In my last business trip, I missed my flight from Pittsburgh to Orange County (via Houston). I am a heavy business traveler racking up about 150,000 miles a year, but I don’t think I had ever missed a flight out of my fault. This particular flight was very early in the morning — 5:50am. I was staying at the Hyatt hotel connected to the airport and I checked in for my flight on the previous night. With the boarding pass in my pocket, I decided to set my alarm to 5am, which I later realized was a bad idea. I knew I was cutting it close, but I desperately needed some sleep in the midst of those back-to-back travels. When I got to the airport, the security line was unusually long for such early morning. In addition, there was a gate change since my check-in the night before, which I didn’t know until I went to the wrong gate. When I arrived at the correct gate, it was about 5:45am and the door was shut. The gate agent of United Airline pretty much told me that the plane had departed from the gate and there was nothing he could do other than putting me on the next available flight.
Obviously, I was devastated and disappointed. I sat down in the absolutely empty waiting area. I needed a few minutes to regroup myself and think about the next course of actions. I was supposed to arrive at Orange County by 10:30am and have lunch at the event I was going to attend. What shall I do now, I pondered. The agent told me he would see me at a different gate to find out which flight I could get on. Not knowing when the next flight might be, I thought I’d be lucky to get to the event by 3 or 4pm. Then, I decided to search for flights myself. I immediately installed the Kayak app on my iPhone. (I once had this app before, but deleted it due to infrequent usage) There were several options via connections, but it wasn’t clear whether they are indeed available without any horrendous fare increase or additional fees. Again, I was a novice in terms of missing a flight.
I trudged to the other gate that the agent directed me to. When I showed up, he started looking for a flight for me. After some browsing, he came up with a flight that leaves around 8:30am for Laguardia, where I would take a connection to my final destination after some layover. I would arrive at Orange County around 3:30pm. Not too bad, I thought. The agent kept saying, “this is the only option I have for the morning.” He looked firm and sure. I almost bought it. But I wanted to make sure that it was indeed the best option. While I was talking to him, I was busy browsing flights myself with the Kayak app I just downloaded. I found the flight that the agent told me about. Yes, it would get me there by 3:30pm. But then, I found a much more attractive option; there was a flight that leaves at 7:40am for Chicago and I would get to Orange County by noon! I asked him about this specific option. Within a minute, he said “You are right. Chicago OHare route would work for you. I can put you on it” I was super delighted. Everything from that point worked out smoothly. I arrived at my destination only 1.5 hours late. I was even proud of my crisis-management skills :)
So, what’s the lesson? On the plane, I thought about the customer empowerment. I was just another average traveler with nothing but one iPhone in hand. Yet, somehow I could find the better flight that the United agent, who supposedly had unlimited access to their flight information, could not locate initially. This was the living proof of the mobile internet revolution. This was not possible, or extremely difficult, 5 years ago. Now, it’s a commonplace. The information gap between the seller and the consumer has been greatly reduced by the introduction of internet. Now the gap is even closer with the mobile internet because you can get the desired information on the spot. You don’t need to “do your homework” beforehand. Everything is there when you need it, in case you actually need it. I believe we are only at the beginning stage of the mobile internet era. Potential business opportunities in the mobile internet are limitless. As a small fraction of all possibilities, just imagine how many different ways an average consumer can be empowered with the reduced information gap in real time. It is truly an exciting time in the history of the information technology industry.