#Techsgiving: Digital Tools and Services that Powered My Break

Ah, Thanksgiving. It’s the holiday us college students need, but not the one we deserve. Whether it’s an excuse for procrastinating a paper, stuffing your face with free food, or playing holiday music (#SeasonRusher), there are lots of reasons to be thankful on Thanksgiving. This time last year, I was with friends in Italy for a week and a half, so it was especially nice to be back in the U.S. for Turkey Day.

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On my way back from New York on Sunday night, I reflected on the different things I did over break and soon realized how new advancements in technology really influenced my short trip. Here’s a breakdown of the digital tools and services I took advantage of over #Techsgiving:

  

Monday: Amtrak Mobile App

I’ve ridden Amtrak’s Northeast Regional to and from Boston to reach New York’s Penn Station before, and the journey takes about 4.5 hours from station to station. In the past, Amtrak’s website was old and clunky, and its mobile site and apps were even more outdated. Luckily, when it came time to book my train ride home for Thanksgiving, I was able to use Amtrak’s new website, which they’ve been “refreshing” for some time now.

Train   Bus Tickets   National Railroad   USA   Canada   Amtrak.png

Of course, traveling home for the holidays (almost) never goes without a hitch for me, that meant missing my train. Luckily, I had the Amtrak mobile app already on my iPhone, and I was able to modify my reservation and convert my missed train ticket into a ticket for the next train. And, thankfully enough, another train was leaving Back Bay within 15 minutes of my original train.

The Amtrak app was easy to use and allowed me to switch tickets, check the train’s status, and see the amenities included on my new train. Not only did this make me consider how a traditionally static industry has been making great strides in digital investments, but it also made me take a second look into traveling by train rather than car or plane (as I’ve done in the past). Pretty sweet!

 

Tuesday: King Kullen “Fast Lane”

Image result for king kullen fast lane self checkout

While I was home for the week, I figured I’d make dinner for my family. (It’s the least I could do, right?) I went to our local supermarket, King Kullen, and bought a dozen or so ingredients to make quesadillas. As I approached checkout, I remembered King Kullen recently installed self-checkout lanes you might have seen these at Home Depot, Lowes, Wegmans, CVS, or anywhere else that has similar systems. At King Kullen, they call it the “Fast Lane”.

While I’m not necessarily sold on how “fast” it is, I generally find it more convenient than waiting on line, especially if I only have a few things. As with most systems, coupons automatically scan and the terminals accept chip-based credit cards. It also makes sense from a business perspective: these self-checkout lanes only have one employee on-call for the inevitable “please wait for assistance” error for the four self-checkout lanes installed; if they were their own checkout lines, the store would need at least four cashiers to staff them.

 

Wednesday: Long Island Rail Road eTix App

On the day before Thanksgiving, I headed into New York City for an interview in Midtown. The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), which has a stop in my hometown, broughImage result for will likely be late because of who i am as a persont me into New York’s Penn Station, and the New York City Subway brought me one stop to 42nd Street – Times Square. The LIRR released a convenient free app about a year ago that allows you to purchase train tickets on your smartphone; once you create an account, you can store your credit card for future transactions. This is especially helpful if you’re eternally late (like me) and have a tendency to miss trains (especially ones from Boston).

As I tweeted later that evening, the LIRR was plagued with ongoing delays as a result of Amtrak restoration that began over the summer. However, once the train left Penn Station, it was a smooth ride back to my hometown, and the LIRR eTix app made the stress of making a return train much simpler.

 

Saturday: Uber’s “Multiple Destinations” Feature

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On my final night home, I went into town with friends from high school to celebrate my 21st birthday (finally!). On our way back, we were about to call the local taxi company for a $5/person ride that is, until I remembered Uber’s new app update that allows you to add up to three stops to a single Uber ride. Although I tried this in New York, the feature is also available in Boston and other cities nationwide. Not only was this incredibly convenient for my three friends and me, but it cost half as much as a taxi!

 

Sunday: Fly Delta App

I have a keen interest in the airline industry, and I have written a blog post about airline loyalty for this class in the past. For my return trip to Boston, I flew Delta from Kennedy Airport into Logan, and was blown away by the airline’s recent investments in baggage tracking technology.

