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The Savvy Traveler : Don't Look Now, but This Industry Has Gone High Tech

December 06, 1987|PETER S. GREENBERG | Greenberg is a Los Angeles free-lance writer

The voice synthesizer alarm awakens me at 6 a.m. in my hotel room for a 9 o'clock flight to Kansas City. I head into the bathroom and push a button on the digital shower controls, already preset for temperature and water pressure.

Ten minutes later I turn on the TV set. Using a special key pad, I punch in a preselected code. I check for incoming mail or messages. There are none. I hit another key. My room bill is instantaneously displayed. I hit a third key. The charges are correct. My bill will be mailed to me and I am officially checked out.

I go downstairs and hand my luggage to a porter. It is specially tagged and is sent ahead of me to the airport, already checked in for my flight.

My tickets have already been issued by computer, and I head to the airport by high-speed monorail.

My portable phone rings en route. There has been a change of plans. I'll need to make an extra stop in Denver before continuing on to Kansas City. No problem.

I take out my portable computer and attach it to the phone. I call up the central airline schedules and reserve the next flight to Denver.

In-Flight Entertainment

Once on the plane, I fold down the tray table in front of my seat. It is not simply a tray, but a completely functional entertainment and communications unit.

There is a large pop-up video screen with four channels--movies, news, sports and weather, and a computer display screen. One additional channel is always on. It displays current flight information--the date, local time, elapsed flight time, altitude, air and ground speed, time en route and distance remaining.

The system also gives the latest Dow Jones quotes. Other channels give a choice of three movies or four TV shows as well as displaying a host of video game choices.

The unit also features a calculator and an air-to-ground phone with an additional communications switch for my portable computer.

A few hours later, when I land in Colorado, the process is repeated.

If this sounds farfetched, it isn't. I've done everything I just described. The high technology of travel is not only possible, it's operational.

Airlines, hotels, cruise lines and rental car companies are all beginning to experiment with systems designed to streamline the art of travel.

Express Check-Outs

Dozens of hotel chains have installed video-express check-out systems. The systems not only allow you to review your bill and check out, but you can also order room service and other items.

Some hotel rooms feature infra-red water taps, built-in word processors and phone systems that allow guests to leave their own recorded messages for incoming calls.

And many airlines have also embraced the concept of high-tech travel--on the ground. United Airlines is issuing computer-generated tickets and boarding passes from satellite printers installed at major corporations and travel agencies.

If you have a personal computer, you can plug into the electronic OAG (Official Airline Guide)--which displays all airline schedules--and make reservations, then pay for your tickets directly. The system is hooked up to Thomas Cook travel agencies, which handle the ticketing.

Then there's Eaasy Sabre, the American Airlines personal reservations system. Available to anyone with a personal computer and communications modem, it will display flights for more than 650 airlines worldwide, as well as the quickest routes and 13 million separate air fares.

The American system also allows you to reserve a room at more than 12,000 hotels or a car from more than 20 companies.

Way of Life in Europe

In Europe, high-tech travel has become a way of life for many business travelers. In Scandinavia, SAS passengers can make airline reservations for flights, hotels and limos on their personal computers.

And in selected cities, SAS and Swissair passengers check in for their departing flights at their hotels, with their baggage whisked to the airport ahead of them.

TWA offers instant arrival and departure information through an automated system linked directly to the airline's main computer.

It's a direct line to up-to-the-minute flight information for the current day anywhere on TWA's worldwide network. All you need is a touch-tone phone and this number: (212) 290-2311.

American Airlines has a slightly more sophisticated system called the Automated Information System. The AIS allows customers using touch-tone telephones to obtain pertinent information for all of American's flight schedules and fares from the base city to a specific destination. The Los Angeles number for the AIS is (213) 935-4151.

By following a series of easy-to-understand instructions and keying appropriate buttons on your phone, you can obtain fares and schedules for flights between any pair of cities served by American. And at any time during the call you can be connected to a reservations agent by pushing the asterisk and operator buttons.

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