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Air France – KLM to offer eTag, eTrack by end-2014.

March 29th, 2014

Kinny Cheng

Interestingly, Air France – KLM has bitten the bullet with their own bag-tagging and tracking solution, appropriately called eTag and eTrack, and is expected to go live by the end of the year.

It was only a few days ago that I posted my observations on Airbus’s own Bag2Go concept, which laid out the groundwork for a very similar solution.

(And “no surprise” to how Air France – KLM have gone with Samsonite for the special edition bag, a competitive stance against Rimowa.)

Off-the-cuff questions: Bag tag security concerns (e.g. ease/difficulty of changing the eTag’s display); and reliability of physically staying with its supposed check-in bag.

Paying for miles with your privacy.

March 28th, 2014

Drs. Andor Demarteau

Over the last several years, commercial companies have increasingly found social media as a new platform to strengthen their brands and give away perks, or at least pretend you have the chance of winning something.

Increasingly, these actions also seem to attract people towards social media. Because if you don’t have an account on Facebook or Twitter (the latter to a lesser percentage of usage), you simply cannot take part in the newest sweepstakes of your “favoured” brand.

I shall now look at two very different ways that airlines are making use of your social habits and profiles: KLM’s Meet & Seat program, and American Airlines’ current AAdvantage Passport Challenge promotion.

KLM: Meet & Seat

This KLM initiative is aimed at passengers who travel alone, and interested in sitting (or being seated) next to another passenger with similar interests for a particular flight. The idea is to share bits of your social media profile, from either a Facebook or LinkedIn account, so that other passengers, also choosing to share, can find a seat near a fellow passenger having similar interests and who is travelling to the same destination (for example, a conference or business meeting).

No perks, no costs. More importantly, the relevant data is removed from KLM’s systems 48 hours after the flight’s departure. Why 48 hours, and not directly after wheels-up, is a bit of a mystery. But at least there seems to be no harm done here (or is there?)

American Airlines: AAdvantage Passport Challenge

Another way of using social media, according to American Airlines, is to ask its frequent flyers to engage in a bit of fun…

Playing games relating to brand knowledge, and copying the correct answers from several blog posts on the Internet, will earn you 700 miles. A bit of fun for free frequent flyer currency — sounds okay…

At the same time, it attempts to get users to sell their own privacy (and their friends’ too) for a measly 350 bonus miles!

But the most miles earnable, rightly enough, is by flying with American Airlines, US Airways or one of their oneworld partners. Apparently, you can earn up to 500 bonus miles per flight taken, with bonuses possibly summing to over 9,000 miles depending on the number of achievements unlocked.

So if you fly often enough within the two months this program runs, sell your own and (possibly) your friends’ privacy, and play some games on which the answers can be found with a simple google, you could probably earn up to half a ticket or so. A Facebook account is a mandatory part of this deal.

But are those miles really for free?

Depends how you interpret this particular terms-and-conditions clause from AA’s web site:

12. USE OF DATA.  Sponsor will be collecting personal data about participants online, in accordance with its privacy policy.  Please review the Sponsor’s privacy policy at www.aa.com/privacy.  By participating in the Promotion, entrants hereby agree to Sponsor’s collection and usage of their personal information and acknowledge that they have read and accepted Sponsor’s privacy policy.

But is American Airlines the only “sponsor” profiting here?

Only the sun rises for free…

At least that is the lesson I was taught all the time as a kid.

Nothing ever comes for free, except the rising sun every day.

Ask yourself this the next time your favourite airlines tempts you to share personal information with them for some miles, or an interesting flight companion:

“What is the actual costs for me, my personal life and my privacy?”

Or have we already gone down this path too far, where privacy has become a commodity good only available to those who really care or can afford it?

Is Airbus Bag2Go a dream?

March 26th, 2014

Kinny Cheng

This has been making the rounds for some time already (since last year’s Paris Air Show, in fact!)

Airbus, partnering with my favourite luggage company, Rimowa, along with T-Systems (providing tracking and connectivity capabilities), has brought forward the concept of a fully-trackable check-in baggage solution designed to streamline the traveller’s experience.

