This past weekend I dragged myself and 8 of my teammates on an adventure to Charlottesville, Virginia to play in a squash tournament against UVA and a number of other new and exciting schools who we had not played before. First thing’s first – for those of you who inevitably don’t know what squash is, squash is a sport similar to racketball that requires a ball to be hit against a front wall in a small room in a way that makes it difficult for your opponent to return that ball to the front wall. If you’re familiar with racketball – the biggest difference is that a squash ball doesn’t really bounce at all. If you’re curious or just confused, here’s a link to see some really good people who can demonstrate better than I can explain. In general though, it’s fun and basically all I do with my time.
While I could easily talk about squash for an entire blog post and may in the future, this is about is about my travel and the archaic systems that I witnessed being used in the wake of things getting screwed up. On both ends of our trip, we had delays, cancellations, and re-bookings; while I was sorting out these issues I was able to see the systems that were being used by the employees in Boston, La Guardia, and Charlottesville, and I became nervous about the nature of their technological capabilities. The screens I saw looked like the desktops that I learned to type on in middle school – outdated, inefficient, and confusing. While the employees seemed very comfortable using the systems, the search process for other travel options seemed less comprehensive than Expedia or any other travel booking website and extremely susceptible to mistakes given the terminal-esque nature of the command platform. I feel reasonably comfortable using my computer’s terminal but I know I’ve messed up a few files over time by entering the wrong thing. I consider myself a very trusting person, and even though I understand that an update of a system for a company as large as American Airlines would be a huge undertaking, I was very nervous for the sake of my travel plans, my personal information, and my exhausted team.
Everything obviously worked out and we arrived at our destinations safely, but this got me thinking about the airline industry and how it uses technology. I did a quick search online about aviation technology, new technology investments for airlines, and upcoming trends in this same space, and I found some interesting things. While it seems that American Airlines and others are investing in improved screening and security as well as other innovative capabilities along those lines, it doesn’t seem that a systems update is on their list of priorities. That said, the information that particularly stood out to me were some trends projected to change the airport industry that we could expect to see coming into play in the future (6 Technologies That Will Revolutionize The Aviation and Airport Industry in 2017). This article wrote about many things, among them, the potential use of blockchain technology to improve and streamline airline’s technology and data. I suggest checking out the article, and while I find it super interesting, I can’t say it made me feel any more confident in the security or management of my personal information or travel plans, especially given the notoriously risky and insecure nature of blockchain.
There is a distinct possibility that I got an inaccurate perception of the systems in place from my cursory and uninformed viewing of it. There’s a possibility that I was tired and pessimistic from my travel complications. Yet there’s also the possibility that the system is outdated and putting customers at risk. In any case, I don’t think it bodes well for airlines that my moderate faith in them significantly wavered after a quick glance at their screens. I can’t justify my thoughts and questions without more information, which I don’t know how to go about acquiring and wouldn’t know what to do with if I found it. I just worry that people are so excited about new technologies and glamorous, exciting developments that they’re getting complacent with maintenance of older ones. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality works for some things, but I really don’t think it applies to technology when you’re in charge of sensitive information, especially at the scale of an international airline.