Keeping Up with the Mobile Demands of Digital Natives: A Travelogue

Sep 05, 2013

I recently traveled from Boston to Baltimore for my brother's wedding. I discovered that the older I get, the less I look forward to packing a suit case, schlepping to the airport, fighting with other passengers for overhead bin space, and then watching in horror as the flight attendants detail how to survive if the plane crashes. Not my cup of tea. One thing that has always made it easier for me, though, is technology. Lately it seems that many businesses in the travel and hospitality field are all about giving their customers technology-friendly options -- from free Wi-Fi to "power up" stations -- but my recent trip made me wonder whether these "perks" are just smoke and mirrors.

Before I even made to the airport I had my first technology snafu. Like many mobile-savvy travelers today, I rely completely on my phone to check in for my flight and to retrieve my boarding pass. JetBlue has always been great at allowing me to do this. Its app is easy to use and, for the most part, every flight has the mobile ready option for travelers. Of course the one time I was running late for my flight and needed every spare second possible to get to the gate on time, JetBlue decided that my flight did not qualify for a mobile boarding-pass. I asked the woman at the check-in counter why this might be. The answer: Because airlines can do whatever they want. There really was no reason, aside from the fact that many airlines haven't been able to expand their mobile boarding pass service to every flight. According to the message I received while trying to access my information via JetBlue, it's an on-going process - which makes almost no sense. Traveling 1, Eileen 0.

Next, I found my gate, paper boarding pass in hand, and immediately tried to connect to the Logan Aiport free Wi-Fi so I can check my work email in the 20 minutes I have before boarding. After jumping through a few "watch this video to access this service" hoops, resetting my browser a few times, and finally entering my flight number, I sat impatiently waiting for my email to load - a familiar experience to anyone trying to log on to free public Wi-Fi. Five minutes went by. Then ten. After 15 minutes of the dreaded spinning wheel of death, I gave up. "Would you like to purchase premium Wi-Fi for $12.95?" asked an ad, which is really just a nice way of asking, "Do you want to buy service that actually works?" I live in city, and I'm used to paying absurd amounts of money for basic services (right now I'm paying $8 every time I do laundry), but $12.95 seems like highway robbery. Traveling 2, Eileen 0.

Finally, I made it to my flight. No technology problems there. I was prepared for a Wi-Fi-less flight anyway, and JetBlue has those little TVs that keep me occupied the entire time. Once I got to the hotel, though, it was a whole other story. Now I know it isn't the best mindset to have, but when I'm traveling, I like to keep myself plugged in so I don't miss any big news, whether in regard to work or my personal life. Yes, I'm an email and Facebook addict. That's why when I walked into the hotel I'd be staying in for three days, and they asked if I'd like to purchase wireless internet access for $19.99 a day, I almost laughed in the receptionist's face. I've stayed in places before that offer internet service for $5 a day, but almost $20 seemed criminal. I kindly told the receptionist no and checked how much data I had left on my phone plan for the month. Almost 1.5gb. Phew. Traveling 2.5, Eileen 0.5 (partial points for my data plan).

At this point, you may think I sound a little crazy, but I wasn't alone in my consternation. There were approximately 100 guests staying at the hotel for my brother's wedding, ranging in age from 18 to 75, and at least half of them felt the way I did. Why? Because we've been trained to believe we should have information at our fingertips all the time. Need to check in on a flight? Sure! Swipe once and you're done. Need to check out of your hotel room? No problem. Click "accept" and you're out. Piece of cake!

So in a world where everyone is looking to stay plugged in, why aren't businesses rushing to serve our needs as inexpensively as possible? Money. Mobile is ubiquitous; you can't even call it a trend anymore because it's just a fact of life (just ask Facebook). Everyone has a mobile device, and many -- even most -- of those people own a smartphone or tablet. The simple laws of supply and demand mean hotels can charge you more for 24 hours of wireless service than you pay for an entire month's work of high-speed access at home.

I understand the logic, though I don't agree with it, but another observation I had on my trip makes me wonder just how long this will last. As I walked through the hotel lobby and even the airport, I saw dozens of children traveling with their parents, and every one of those kids had a smartphone or tablet in front of them. As Millenials and Digital Natives have children, they are introducing a whole new generation to mobile technology, and as those kids grow up, the idea that someone will gouge them for access to something they regard to be as necessary as air or water will be unthinkable.

As for me, I got away with not paying a dime for any technology service (aside from my monthly cellphone data charge), but I still couldn't quite get over how much I could have ended up spending if I needed -- like really needed -- to stay plugged in. That number still haunts me weeks later.

On another note, the wedding was wonderful, thank you for asking.