Tag Archives: Travel

Disrupting Travel Disruption

easyJet seem to be taking an interesting, if not pioneering, approach to disruptive tech. While fintech has mostly absorbed the wave of startups that went after the financial industry from about 2011, travel startups initially went after the middlemen, creating a host of algorithm-based disintermediators, and put a lot of travel agents out of business. 

But airlines? Well there was this kind of thing, which I reported on a year or so ago. But what about the airlines themselves? EasyJet are taking the approach of incubating companies that complement its business, adding layers and businesses on the edge of what it does — which is ferry people around in the air. 

Today, for example, it announced that it had adopted a new raft of startups into its accelerator programme: 

– WeTrip an online, group travel booking platform which sells holiday packages to small groups. Their algorithm is connected to distinctive activity suppliers comparing endless combinations of components to build real-time offers, according to the preferences of the group. Payment is also made simple as group members can pay separately.

– Car and Away a peer-to-peer car sharing community where car owners make money out of their parked vehicle whilst they are away on their travels. 

FlightSayer  uses sophisticated simulation algorithms and machine learning to better predict flight delays hours, days, and weeks before departure. With a $1.75m grant from NASA, the company’s technology is being used in the US by corporations, airlines and travel management companies to improve travel experience and increase efficiencies with plans to adapt to the European airspace.

TrustedHousesitters, a global community of pet sitters.

So none of these detract from easyJet’s business, but enhance it. None are disrupters, per se, although Car and Away does eat into car rentals. Instead easyJet uses these startups to add value to its own service: 

– easyJet and TrustedHousesitters have partnered up to allow passengers  to choose a free house sitter for their pet or find free accommodation as a house or pet sitter when booking flights at easyJet.com.

Previous graduates of the program have already partnered up — FLIO, an airport app, is working on integrating its content with the easyJet Travel App. LuckyTrip are also working on something similar. 

Behind all this: Founders Factory, a sort of innovation factory backed by corporates from six sectors:  easyJet (Travel), L’Oréal (Beauty), Aviva (Fintech), Holtzbrinck (Education), Guardian Media Group (Media) and CSC Group (Artificial Intelligence).

 

Marooned at 30,000 Feet

Don’t be fooled: Business class doesn’t have anything to do with business.

Aboard the new Cathay Pacific business class seats, which feel like a cross between a throwback to the cubicles of boarding school and cow pens. Still, they’re fitted out with power sockets — real square ones, which don’t require fancy plugs, so I eagerly rolled up my sleeves for another working blitz. This time around I didn’t even bother to bring my back up battery because on the outgoing flight, despite it being an older aircraft, they carried power adapters for most brands of laptop.

So I was only marginally alarmed when no power came through to my laptop. I pinged the attendant, who looked apologetic and said “There’s a Memo on this actually,” she said, as if that made it all alright. “This flight is HKU which means there’s no power.” She kind of looked as if this was good news; that I’d be somehow delighted by the news and slam my laptop lid shut and order caviar. Instead I spluttered into my champagne. “No power?” I gasped. “This is business class, right?”

She went away to talk to her colleague, who came back with the actual Memo itself. Turns out this flight really does have no power. Well, presumably, it has some to fly the plane, as by now we’re halfway through the first round of drinks and have reached 30,000 feet. But there’s no power to replace my fast dwindling battery, and no one looks like they’re about to thread a cable through from the cockpit or something. So, I’ve got about 20 minutes of battery left, half of which I’m taking up writing this rant.

This is where I have some issues with the whole class system. Surely “business class” means just that? It means that the class is designed for road warriors like me who want to keep working, indeed plan our schedule around it. Instead, we’ve got in-flight entertainment up the wazoo, but no way to actually turn this time into something productive. (And don’t get me started on the lack of free WiFi at the business class lounge at Heathrow. It’s like going back to the 90s.)

Disappointing stuff. I don’t often get the chance to fly business class, but if this is how airlines assign their priorities — loungers, booze and Big Entertainment why don’t they at least change the name to something more apt: Leisure Class, Lazy Class, Lots of Cash and Nothing To Do But Watch Movies and Eat Oysters Class?

Next time I’m going cattle class and bringing six batteries. And if I ever do fly Business Class on Cathay again I’ll ask to see the Memo before I book.

Revenge of the Bollards

Is it a design fault, or is there some malice afoot in the Bollards War?

