web Musings of The Global Traveller

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Too many flights (part 2 - schedule change hassles)

A couple of hours of my time gone for no good reason.

I got a call from an airline to say their schedule had changed and it affected an itinerary.

Marks awarded for being proactive, but marks taken off for not noticing the schedule changed forced an impossible connection (flight 1 arrives later than flight 2 departs) and more marks taken off for not realising the schedule change affected another half dozen or so similar itineraries.

After I got those sorted I wondered what other bookings were affected and so looked up my other 150 odd flights booked but unflown. Sure enough some more were non-trivially impacted to the point of misconnecting. For one the airline had cancelled 2 flights and rebooked on alternative flights. The problem was flight 2 arrived earlier than flight 1 departed!

If the TripIt site I reviewed yesterday can automatically identify schedule changes and highlight them, that will make life so much easier.

I admit I don't check for schedule changes as much as I should. I have a few rules of thumb to help:

  • Where the flights are longhaul flagship/prime routes with plenty of flights and I have long connections, I don't bother checking (unless I'm told) - especially if the origin/destination are slot constrained or have curfews. For here the potential for schedule changes significant enough to disrupt my plans is low - most schedule changes are likely to be an hour or less. An exception might be if an airline drops a route. For example when United stopped flying between New York and London.
  • Where the flights are domestic trunk routes with plenty of flights and I am not connecting to or from a flight that is infrequent, I don't bother checking. For here most schedule changes are likely to be only a few minutes.
  • For flights that are infrequent to/from destinations that are hard to get to (eg few flights, limited availability, have schedule timing issues or visa implications) and/or have multiple tight connections, then I check a month or so before the trip and again closer to departure. For here even minor changes may be enough to cause significant disruption to my travel.
  • In other cases I don't check much - mainly when I remember.

The last two categories I really should check more regularly to save myself some grief.

Finally, here is a blog entry from a year ago on schedule changes and tools to check your itineraries.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Too many flights

I think I've been on too many shorthaul flights lately, or rather too many on the same airline. I can't get a couple of songs out of my head. The songs' music videos are played on a certain airline's IFE, on certain flights only.

Is it crazy to select or avoid an airline based on the music video being played?

Itinerary organiser

Yet another travel/itinerary organiser, TripIt, is being launched today. The basic concept is you can forward confirmation emails and it will automatically interpret and convert into standard itinerary format. Direct links to relevant useful travel sites are added - google map, seatguru, weather, etc. You can also enter itinerary details and notes manually. Itineraries can be shared with others.

My first test on 2 different upcoming trips did not go smoothly. One of the destinations was not supported despite being a tourist hot spot, and there was no way to accept my typed entry - if it couldn't find a match in the database the destination (or any other field) gets left blank. Despite not allowing the destination, once I had entered flight details it linked to the correct place for weather information and google map.

The airlines (both fairly major ones) were not supported and I was left to manually enter the flight information. It was annoying the required confirmation number was not identified as a compulsory field. I liked how it looks up flight data so that you only need to enter date, airline and flight number. It will be even better if it automatically updates for schedule changes. It even was clever enough to recognise that one of my flights has 2 segments with the same flight number and ask which one I was on. I didn't like that there was no option to enter origin, destination and flight times manually, and that one flight returned was not correct.

Hopefully these bugs (and to me design flaws) will be fixed, and more importantly the supported list of travel providers gets expanded. I can see this being very useful and a big time saver for me in the future. It certainly was easy to use.