15 MAR 2018: The other week, while glacially shuffling my way forward in an airport security line, I found myself watching what the shufflers ahead of me were presenting to the TSA officer. Obviously, it had to include an acceptable form of government ID - a driver’s license or passport - but it was what went with it that caught my attention.  

Not so many years ago this would have been a paper ticket and a printed boarding pass but that was then – now is very different. Little old ladies up there were handing over their iPhones to have their barcoded ‘mobile boarding passes’ scanned by the officer. Others presented home printed boarding passes, a few had airline-printed boarding passes and some (there’s one in every crowd) had nothing at all to show until – surprise, surprise - the officer asked them, setting off a mad “OMG, I had it right here” search through the bowels of a huge bag.

The digital revolution has impacted just about every element of the travel industry – ask any OTA. So many long-time staples of both the travel business and the business of travelling have evaporated so quickly that it’s already hard to remember ‘the way we were.’

Consider just a few of them:

• The ‘OAG’ (Official Airline Guide) – that big, clunky bigger than a phone book (remember those?) go-to bible for every airline’s schedules listed by city-pairs, that everyone relied upon. The smaller, ‘OAG Pocket Flight Guide’ which first appeared in 1970 was also a ‘must have’ for any self-respecting business traveller. When he was 15, former Air Canada CEO Montie Brewer got “the best ever birthday present” from his mom and dad – an OAG subscription. If ever anyone was born to be an airline guy, Montie had to be it! Today OAG still handles schedule databases for almost 1,000 airlines - and in the process saves a lot of trees.

• Airline ticket jackets – They were a fact of life but, when you don’t have a ticket, you don’t need a jacket to put it in.

• Airline tickets - Why can’t you tickle yourself? Why did airlines ever need paper tickets to confirm a booking when hotels didn’t? Surely two of life’s greater mysteries. My theory was always that air tickets were there for only one purpose – without them where would they have printed the Warsaw Convention?

• Post cards - When did you last mail a post card home? The card with those classic messages like, “Weather is great. Wish you were here” or, “X marks our room” usually arrived a week after you got back. Texting a picture is so much faster … and you don’t have to buy a postage stamp.

• Newspapers abroad - When did you last go off in search of a copy of The Herald Tribune or a two-day-old copy of any major English language newspaper? Now you just stream any one of 999 online news sites to find out what happened on the other side of the planet two minutes ago.

• Short wave radio - When did you last listen to a scratchy broadcast from the BBC World Service on short wave using your new-fangled transistor radio? The service (launched in 1932) is still available on short wave – but you may prefer to stream it or listen to the podcasts. ‘The Beeb’ really lost out to CNN with this one.

• Maps - When did you last struggle to refold an ordinance survey or similar paper map? Particularly fun on windy days! Once opened were they ever intended to be correctly folded again? Today’s equivalent is the instant self-tangling function Apple mysteriously builds into its standard white iPhone headsets.

• “Where the hell am I?” - When was the last time you managed to get lost? Quite literally ‘losing yourself’ in the back streets of some ‘foreign’ city was always a great way to really get to know it. Now Google Maps et al (not to be confused with El Al) means you never really do such things and, if you do, you’re only a couple of clicks on the UBER app away from being rescued.

• ‘Doing your own thing’ – This used to mean eschewing travel agents and/or tour operators and finding some obscure place to rent through friends of friends or dubious classified ads with headings like, “Villa in Corfu, slepping up to 8, beech and kidchen.” It has to be said that the advent of Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway and the rest has taken all the fun and adventure out of slepping around.

The list could go on but you get the gist. For all the incredible plusses and benefits that come with the digital world and full time connectivity, let’s be honest, world travel just isn’t as adventurous, fun and/or romantic as it used to be. The unknowns are not as unknown, the unpredictable is totally predictable – all you have to do is Google it - and ‘roughing it’ means enduring locations that are devoid of Wi-FI.

So, would I turn the clock back to more analog times? Are you kidding? Not for one moment!




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David Tait

David Tait's insight and irrepressible humour give us an insider's take on the airlines and the industry in general. He doesn't pull his punches, and readers find his columns thoughtful, informative, amusing and infuriating – regardless, David's views on our industry are always original. 

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