The UK city of Manchester has introduced something called ‘retractable bollards’ (non UK folk may call them posts) that sink into the ground when an approved vehicle approaches. (Sensors trigger the bollard’s retraction.) Great idea, right, since it means that buses and mail vans can get into pedestrian zones of the city but others can’t. The only problem is other drivers:

  • who assume that if a bus can get through, so can they; or who
  • try to cheat the system by sneaking through after the bus

This is what it looks like in action (thanks to Charles):

Now Manchester isn’t the first to try these bollards. Edinburgh ditched them last year after spending £150,000 when a local paper led a public outcry (I always love a good outcry.)

As you can see from the video, getting impaled on a bollard is not fun. They come back up as soon as the permitted vehicle has passed, so even the fastest driver isn’t going to have much luck. The Manchester Evening News reports some folk being taken to hospital and cars being written off. A 63-year old man died in Cambridge after crashing into one. This is all somewhat ironic given, according to another report in the paper, the bollards were introduced “on a trial basis because of the street’s high casualty rate.”

Surprisingly, many of those commenting support the bollards (variously spear bollards, rising bollards, those bollards, bollards from hell, and, inevitably, Never Mind the Bollards.) One points out the guy driving the SUV/4×4 is clearly trying to speed thro before the bollards come up. You can only imagine the conversation taking place as his partner grabs their kid and struts off (“Bollards! You bollarding idiot! I told you you’d never make through the bollarding bollards!”).

My tupennies’ worth: I think traffic maiming (as opposed to traffic calming) is a great idea but doesn’t go far enough. We need similar measures to punish, sorry deter, drivers who routinely flout the law and common decency. Why not, for example, deploy the retractable bollards elsewhere, like

  • the centre of a restricted parking space, so it would rise at the end of the designated period, impaling the vehicle if the driver had overstayed his alloted time;
  • at random points on the hard shoulder on toll roads/motorways so that cars illegally using it as a fast lane would be impaled,  or flipped over into an adjacent field

Where necessary, bollards could be replaced by other features such as

  • a mechanical arm, installed on the roadside and connected to a speed sensor, which would crush cars passing by too fast or too slow, depending on what irritated other drivers the most.
  • or cars driving through built-up areas too fast would be taken out by snipers deployed in trees/tall buildings. If necessary the snipers could be automated.
  • cars straddling two lanes or changing lanes without indicating first would be sliced in half by retractable blades intermittently rising out of the demarcating lines
  • motorbikes using the sidewalk (a particular bane in my neck of the woods) would risk having their tyres slashed by strips of spikes activated by the annoying sound of approaching underpowered Chinese-made engines.

Of course, there’s always a less, er, physical option. The retractable bollard contains a second sensor, which tells it that there’s a second, unauthorized vehicle passing over it. It doesn’t rise, but instead squirts evil-smelling goo onto the bottom of the car which renders the vehicle uninhabitable for at least a month. The driver is suitably chastened but no one dies.

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Phear Of Phishing Doesn’t Just Hit The Bankers

Beware The Fear. The blizzard of coverage about phishing (usually involving some awful pun) has done a lot to raise awareness about the problem, but is it enough?

A survey by Insight Express for Symantec of 300 people (no URL available yet, sorry) shows that while three quarters of folk are aware of spyware only a quarter of them have heard of phishing. This cloud of ignorance creates confusion and fear: 44.2 percent of respondents thought they had visited a fraudulent Web site but were not sure. 19.3 percent said they had definitely visited a fraudulent Web site. A little over half are somewhat concerned about online fraud, while 42 percent are ‘very concerned’. In other words, nearly everyone is worried.

This fear is already having an impact. Three quarters of folk will now only purchase purchase products through secure sites. That’s encouraging — and not bad for business — but the following figures are: nearly half will not now provide confidential data over the Internet while nearly a third won’t use the Internet for online banking. About 15% said they don’t trust the Internet.

This fear and distrust is not going to go away. More than half of respondents felt they knew how to protect themselves from online fraud and/or online identity theft, while a bit under half didn’t think they knew how to protect themselves. Taken with my own unscientific dabbling and MailFrontier’s recent survey which found that 28% of American adults “inaccurately identify phishing emails”, I’d say we have a problem. Or in fact several.

First off, many of those people who think they know how to protect themselves are easy prey. They are going to continue to be duped as phishing attacks grow more sophisticated. That’s going to keep the problem going, in part because of weak or misleading ‘solutions’ such as browser tools and software that supposedly ‘identifies’ fraudulent emails or links. These tools only raise people’s comfort levels and lower their guard.

