Data Challenges and Travel

I made a quick trip to Pensacola recently for SQL Saturday #884. I had a great time and consider myself honored to be picked to speak, as well as lucky that I can make the trip. I didn’t have a smooth trip, as I wrote on my blog, but things worked out. These were really first world problems and minor hassles for me.

When I wrote my blog, I was thinking about all the data I received, and didn’t receive on the trip. Across the last few years, United (my primary airline) has enhanced their apps and services to share more data with travelers. I get text reminders two hours before flights, which is usually my drop dead time to leave the house for the airport. A good reminder for me. I get an announcement when boarding starts. I’m usually there, but if I’m late, or busy in an airport trying to find food, coffee, or a restroom, this is a great reminder.

Maybe the best part for me as a frequent traveler is the information about what’s happening with the plane before I get on it. There’s a “where is this plane coming from?” and a “where is this plane currently” view that I’ve used to make decisions on how to handle delays or other issues. While this might not matter to most people, though kids will love it, this has helped me to decide to rebook, alter plans at times, or even just keep working a bit longer during delays. Timing can be everything for frequent travelers.

Perhaps one of the amazing things with the data from airlines is baggage. While I don’t know how things work, I have been amazed at times that my bags get from plane A to plane B in a short time. My frequent travels from Denver to London have had me running between planes at times. This means that baggage handlers have to know there are a few bags (I’m often not the only one) that are in a particular bin or bucket on plane A need to be separated out from other bags and routed to a plane, not the collection point. Add in the fact that many other bags might need to go to different planes in a short time, and it’s actually incredible that most bags get on the plane with their owners. Or maybe that’s a major source of “unexplained delays”. Who knows, but when you think about the challenges, it’s incredible.

Certainly the data sharing isn’t perfect, and I’m sure the companies are careful about what they share. At the same time, I appreciate that other companies are doing a better job of using data and technology. While on my trip, I got a picture from Amazon of a package that was delivered to my house. I know it was my house because the package was next to a planter on my porch. Useful in case one of the kids moves it and denies doing so.

Mistakes will continue to be made by companies all over the world, and certainly we should understand that. The more data they collect, and the more they share, the more we can better understand what went wrong and fix it in the future.

Steve Jones

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2 Responses to Data Challenges and Travel

  1. jdanton1 says:

    Delta has better operational efficiency than AA and UA, and I’m pretty sure it relates to their better use of data, just based on my overall experiences with the carriers.


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