11 Nov. 2008
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A Traveling Idea

I don't travel a lot.  When I do (and when I don't) I'm inclined to excoriate the airlines for faults real and imagined.  Somehow, during one of my evil-airline-scum reveries, I had an idea.  I immediately bounced it off someone who does travel a lot, and was given at least five reasons why the idea is terrible.  I take criticism well, but I also take it lightly.  Even if the idea is a lousy one, at least it's almost free to implement, and might make someone a passel of money.  (That's three dollops short of a heap.)

It's A Money Saver!  It's A Social Site!

I'm not sure either is worth its exclamation point, but here it is anyway:

Everybody has a cell phone with "texting" ability.  (Except me, since I refuse to pay the extra $10 per month.)

When you get on an airplane, in the minutes (if you're lucky) between the time you take your seat and the time you have to turn off your cell phone, you text the following to a central number:  Your airline, flight number, seat number, and ground destination.  The computer at the central number matches your information with that of others on the same flight and texts back to you the seat number of anyone with whom it can match the ground destination.  By the time you've been pushed back from the gate, you've got a list of people going your way.  When you reach cruising altitude and the seat belt sign is off, you can block the aisles to-ing and fro-ing among your potential travelling companions to arrange sharing of ground transportation.  If you share a cab, you can save 50%.  Or, if you meet someone you like, you might even share a drink or a life. 

Why It Won't Work:

  • You don't want to share a ride with strangers

  • Or do anything but get away from the airplane crowd.

  • There's nobody going your way.

  • There are any number of ways to get to one's destination, e.g., a bus, train, shuttle, friend, etc.

  • The seat whose number the system gives you is filled by a ... (my friend said "slob" but I'm sure you can think of many more blank fillers.)

Why It Could Work:

  • It is free for the user to implement.  Your infrastructure is already in your pocket. 

  • It is almost free for the server to implement.  The provider just needs some phone lines and a modest server capacity since the load is tens of thousands of 160-byte messages per hour, not millions of biggish emails.

  • It doesn't have to work well.  Nobody is counting on finding on a match, and if they don't they're no worse off than now.

  • Unlike my baseball cap idea, it requires no federal funding or imprimatur.

The Business Model

For this to work, even if it is "almost free," someone has to make money on it.  Who and how?

  • The airline itself could set up a server.  In fact, it could implement it as part of the cellphone repeaters soon to be installed on transport aircraft, or as a femtocell.  If this were an airline program, the flight attendants could even pass out candidate matches during the flight.

  • Some established third party, such as a credit card company, could provide the service, either by subscription for frequent travelers, or by a charge added to the card or 'phone bill for each flight on which the service was used.

  • You can do it yourself.  Low cost of entry, hence good reward/risk ratio.  Don't say reading my blog can't make you rich!

Implementing this idea seems simple to me, especially since I don't have to do it.  In the 160 bytes of the text message, everything but the ground destination could easily fit in 20 bytes, leaving 140 for that in as much detail as necessary.  Whatever algorithm Google uses on its Maps service for parsing addresses could figure out a good match without requiring that the sender use a too-specific format.

Did I Steal This Idea From You?

No I didn't.  I recently read about a web site that involves airline passengers, but it's different enough from this one that I don't feel the need to credit it.  On the other hand, if you published this idea first, I'm happy to cede priority.  

Moses asks Someone for the periodic table - WSJ 11 November 2008 Not much news in Element Land recently.  It's hard to believe that among all the fluorides there hasn't been a single fluorine.  But at least the importance of the periodic table is recognized.

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NP:  "Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman" - Emerson, Lake, & Palmer

Richard Factor

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