Road warrior. It's not a lifestyle I always enjoy, and it's a silly term, but thanks to my day job as an industry analyst, that's what I am. I average a couple of business trips every month as I wander the globe attending various security conferences and client meetings. I probably fly somewhere around 75,000 miles a year, which guarantees that I experience all the best the inefficient and callous airlines have to offer. But sometimes, just sometimes, all this experience provides a bit of a competitive advantage over my fellow travelers when the inevitable problems crop up.
Last week I was headed from my home in Phoenix to speak at a small event in Dallas when a line of thunderstorms parked themselves over the runway in Dallas for a little mischievous socializing. Having once experienced a real wind-shear-on-landing incident in Mexico City thanks to incompetent air traffic control, I wasn't all that upset as we diverted to Austin while things cleared up. Since I'd had only one night at home after a week-long trip to a conference in Moscow, I was so exhausted and acclimated to airports and airplanes that I didn't get nearly as upset as many of my fellow travelers. Let's face it, it's hard to beat the acceptance of one's fate caused by jet lag, low blood sugar, and lack of sleep.
After an hour in the sleepy Austin airport, the word came down that we were stuck waiting for a morning flight. Since this was a weather delay, the airline wasn't responsible for lodging. You could feel the tension rise as everyone scrambled for a place to sleep. I felt sorry for my fellow passengers without the financial resources to find a bed for the night, but not so sorry that I was going to join them on the airport floor.
Diverted flights are always troublesome - especially in a closed airport. In the past, I would start hunting for local hotels by either calling someone with Internet access, or maybe finding a wireless connection and searching the major travel sites myself. Even at best, it usually takes 30 to 60 minutes to find a conveniently located hotel, make a reservation, and arrange transportation. But thanks to my iPhone I secured lodging and was on the shuttle within 15 minutes, and three screen taps.
Here's how I did it. Once I knew we were stuck in Austin, I launched iWant - a free iPhone application that helps you find local services ranging from hotels and restaurants to gas stations, ATMs, and movie theaters. I tapped on the icon for hotels and was presented a list of lodging options sorted by distance from my current location. At the top of the list was the Hilton Austin Airport. I tapped on its name, and the address, phone number, and small map popped up. A tap on the phone number, and my phone connected me to the hotel. A few minutes later, I had secured a reservation and was headed to the shuttle pickup.
That was it - three taps and a short phone call. As I headed out of the airport to the shuttle pickup I could see fellow travelers either setting up camp for the night, or frantically calling friends, family, or travel offices to find a bed. I suspect that I was sitting in my room ordering room service before most of them made it out of the airport. And based on the bleary eyes the next morning, I had a considerably more restful evening than most.
I realize I may sing the praises of my iPhone a little too often here, but the truth is that as a frequent traveler I've never had such a useful tool at my disposal. Whether it involves using the GPS and Maps application when navigating the confusing streets of Moscow, locating food and lodging in Dallas, or providing hours of entertainment in lonely hotel rooms around the world, the iPhone is far more helpful than any other smartphone I've ever used.