Air travellers are getting used to ancillary charges, especially those who fly ‘full service’ in America, or ‘low cost’ in Australia and much of Asia.

$$ for a checked bag, $ for small carry on item, $$$ for not checking in on-line or print your own boarding pass, or having to change a flight, sometimes through no fault of your own.

It’s all about screwing the customer, or empowering consumer delineated travel experiences, depending on your tolerance for marketing bullsh*t.

But what would you pay to know where your unaccompanied child is at five stages of a flight on Air New Zealand? After a trial period of handing out tracking wristbands between now and 3 February, Air NZ thinks you will pay $15 per child for a one way domestic flight if pre-booked or $30 if booked at the airport or $40 or $80 (in NZD) on an international flight.

Peace of mind, at a price, when your kids fly on their own on Air NZ
Peace of mind, at a price, when your kids fly on their own on Air NZ

That’s a big proportion of some of the bargain fares being offered for trans Tasman flights at the moment, but there is nothing in the PR material to suggest that it’s a case of your money or your child, since they still have a duty of care for the safe passage of anyone who is accepted for a flight.

You-will-do-anything-for-your-kid, right? If they’ve been good. Otherwise, they get fed to a hobbit.

More seriously, Air New Zealand should be recognised for going another step along the computer assisted road to a better consumer experience, if only they could forgo the questionable pricing.

‘Normal’ travellers, even people like the writer, often use personal digital appliances like phones or tablets to receive flight delay alerts or even to find gates or lounges in unfamiliar airports. We tap into rather than check in to flights a bit like consumers using public transport in Singapore, Hong Kong and London for starters, or try to, if we are in Sydney or Melbourne wondering how something the rest of the world does so well can be less than stellar in our home cities.

The broader possibilities for the technology in the wristbands that Air New Zealand calls Airbands for unaccompanied minors is explored by John Walton in this article in the Runway Girl Network.

We can take this further, and there is good reason that the airlines will, to the extent that the location of all customers passing through the arrivals and departure processes at airports they served could be established with far more accuracy than today.

At the moment airlines can generally tell if you have checked in, before or after entering an airport, and then know nothing about you until you pass through the boarding gate. This technology is ultimately capable of very precise advice, no doubt computer generated, as to gate changes or delays with additional directions based on where the system says you are.

Our phones track us, our cars pass through toll points, our retail purchases identify a time and place if such detail is considered acceptable or useful to whatever entity wants to watch.

Some of us might find such tracking and ‘advice giving’ excessive and annoying. But there are times when it might be useful. In the near term the struggle for those who want their privacy protected might well be based on campaigns to allow us to ‘opt in’ to tracking systems, rather than having to ‘opt out’ or being given no choice.

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