Just over a year ago, Delta launched this in-app feature as a part of its $50 million technology investment. Using RFID technology, Delta baggage handlers no longer have to manually scan each individual bag; instead, scanners are in place to automate the process. This feature is live at 84 airports across the U.S., including our very own Boston-Logan. As I had delayed baggage on a Delta flight not too long ago, these improvements not only provided ease-of-mind for me, but also heightened the overall travel experience by thoughtfully integrating technology in a seamless and useful way.

In addition to my family and friends, I had a lot to be thankful this #Techsgiving. Personally, the Fly Delta app and the RFID-powered baggage tracking topped my list as the coolest service I interacted with on my week-long trip back home.

  

Have you used any of these tools or services before? If so, what was your experience with them?

  

Further reading:

9 comments

  1. Great post. When you engage in a reflection like this, it makes one realize just how pervasive technology has become in our daily lives.

  2. I am glad you wrote about this topic because I had a similar thought about the increase of tech in my life when I was flying back to school texting my friends from 30,000ft. I also noticed how tech has started to encroach on the actual meal of thanksgiving. My mom used her iPad to look up recipes for different dishes, we told Alexa to set timers and listen to some holiday music. Going off of what Prof. Kane was saying, tech has become so pervasive in our every day lives that I don’t think the holidays would be the same without it!

  3. Great post, Matt! When I was traveling a lot during my time abroad last year I found transit system’s mobile apps to be pretty spotty depending on where I was so its good to hear the ‘ole Amtrak is keeping up. I used to ride Amtrak regularly to visit a friend in Providence and didn’t have a lot of luck with the old clunky website so its good to see that they updated that. These technologies really are ubiquitous in day to day life. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Its so surprising how much technology impacts our everyday lives. It is crazy to even think about how recent a lot of these technological advances are and how much we are already dependent on them. I also agree with you in that not all technological advances are for the better, the self check lines are actually really time consuming and need some major modifications. Awesome post Matt, and happy 21st birthday!

  5. Nice post! Sometimes it is easy to get so caught up in what we are doing that we don’t notice how much we use technology, especially when traveling. I took the bus home to New Jersey and on my ride back one of the buses kept having technical issues so we stopped on the side of the highway multiple times. From the middle of Connecticut I could simultaneously text my mom so she could track my location and see my progress, Snapchat my roommates that I was going to be late coming back, email the class I TA for that I wasn’t going to make office hours, and listen to Christmas music. It is amazing all the capabilities available to us that can help make the tough situations that inevitably arise during travel, a little less stressful. However, I do think that when the technology we depend on fails, we become even more frustrated. For example, if I didn’t have service or my phone died, I would not have been a happy camper.

  6. Awesome post, Matt! I love how you incorporated your personal travel experience into the blog. I recently flew home to Miami for break via American Airlines, and it too made it a relief for me to be able to check the status of my luggage. I will definitely make sure to make use of the new Amtrack platform when visiting New York! I also agree with the frustration of only having one attendant available at the check out lines at grocery stores. I feel like because of this, I usually tend to just use the express checkout lanes.

  7. It was really interesting to read about all of the different apps that people now use to simply travel over a holiday break. Although many of these apps are helpful, I agree with Julia that when these technologies fail we do become more frustrated. For instance, a few months ago I downloaded the LIRR app when it first came out. I bought my train ticket via the app while I was on the train and was ready to use it. When the conductor came around to collect tickets, however, I didn’t have service and therefore couldn’t access my ticket. While the conductor didn’t penalize me for the glitch, I have yet to use the app again because of the frustration that it caused me. Still, I think that the benefits of these applications outweigh the negatives in the long run. I especially like the Delta luggage feature, and see this as something that all airlines will most likely debut in the future. Great post!

  8. Great post Matt. It really is crazy just how much technology consumes our life, and the shear number of times in a given day or week that we depend on something like an app. Your experiences are not too different from mine, as I’ve used the Amtrak app in my travels, and also frequent the fast lane in stores.

  9. Awesome post Matt! Love seeing how impactful great technology can be on a day to day basis. The integration of digital platforms into our lives and the ease and simplicity that comes along with innovation is great to see. Having a newfound perspective on the use of digital in our lives through taking this course makes it easier than ever to really appreciate the tech we have every day – almost something to give thanks for!

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