Technologizer posts about Travel

Cupcakes: Potential terrorist weapons. Hummus: Perfectly safe.

Posted by Harry at 8:02 am

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Gogo, the big name in in-flight Wi-Fi, is getting ready to go public. There are some fascinating facts in its paperwork, as reporred by SplatF’s Dan Frommer. (At least airplane Wi-Fi addicts like me will find them fascinating.)
One of them is potentially scary: Gogo says that as it gets more popular, maintaining the quality of the service may be challenging. (Ony 4 percent of the people on Gogo-equipped flights now use the service on average, and I usually find the speed and reliability to worth the dough.)

Posted by Harry at 7:53 am


Virgin America’s Web Site Meltdown: Four Weeks and Counting

By  |  Posted at 2:04 am on Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Virgin America LogoI can’t think of many companies, in any line of business, which I like as much as I like Virgin America. I’ve often said that if I could only fly to destinations served by this airline–with its mellow and helpful people, universal in-flight Wi-Fi, and many 0ther attractions–I would.

But in the past two and a half weeks, I’ve taken four Virgin America flights, and found its Web site completely crippled. Everything I want to do on an airline site, I can’t do.

  • Most of my flights haven’t shown up in my account;
  • Even with a confirmation number, I sometimes haven’t been able to check in online (or using the machines at the airport);
  • I tried to buy a ticket for another trip online, and got a message saying it didn’t go through–and then an e-mail confirmation saying I had bought a ticket;
  • When I tried to cancel that ticket on the Virgin Web site, it told me I had to click a button on the bottom of the page–and there was no button;
  • When I try–repeatedly–to make a change to yet another trip, all seems well until the very end–when I get bounced back to the home page without the change having been made;
  • The points I’ve been theoretically accruing for recent trips aren’t appearing in my account.

At the moment, the Virgin America site is so broken that its press section has an error message where the press releases should be.

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Hipmunk’s Flight Search: Just as Hip on Android

By  |  Posted at 12:03 am on Saturday, October 1, 2011

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Slowly but surely, many of the best iOS apps are coming to Android, and their quality once they get there is improving. Case in point: The excellent air travel search engine Hipmunk, which arrived in a version for Android phones this week. Its Android version is just as good as the iOS one–good looking, easy to use, and brilliantly useful. (It ranks flight options by a price/complexity formula it calls “Agony,” and, as you can see above, shows which flights have Wi-Fi.

Hipmunk does flight search better than competitors such as Kayak and Bing Travel, but it’s not the only airfare research tool you’ll ever need, mostly because it only shows prices available through Orbitz, and routes you there when you’re ready to buy. Still, even if you just use the app to look for flights you’ll buy elsewhere, it’s invaluable. And it’s nice to see it didn’t get watered down on its way to Android.

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Uber Rides Into Seattle

By  |  Posted at 4:09 pm on Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Back in April I told you about Uber–the luxury transportation service that got its start in San Francisco–appearing in New York City. Well, the company is expanding again, this time into Seattle. As in the Big Apple, test cars are limited, and they’re not ready for prime time just yet. In other words, be a little patient.

Here’s how it works: your reservation for a car is placed through Uber’s iPhone app. You’ll then receive a text message when the Uber is expected to arrive, and when it is about to arrive at your location. No money exchanges hands because the payment (with tip included) is done via credit card stored with Uber. Fast and easy.

I can tell you from personal experience during CE Week back in June that the service is nice. In addition to the text, I received calls from the driver confirming my location on his way there, as well as also letting me know he was there in case I might have missed the text message. Pretty good customer service!

I was happy to share the ride with Mrs. McCracken herself (aka Marie Domingo) and we were both impressed with the ride. Yes, it’s more expensive than a cab. But sometimes you’ve got to step it up, you know?

The company is staying pretty tight lipped about its future expansion plans, but it’s obviously taking its time in expanding. If I could make a suggestion, I’d love to see Ubers in Philadelphia (hint, hint).

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What the Heck is Going on With Virgin America’s Computers?

