I spend a lot of time on airplanes — not as much as many of my colleagues, but it’s plenty. My default carrier is United Airlines, which has a hub in San Francisco, and which also has an e-mail flight notification system, called EasyUpdate.

(A digression: At SFO, United promotes the service by boasting, “Only United Offers EasyUpdate.” Well, EasyUpdate is a trademark of United Airlines, so of course only United has a service with that name. Is that a lame slogan or what?)

EasyUpdate sends two e-mail messages to you, your loved ones and your administrative assistant about each flight segment:

* Before takeoff, it confirms the projected departure time and gate
* Before landing, it confirms the projected arrival time and gate

But, interestingly, the EasyUpdate system is not updated if you change flights, and therefore, information transmitted by the EasyUpdate service can be obsolete.

To wit: Sometimes I arrive at the airport early, and squeeze onto an earlier flight. More rarely, sometimes my flight is cancelled, and the airline places me on an alternative flight.

EasyUpdate never knows about any of this.

To use a real-world example, today I was scheduled for flight #931 to LAX, but arrived at SFO early enough to hop onto flight #1171 instead. Before that, I had already received the first EasyUpdate e-mail, that flight #931 was scheduled to depart on time from SFO’s gate 84.

However, EasyUpdate never knew that I changed flights. So, half an hour after my flight #1171 had landed, EasyUpdate dutifully sent me and my loved ones (alas, I have no administrative assistant) a message that flight #931 was scheduled to land on-time at LAX’s gate 69A:

** UNITED AIRLINES ARRIVAL MESSAGE **

The following flight is scheduled for arrival:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Flight Number: 931
Departing From: San Francisco California (SFO)
Traveling To: Los Angeles (LAX)
Date: October 10
Gate: 69A (Gate information is subject to change)
Estimated Arrival Time: 8:12 p.m.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Flight times are subject to change. Please check the flight information monitors at the airport.

Thank you for choosing United!

No message was ever sent about flight #1171. That’s pretty worthless for a proported travelers’ real-time information system. From an altitude of 30,000 feet, though, it sounds like an easy problem to fix. Web services, SOA, real-time database orchestration, all that sort of thing.

Let’s see how long it takes.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick