faster.