By  |  Posted at 12:48 am on Monday, May 16, 2011


Virgin America is my favorite airline. Actually, it may be my favorite company, period, at least among large ones that I give money to on a regular basis. It’s a tech-savvy airline for tech-savvy people, with Wi-Fi on every flight, power in every row, and an at-seat entertainment and information system with umpteen features (my favorite: the ability to order a Diet Coke at any time). Just as important, Virgin also has employees that live up to the concept of the Friendly Skies in a way that a certain other airline I used to fly a lot doesn’t match.

Usually, the Virgin Web site is part of what I like about it–it’s nicely designed and makes buying tickets and checking in pretty painless. But at the moment, the site is down. The notice alerting visitors to that fact has a timestamp of 5pm on Sunday night; as far as I can tell, though, it’s been suffering from nagging problems for days now. It’s been nearly a week since I started trying to book a trip to San Diego, and I’ve failed to finish the task every time–the site keeps choking before I get a confirmation. And the price of the tickets in question have gone up in the interim.

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Internet (Not) Everywhere

We live in the era of pervasive access to the Web. Pretty much. Well no, not really.

By  |  Posted at 11:59 am on Thursday, April 28, 2011


Photo by Flickr user Secretlondon.

I know it’s possible to live without access to the Internet. (Hey, I lived the first fifteen years or so of my life before I heard the dulcet tone of a dial-up modem connection for the first time.) But a funny thing has happened as broadband, cellular networks, and Wi-Fi have put the Internet within my reach the vast majority of the time: I’ve gotten really bad at doing without the Net.

Case in point: Earlier this month, I flew from San Francisco to Alicante, Spain, for an event called the IFA Global Press Conference. The trek involved three plane flights and took close to 24 hours. And aside from a couple layovers, during which I fiddled my iPhone and futzed with iffy airport Wi-Fi, I was disconnected the whole time.
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Room 77: Know Your Hotel Room Before It’s Your Hotel Room

By  |  Posted at 10:46 am on Thursday, February 24, 2011


When I’m on the road and enter my hotel room for the first time, I turn on the light, survey my surroundings to mentally rate the quality of the accommodations for the price I paid, and then open the curtains so I can judge the view. So, I’ll bet, do you. But it always feels like a crapshoot–by the time I know much about the room, I’m in it and have agreed to pay for it.

Room 77–which was the first company to demo today at the Launch conference here in San Francisco–has a (potentially) better idea: It’s collecting and sharing information about individual rooms in specific hotels. It knows the features rooms have; it knows whether they’re corner rooms and how large they are; it uses Google Earth to generate simulated views as you’ll see them from specific rooms. If a particular hotel is in its database, you can judge its rooms from the comfort of home (or anywhere else–there’s an iPhone app).

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Twitter and Southwest Need to Check Their Security

By  |  Posted at 11:28 am on Saturday, January 15, 2011


At every available opportunity, I partake in airborne WiFi services. Yeah, I know public wireless isn’t the most secure form of connectivity. But, at the same time, I haven’t been bothered to set up a personal tunnel. And I’ll do just about anything to pass the time on a cross country flight… as I did when returning from CES last week. Southwest’s wireless service runs a mere $5 during testing and linking up on my LAS>BWI flight (3140, 1/8) was a no brainer – especially as I hadn’t loaded up my iPhone with content and my Kindle was left at home.

Unfortunately, there’s something not quite right with their Internet connection in relation to Twitter. As you can see, I wasn’t the only one in my account:

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The Phone of the Future is Still Broken

By  |  Posted at 12:16 pm on Tuesday, January 11, 2011


On my way home from Verizon’s iPhone event in New York–I returned to the John F. Kennedy International Airport seven hours after I left it–I wanted to sit down for a moment at the international terminal. Once again, the most convenient place to perch was at a fancy online-enabled pay phone from 1991 which I discovered during a trip last August. Back then, the phone had AT&T signage, was missing most of its keys, and didn’t work. I wasn’t sure if it had been in operational condition anytime this millennium, in fact.

This time, the phone showed signs that it wasn’t an orphan. The AT&T branding was gone, replaced by that of GTL (a company which appears to specialize in providing phones to prisons). And the keyboard had been repaired (mostly: the “3″ and “5″ keys were missing)

But the phone still didn’t work–no display, no dial tone, no nothing. I wonder when anyone wanted to use it–at least for a purpose other than making a voice call–and was frustrated by its sad condition?

