I think blogs were probably first invented by travelers as away to try to relieve some frustration. I guess it is understandable but, I still am amazed at the frustration associated with travel. Here is my story of the day.

I get up early this morning for a trip from Boston to San Francisco. I have my travel arrangements in hand from our travel service confirming my reservations. I have the Email from my airline confirming my flight with a confirmation number and seat assignment and even asking if I would like to “check in online.” Wow – the era of modern technology.

OK with all of this data being sent to me, you would think I should feel reasonably confident that I actually have a seat for this flight – right? 

I get to the airport and the little “kiosk” kicks me out with one of those “we are unable to process your request” messages. I always wonder who they were referring to when they say “we” but I will let that one go. Why be so cryptic? How about something more simple like “hey moron – you have no seat – go away” – so I must seek out human assistance to sort this out. One trick I learned long ago was that it is usually quicker to call for help; especially on these morning flights where there are 2 people staffing a check in counter with 100 people in line.

So I call the reservations desk. First, of course, I must go through my favorite game of “get a human on the line.” This is an art in itself and fodder for another blog entry but after a few buttons and some verbal banter with the voice recognition system, I am in! It feels like a game to me; if you not careful, you can get lost in “the abyss of automation.” 

A very nice-sounding person gets on the line and I explain my situation. She looks up the record and says “well the problem is that you don’t have a ticket for this flight.” Her explanation is that the travel agent didn’t “re-ticket” a schedule change I had made. Now I know if I call the ticket agent – they will claim that the airline did something wrong and this will get me nowhere so I try a different approach. After securing a seat on the flight (and I guess paying a lot more for ticketing 1 hour prior to departure) I asked what I thought was a simple and logical question; “how can verify in the future that I actually do have a ticket?”

“What do you mean?” She asked 

“I mean is there any way to know that I have a ticket to fly on your airline?” I asked.

“Well, we do send you a confirmation and you can always go online and check,” she answered.

“I know,” I said. “And you even sent me an email with a confirmation number and a link to check-in when I didn’t even have a ticket. Clearly a confirmation number is meaningless.” 

Obviously, she we not going to be able to solve this herself but I hoped the she understood the irony in what she was saying. I am actually not sure she ever did.

This really is an information integrity problem. One interesting thing she did tell me was that the automated Email system that sends me the offer to check-in online only runs against the “reservation data” and not the “ticket data.” The bad news is that when I go to actually check in, they do check for a ticket. 

Today we have so many new systems trying to use information and, often, assumptions are being drawn from that data that are simply not accurate. As I have found several times now, I can call or go online to confirm travel and receive confirmation numbers, times, and even seat assignments with literally no warning that I really don’t have a ticket to fly.

Systems are only as good as their information sources and, clearly, this is a major driver for more information-centricity to our IT approach. In most organizations today, too much information remains trapped behind monolithic applications effectively making this task even more difficult. Success at leveraging information depends highly on the ability for access to timely, consistent, and accurate data.

I doubt that IT can cure all of the travel frustrations but insuring information reliability and integrity could go a long way towards eliminating at least a few frustrating times. 

Mark…

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