Key features include a communications- and GPS-enabled Rimowa luggage case, which includes a dynamic display for user scanning (2D/QR code for smartphone app tracking, plus bag-tag display for airport/airline use) and a weight-sensitive handle (to calculate the weight of the bag). There’s also a possible baggage pick-up and/or delivery service arranged entirely via an accompanying app.

The official video offers a greater insight into its underpinnings.

Imagine if the whole concept does become a reality… (bliss!)

However, this is unquestionably difficult to achieve, given the greater involvement required by stakeholders throughout the process.

I have yet to see the prototype in person as yet. Possibly at AIX in around two weeks from now, Airbus?

ACARS and transponder transmissions: receiving and decoding

March 23rd, 2014

Drs. Andor Demarteau

In the light of news surrounding the missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft (Flight MH370), and all the speculation surrounding the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), I decided to have a look around to see how easy/difficult it is to receive and decode the transmissions with readily-available hardware and/or software.

My experimentation led me to a particular smartphone app which advertised the ability of decoding ACARS transmissions from the raw audio received through a typical hand scanner. Results varied depending on the method used for audio input to the app (for processing), either via the scanner’s speaker or through a direct audio cable input.

This effectively gave me a full ACARS decoder for all transmissions by aircraft within a radius of between several tens to several hundreds of kilometres, depending on the flight level of the particular plane.

(Thought: Makes for even-more interesting plane-spotting sessions!)

Interestingly, there are also desktop-based software (for Linux, Mac and Windows systems) that offer similar capabilities.

How ACARS is transmitted

There are three available methods used for the transmitting of ACARS data.

For everything over land and close to airports, the VHF (very high frequency) band is used. This is the same frequency range used by air traffic control audio feeds (108.000 MHz to 136.975 MHz). In most cases where flights do not fly over vast empty land masses or major oceans, or the North or South Pole, this is the cheapest and preferred way. It is also the type of transmissions that can easily be received as discussed above.

Next, there is the satellite-based ACARS transmission, using either the much-discussed Inmarsat or Iridium network. The latter has slightly-better coverage over the North and South Poles, and was only enabled for ACARS transmission back in 2007.

The third type, introduced in 1995, is a network of globally-spread HF (high frequency) ground stations. This is similar to the VHF method discussed above, but with the difference of radio transmissions over HF travelling greater distances (dependent on the frequencies used and time-of-day).

ADS-B and ‘Mode S’ transponder transmissions

The other type of transmission that was highly speculated on was those from the transponder.

Transponders can be set to several modes. But for commercial aviation, ‘Mode S’ and the more-advanced ADS-B (Automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast) modes are most widely adopted for use.

For receiving these transmissions, there are software packages available (for major computing operating systems) that can decode, process and plot the received data on a Google Maps display. Web sites like FlightRadar24.com and Plane Finder use this type of data to plot aircraft positions and flight tracks.

With this in mind, it is not hard to see why, if done deliberately, the ACARS system and transponder on MH370 were disabled. There are possibly more “stations” listening (for example: users with handheld scanners) than just the official ground stations assigned to the handling of ACARS transmissions. Same goes for ADS-B, which is used by secondary radar and the TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System).

Sony and Vueling to launch the world’s first wearable boarding pass.

March 20th, 2014

Kinny Cheng

Via Vueling’s news site:

Vueling and Sony have launched the first ever wearable boarding pass in the world. Using a 2D barcode, the application puts flight information and boarding passes as close as your wrist.

Great to see how Sony and Vueling managed to find reasonable cause in one another.

But to say…

This exciting launch places both companies at the forefront of mobile technology.

…is a big claim which I simply won’t agree with.

A theoretically-sound product-service doesn’t necessarily translate to true success in a real-world environment, let alone one that involves numerous stakeholders throughout the air travel value chain.

As always, in cases like this, I’m more than happy to be proven wrong — all in the name of seamless travels.

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