Friday, February 10, 2006

Air Travel and Mobile Computing

Almost since their inception, laptop computers have been an increasingly popular implement of the air traveler. You see them used both in airports and on airplanes, by more and more people. However, airports and airplanes today do not provide a friendlier environment for laptop users than they did years ago.

Problem #1: Electrical power
Regardless of what the makers of DC-DC converter bricks may tell you, most airplanes are not equipped with DC power outlets for passengers. Occasionally you might find them in first class, and I once saw them in coach on a short Orlando-Atlanta flight, but normally they are simply not available. As such, the only solution is having laptops with good battery life, and topping them off at airports in-between flights.

Airports, however, aren't that great either. Outlets in sitting areas tend to be very scarce, and often squatted by other laptop users or people who don't even realize they're in the way. I frequently find myself scouring the entire food court, or the entire gate waiting area, only seeing one or two outlets. Even then, I'm lucky to get access to them.

Problem #2: Internet access
Access while on airplanes is something we presently don't expect, and thus can live without. After all, for most domestic trips, the airlines don't want to keep you on the same one for more than 2 hours anyways. Sure, there is talk about installing access, but you all know how that's going to be done. It'll be prohibitively expensive, and/or only offered to first class, and will wind up being practically unavailable to your average laptop-toting passenger. (Remember the sky phones?)

Airports, however, have been installing Wi-Fi access points all over the place. Except, they do it in a way that makes it nearly useless. First, they all insist on charging for access. This is a problem because even though it is usually cheap, it is still hard to justify $5.95-9.95 for a 10 minute E-Mail check between flights. (thankfully I can use GPRS on my cell phone instead) If you are a frequent traveller, they do have monthly access plans. Of course every airport's Wi-Fi installation is managed by a different organization, and thus these plans are worthless unless you fly the "exact same trip" with long layovers on a regular basis. In essense, airport internet access is implemented in such a way that it is practically useless to most travelers on a 1-hour layover. (Well, at least until there are popular programs that can tunnel IP over DNS and ICMP, which are the only things their proxies seem to let out onto the global internet.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Visit the Pittsburgh Airport, It has free wireless throughout the entire airport.. One of the few airports that has free internet access.