Stranded But Wireless

O.k., the winter chaos in Europe has gotten to me as well and I was stuck in various places waiting for planes and trains like many others. So while the situation was far from comfortable I noticed that being connected and being able to get information from online sources not only proved to be entertaining and useful, as I could get some work done while waiting but also helped to keep my mood up. Here are some things I noticed:

Congestion: In airport lounges, free Wi-Fi is sometimes provided, but it is usually quite congested and slow due to many people using it at once. Good when one has a 3G dongle and can make oneself independent from the rest.

Flight Status: Flight status reports are not accurate at all, neither online nor at the airport. It's interesting to observe that a flight status on airport information displays and also online is marked as "on schedule" until just one hour before departure when it then suddenly changes to indicate a two hour delay. I wonder why this is done that way as airlines do know better!?

In my case for example, the plane that would take me to Frankfurt was coming from Frankfurt in the first place. Online, the delay for that plane was visible while for the outgoing leg the flight status remained "on schedule". Most people have better things to do than to spend time at the airport when a delay of several hours that is clearly predictable would allow them to do something else in the city. So perhaps the airlines want you at the airport so they can judge who shows up for a flight and who doesn't!? In the age of email, twitter, instant messengers and other methods to stay connected, even automatically, it's an archaic way of organization.

Abnormal situations also reveal how flight status displays at airports are working. The system used at Istanbul airport, for example, is not updated in real-time at all. For my flight, which was 3 hours late, somebody forgot to update the system so at the "theoretically correct time" the display showed "boarding" and then "final call". Very nice, except there was no plane at the gate to board and no ground personnel to inform people of what was going on. Quite a confusion. Once the theoretical time for "final call" was over the display went blank, still no plane and still no ground crew at the gate. You can imagine the confusion. Unless, of course, the online information on your mobile device from your airline tells you the real story.

Getting a Hotel at Midnight: And the best use of mobile Internet connectivity is when you are stuck at the airport, figure out from the online schedule of the train company that the last train home has just left despite a massive delay and you start wondering how and where you'll spend the night. Hundreds of people are around you with the same problem and the picture of camp beds in a big hall springs to mind. But your online hotel reservation system tells you that there are many hotel rooms close to the airport still available. It could be just as fake as the online schedule displays but a call to one of the hotels quickly revealed that rooms were indeed still available. Interestingly enough, the hotels shown did not take advantage of the situation but offered the standard rates per room. Much better than spending the night at the airport.

Stay in bed longer: And finally, the next morning your mobile is your best friend when it tells you that the train you want to take home is either on time or delayed, so you know it's worth getting out of bed or if there is no real rush to get up.

Entertainment and connectivity: And all the while it also plays your favourite music, keeps you informed about what's going on in the rest of the world and you can call people back home and wished your travels were as quick and easy as that of those electrons and waves that carry your voice through the maze we call a telecommunication network.