The broader problem is this: As the number of victims rises, the number of people not giving confidential data over the Internet, not using Internet banking, and ‘not trusting the Internet’, is going to rise. This is already hurting retailers who have found major cost savings by shifting business over to the Internet. A piece yesterday by The Register’s John Leyden quotes a recent survey by LogicaCMG as saying that one in five British users would ”hesitate about booking trips online because of mistrust of the ability of travel companies to keep their financial and personal details secure”. Given it costs a travel agent 40 times more to take a booking by phone than online, this is hitting their bottom line hard. This will only get worse as more victims succumb, and phishing attacks are no longer one of the bad things that happen to other people.

Then there’s the banks. It’s been suggested to me that banks don’t really care about whether people use Internet banking, since if people start going back to their branches to do their business banks will make their money anyway. But, while appealing, that conspiracy theory fails to take into account the link between online commerce and online banking. If people don’t trust the Internet to do banking, it’s very unlikely they’ll buy something online. That will hit credit card business hard, a mainstay of retail banks. Like it or not, the fate of banks is inextricably tied to the fate of online retailing. So banks don’t have much choice.

Bottom line: The future of online commerce is not just about whether it’s viable for retailers to do some of their business online. For many retailers it is their business, or at least it’s the difference between being profitable or not. Phishing is not just an attack on banking and financial sites. It’s an attack on the future of online commerce, which, believe it or not, is still vulnerable because it relies on trust. And trust is not just about reassuring customers, or launching vague ‘education campaigns’ to give people a vague idea about whether they’re safe, and what to do to make themselves safer. It’s about making transactions secure, policing website registries for fraudulent domains, working together for a better way to communicate between retailer/bank and customer. All of these things, a year after phishing took off, haven’t been done. Hence The Fear.

News: Terrorist List Hit By, Er, Virus

 AP reports that the State Department’s electronic system for checking every visa applicant for terrorist or criminal history failed worldwide for several hours late Tuesday because of a computer virus, leaving the U.S. government briefly unable to issue visas. The virus crippled the department’s Consular Lookout and Support System, known as CLASS, which contains more than 12.8 million records from the FBI, the State Department and U.S. immigration, drug-enforcement and intelligence agencies. Among the names are those of at least 78,000 suspected terrorists. There was apparently no backup.

News: The Future Of Inflight Entertainment, From A Baggage Handler

 Nice, interesting story about an Alaska Airlines baggage handler who has come up with the digEplayer, a 2.4-pound, battery-powered unit can hold up to 30 full-length movies, hours of digital music, maps, cartoons, sitcoms, language courses and travel promotions. It’s an inflight entertainment system that will start appearing on Alaska Airlines next month: The units, which cost a little more than $1,000, will be provided free to first-class passengers. Passengers in the main cabin will be able to rent the media players for $10 or reserve them before boarding for $8.

News: Turkmenistan Gets It Right

From the I Know This Puts Me in The Old Attila the Hun, Died In The Wool Conservative, Young Fogey department, a story from Turkmenistan that I can’t help feeling is a step in the right direction. News Central Asia reports (and thanks to TechDirt for pointing it out) that drivers in Turkmenistan are now forbidden to eat, drink, smoke, listen to loud music or use a mobile phone while driving their vehicles.

These restrictions were announced on 1 May 2003 under the presidential order “Rules of Traffic for Turkmenistan” but their release was delayed because the driver carrying the order from the Ministry of Defence was arrested for picking his nose on the way. (Actually I made that bit up. He was caught playing The Rubettes ‘Sugar Baby Love’ and singing the high bits, thereby also breaking another set of laws about mimicking strangled chickens while working heavy machinery. )

The government handout goes on (and all this is real if nCa is to be believed): These rules are meant to enforce contemporary world practices in Turkmenistan.

Part of the problem seems to be enforcement. The regular traffic police, which operated under the Ministry of the Interior, was liquidated last year for reasons I am not able to go into here, mainly because I am not an expert on Turkmenistan. They now work under the management of the ministry of defence which inducts military conscripts as traffic cops. This may not be unrelated to a new system of penalties to encourage people to conform to the laws. According to a system introduced in January, a traffic penalty must be paid within 12 hours, or by 8 am the next day if the ticket was issued after 6 pm the previous day. In case of failure to do so, the amount of penalty would double every 12 hours. After 72 hours, the vehicle would be confiscated and will remain in government custody until the fine is paid. “It has been noted with satisfaction that the [stricter] rules have brought good results; now there are fewer traffic incidents,” says the official statement. It probably also means there are no cars left on the road that don’t belong to the police. That the traffic police are all carrying grenade launchers also probably helps. (I made that bit up too.)

Now it only remains to be seen what happens with these new violations. I have to say I’m all in favour. I hate people eating while they’re driving, particularly if they’re on the phone. And especially if they’re drinking at the same time, AND listening to The Rubettes. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.