I flew to Korea today and encountered a whole lot of frustrating technology. On the good side, the airlines are working hard to put technology in place that will make the travel experience a better one. On the bad side, the technologies they have deployed to date are old, flakey or poorly executed.
I started out my trip with an hour to kill in one of these airline lounges. For next to nothing, the airline could easily have deployed a wireless LAN in the lounge that would have created a very satisfying experience. Rather than that, the airline had a dedicated "business services" room that had a couple dedicated machines with internet access and some stations with analog lines to dial out to your ISP. I used one of the machines to access my email and despite having reasonable bandwidth, the machine was an antiquated eMachine that was so slow that the experience was a painful one. I probably would have been better off dialing out on my PowerBook.
On the plane the airline had implemented a number of technologies. The one they were touting the most was their SMS/Email service that was free for the time being. To call it an email service is a little deceptive. In essence the service allows you to send SMS messages or short emails (no more than 280 characters) from your seat on the plane. Of course, sending isn't really what anyone cares about while trapped in an airplane. To be able to access your own email would be an invaluable service. To be able to send an "I love you" SMS to your wife is little more than a gimmick (not that the sentiment isn't lovely).
The plane also had a "sophisticated" entertainment system at each seat. It allowed you to access video on demand, as well as music and games. And it essentially worked as advertised after a 20 minute reboot period at the beginning of the flight to get the system functioning. But to give you a sense of the power of the system, the games available were Gameboy games -- not Gameboy Advance, Gameboy. They might as well have used an emulator for Donkey Kong and Defender.
I don't want to seem like I'm sour grapes. I am very glad to see any progress with the airlines. But it sure feels like there is a lot of opportunity for some airline to differentiate itself as the forward looking carrier when it comes to deploying technology in the name of a better flying experience. And it also seems like there's a lot of room for the development of better in-flight technology (not that I'd want to sell to that set of customers these days).