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I’m grateful for the Google Chrome promotion that involves free Wi-Fi service on several airlines this holiday season. But when I flew between San Francisco and Boston last week, I noticed that the free Wi-Fi on Virgin America wasn’t as good as for-pay Wi-Fi I’m accustomed to–I kept getting disconnected. Gizmodo’s Jason Chen theorizes that the Gogo in-flight Internet service isn’t prepared to deal with the onslaught of freebie lovers.

Posted by Harry at 6:48 pm

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I really hope the outrage over the TSA’s new scanners and frisking policies–and, just as important, investigative reporting like this–continues until the government has no choice but to make changes.

Posted by Harry at 9:36 am

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Google’s Free Holiday Wi-Fi Skips Layovers, Boards the Plane

By  |  Posted at 2:29 pm on Monday, November 8, 2010


Google is bringing back free Wi-Fi to holiday travelers, but with one major difference from last year: Airports are out, more airlines are in.

Delta, AirTran and Virgin America are all participating in the free Wi-Fi offer on all domestic U.S. flights, powered by Gogo. Last year, the offer was valid only on Virgin flights, and at 47 U.S. airports. A splash page will promote Google’s Chrome web browser.

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The End of In-Flight Wi-Fi? Oh, Come On

By  |  Posted at 8:50 am on Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Aircraft bomb finds may spell end for in-flight Wi-Fi.” That’s the headline on a New Scientist story about last week’s discovery of bombs packed into laser-printer cartridges which were sent from Yemen and apparently intended to blow up airplanes. The point of the story is that terrorists might use in-flight Wi-Fi to communicate from the ground with a cell phone that had been rigged to trigger a bomb aboard a plane, a possibility so risky that it might lead to the abolishing of in-flight Wi-Fi, period.

The article doesn’t really live up to the headline: The closest it gets to evidence that Wi-Fi “may” be banned is a reference to an alarmed explosives expert saying it might be too dangerous.

Seems like a ludicrous overreaction to me. The in-air Wi-Fi I’ve used–Gogo–requires the user to log in and enter a CAPTCHA, and while I don’t discount the possibility of terrorists being smart enough to build a Wi-Fi-based bomb triggering device that can autonomously log into an in-flight network designed to be accessed by humans, it seems like it would require an awful lot of work on their part. Wouldn’t a plain old-fashioned timer produce much the same results with far less effort and technical knowledge required, and less likelihood that the device would fail or be detected?

Remember when a bunch of news organizations suggested that laptops might be banned from airplanes, period? Let’s hope this theory is just as solid as that one…


Hotel Wi-Fi: Still Not a Given

By  |  Posted at 9:25 am on Tuesday, September 21, 2010


USA Today has a trend story about upscale hotels hawking two price tiers for wi-fi, with the lower tier sufficient for e-mail and web browsing, and the higher one suitable for video and other high-bandwidth services.

As with the recurring story of wi-fi-free coffee shops, i’m not sure this one is fresh. In my experience, two-tiered wi-fi dates back at least a couple years, and the story presents only anecdotal evidence that the trend is growing: One upscale hotel chain, InterContinental, is testing the concept in three locations, and another, Four Seasons, has expanded two-tier Wi-Fi after testing began last year. InterContinental charges $10 per day for basic access and $15 for higher speeds.

The more surprising part of the story, I think, is that hotels, especially upscale ones, are still charging for wi-fi in the first place.

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The Phone of the Future is Broken

By  |  Posted at 3:43 pm on Tuesday, August 3, 2010


This AT&T computerphone (which seems to be a model that dates from 1991) at JFK’s international terminal is stuck at Windows NT’s boot loader screen. Which isn’t a huge problem, because someone’s stolen almost all the keys–including, sadly, <Ctrl>, <Alt>, and <Del>.

I wonder when it last worked, and when anyone last wanted to use it? I came across it because I was doing what seems to be the most common activity at airport pay phones these days: sitting down so I could use my laptop.

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