I recently traveled with a friend who doesn't travel often. She arrived at the airport armed with a printed version of her boarding pass, a retro flip phone, a paper map and a boatload of anxiety -- more than you'd want to have on a vacation.
After complaining that she feels like a Luddite because of her lack of tech skills, it occurred to me how at sea anyone would feel when the world -- in this case, the traveling world -- seems to have passed them by.
Of course, travel agents can help walk nervous Europe-bound clients through various aspects of the trip, but there are other moving parts, including airport navigation, that we often tackle on our own.
A quick look at today's travel behavior illustrates the point. I usually check in and select seats for international flights online or at a kiosk at the airport, often have my boarding pass on my phone, and I use Global Entry for a speedy arrival experience back home.
I also take advantage of onboard WiFi, and increasingly I use ride-sharing apps for airport transfers, comparing rates while standing on the sidewalk outside the terminal. None of these behaviors are unusual or ahead of the curve at all, but in the larger sense, the changes have come about quickly -- too quickly for my friend to keep up.
While harboring these thoughts, I found myself wondering what new innovations are next for Europe travel.
One much-talked-about improvement is biometric ID scanning, which is popping up at airports in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere. British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa and Delta are among the carriers testing and rolling out facial recognition and fingerprint scanning for services that range from security checkpoints and boarding to bag drop and club lounge access.
Applications for augmented reality (AR) are also in the works for airport navigation and baggage handling. KLM, for example, just launched an AR service that lets passengers use their cell phone cameras to measure their carry-on bags to make sure they fit the airline's guidelines.
The KLM app is available for download for iOS or Android.
As to ride sharing, Lufthansa is now partnering with Mytaxi to create Mytaximatch, an app that pairs arriving passengers with other travelers to share a ride from Munich Airport to city center. In addition to convenience, customers pay a maximum of about $56 for the ride, about a 50% discount over regular rates.
To encourage passengers to try the service, which launched in September, Lufthansa is giving users a credit of 150 Premium Miles for each taxi ride they take during the three-month testing period.
While I'm onboard with these advances, my friend expressed concern over the Big Brother nature of the technology, which she regards as surveillance. Then again, she freely admits she might feel differently if she traveled as much as I do and logged countless hours cooling her heels in the passport line at international airports.
Either way, like it or not, these innovations are probably the tip of the iceberg of what's to come, especially if they can make the airport experience, by far the worst part of air travel, a little more pleasant without compromising safety.