When my son told me his wife was pregnant, my first instinct was to let out a “whoop!” My second was to buy a plane ticket so I could meet my grandson. The due date was February and I knew it would be tough (and expensive) to get a ride to Fort Lauderdale at that time of year.
It turns out that when you make a plane reservation seven months in advance of the trip, you are likely to have your airline change your itinerary unilaterally. When the change came through in December, I frankly took no notice of it. Reviewing it now – a few days in advance of our departure – revealed that we are stuck with a four hour layover at JFK, which I look forward to about as much as a bout of e. coli.
What to do… what to do?
I know what I would have done back in the day. When I was a 100,000-mile per year business traveler, I would pick up the phone (or have my secretary do it) and ask one of the many travel agents who valued my business to find me a better itinerary without costing an arm and a leg.
“What’s a travel agent?” you ask. A travel agent is a person whose job has been disintermediated by the Internet. There are a few left but many work out of their homes and concentrate on clients who want to go on cruises or exotic vacations. According to the Department of Labor, their numbers have been reduced by about half since 1990. The rest of us are stuck with Travelocity, Expedia or one of the many struggling-to-differentiate-themselves apps you can download to your smartphone.
When we think of artificial intelligence these days, we tend to focus on robots or perhaps the variety of devices that enable the smart home, like the Nest thermostat or the Roomba vacuum cleaner.
But, another tool in this budding arsenal of enablers is Big Data. So, someone, please invent an artificially intelligent travel agent who will take advantage of all that data. We can call her Siri… no, wait… That’s already taken. How about Barbie? Oh, no… I’ll call her Cassandra. (If you prefer a male, perhaps you can call him Brad.)
What would she do? She would identify all options; call her contact at Jet Blue (or interact with its database) to see if we can make a change with little or no cost. She would call me and offer a quick overview of the best options, taking into consideration that I would rather leave early than arrive late (Jet Blue’s imposed change has me doing both).
If I were traveling internationally, Cassandra would review the security recommendations of the US State Department; outline the risk of theft and assess the safety of any women on the trip. She would summarize the best days to travel by reviewing the available fares from major airlines and know if we should wait a month before buying a ticket to get a better price.
Then she would scan my social media to see which of my friends and colleagues have traveled to the same country recently and message them to gather any recommendations they may have. She might check Yelp! while she was at it.
Armed with all that information, Cassandra would plan my travel, make my reservations and send me on my way. This is not a pipedream. A startup tech firm, Wayblazer, is using IBM’s Jeopardy-winning Watson to create the future world of travel. Doesn’t technology always provide a solution to the problem it creates?
I look forward to the day when Cassandra is my travel agent… at least to the extent that a voice recognition error doesn’t ship me off to Auckland when I want to go to Oakland.
WHO WILL LEAD?