21 March 2015

The Evolution of Airline Communication

I've been flying in airplanes for 30 years now. I don't remember anything from my first flight, when my father moved the family from the Philippines to the United States, on the other side of the world. He was awarded a scholarship to pursue graduate studies in the University of Denver, so we flew in 1985 from Manila to Denver, via Los Angeles. I don't remember anything about this flight; I was just three years old. All I remember are the stories (and the reconstructed memories based on these stories) of my bathroom troubles during this flight; apparently I had some issues going to the toilet back then. And 30 years later, I find myself flying again into Denver, albeit in a different airport (Stapleton International Airport closed in the meantime).

I could only imagine how air travel has changed in the meantime. In fact, just in the aspect of booking flights, things have changed a lot. It used to be the case that one went to travel agents who had real offices and people bought tickets from them. Internet bookings were not common back then. Heck, back in 2005, when my sister and I flew to Vienna from Manila on Qatar Airways, I used a travel agency somewhere in Manila to buy my tickets. The same thing when I went to Taipei for my first ever conference presentation during the same year. And of course, when I moved to Buffalo to pursue a doctorate, I bought my one-way ticket through that same travel agency.

In 2006, when I wanted to visit my parents who were living in Prague at that time, at first I thought I needed to find myself a new travel agency. I searched for travel agencies in Buffalo, but somehow in my search, I stumbled across online travel agencies. Eventually, I became an Orbitz customer. At the same time, I became more aware of the various possible air connections, as well as the difference between low-cost airlines and legacy carriers, and therefore I became more creative in designing my flight itineraries in an attempt to reduce the cost. Hence, I ended up buying a ticket on Jetblue Airways from their website to fly to New York City from Buffalo, and then followed by a ticket on Swiss International Airlines to Prague from New York City, bought from Orbitz. Since the tickets were bought separately, I gave myself extra time to connect and transfer luggage. Looking back, that was a risky move, and I won't do that again unless I have a couple of days to spare, or if I have no checked-in luggage.

For the next seven years, I used Orbitz as my primary online travel agency. And then I moved to Berlin.

Now I use a combination of online travel agencies, as well as booking the tickets on the websites of the airlines themselves. I used to check for airfares directly on these online travel agencies, but nowadays you have Kayak as well as Skyscanner to check for flights. These flight search engines actually give you a choice on where to buy the tickets, and I typically choose the result that gets me the schedule I want with the price I like the most.

And most recently, I find myself communicating with airlines on Twitter. Whenever I have questions with my booking, I contact the airline on Twitter and they respond fairly quickly. It used to be the case that one has to call the airline, and wait for 15 minutes or so until one gets an agent on the other side of the line. Now one can simply send a note on Twitter and the airline responds without you needing to wait and disturb your day. I have contacted various airlines in the past via Twitter to confirm luggage allowances, to attach a frequent flyer number to my booking, as well as to ask other clarification questions regarding my upcoming flight. All these were not possible 30 years ago.

This just makes me wonder what air travel would be like in another 30 years. Maybe I'd be old by then, where I look back and ponder on how one's travel habits have changed during the years.


  1. Twitter? That's a good idea, never tried it with an airline! I used to go to student travel agencies like Travel Cuts to get flexible tickets and good deal. These days, we usually use Kayak and Expedia.

    1. Zhu,

      Oh it's a brilliant idea, using Twitter, I can contact airlines and have conversations with them, over long periods of time, without the waiting time. I've even confirmed reservations and special meals and luggage allowance using Twitter!