air, Transportation

Do we rely too much on real time information?

Greetings from Washington DC! I’m here to present at the Transportation Research Board’s annual conference. I’m presenting on my experiences in the UK with ‘open data’ and how it’s been used to create really useful mobility tools such as CityMapper and a ‘smart column’ we recently installed at Ealing Broadway station.


On my flight over it struck me how much we are starting to rely on real time information to plan our daily lives – up to the minute information on traffic conditions, when your bus or train is due to arrive, where your UPS parcel is and when your plane is due to take off. It’s the latter that I’d like to talk about today….

At airports we rely on the departure boards to tell us when our plane is ready to board and from which gate. It’s a pretty standard approach around the world – there’s a flight number, a destination, a status (such as delayed or go to gate) and an estimated departure time. You can use these boards to plan your brief stay at the airport and not miss your flight.

I missed my flight. First time ever.

I was sat in front of a screen in the AA lounge (frequent flyer before you ask…) casually keeping an eye on the 12.25 American Airlines flight 52 to Washington Reagan. The status didn’t say anything, so I presumed the flight was delayed. The clock hit 12.10  and still nothing. But, it’s OK, these systems are designed to update us. It got to 12.20 and I decided to head to the gate. They’d closed it. No way of getting on. I checked the nearest board and the flight status said ‘flight closed’. Simply put, the board I was looking at wasn’t updating. The gate had been calling me, but those messages don’t reach the lounge.

I went to customer services to see what my options were. Luckily I was booked on the next flight (via Chicago), but when I mentioned the board issue the lady replied ‘oh that happens, we’re speaking to the guys who look after the screens to fix that problem’. I questioned the lack of audio announcements and the reply was ‘oh sometimes we get those in the lounge, but not always’.

Massive lesson learned and I definitely think I’ve become too reliant on electronic information – especially when there are things at stake! It just underlines that with all the best data and technology in the world, there is always a human involved – and if that human isn’t paying attention (both passenger and system provider) bad things happen.

I’ll be talking more about this and user centred design at my presentation at TRB today – I’ll get my slides up on the blog for you to check out.


One thought on “Do we rely too much on real time information?

  1. Pingback: How tech is transforming mobility for vulnerable and less abled people. | Alt Modes Los Angeles

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