Air Travel: A Target For Social Innovation

An industry in crisis is an industry ripe for transformation.

America’s air travel system is in crisis. In response to rising fuel prices, air-space congestion and industry losses during the recession, airlines have cut capacity and raised rates. These challenges follow on the heels of delays and hassles that have cost the nation almost $33 billion in the past year alone, according to a recent study commissioned by the FAA / DOT.

Some blame the problems on government regulations over airlines and the lack of modernized air traffic control infrastucture. Others see the problem as dysfunctional management of the airline system.

Could it be that “the system of air travel” is being re-engineered before our eyes and all the current problems are part of the process?

I remember when airline travel used to be a social experience. Today it is anything but social, with the majority of passengers frustrated by the experience and loss of productivity.  Yet air travel is necessary for both leisure and business purposes.

How big is air travel and its impact on the economy here in the US?


Research from the US Travel Association says:


1.          About 42 percent of U.S. adults reported traveling by air for leisure trips.  The percentage of air travelers increases to 48 percent among U.S. adults who traveled for business purposes in the past year.

2.          A study by the U.S. Travel Association revealed a deep frustration among air travelers that caused them to avoid an estimated 41 million trips over the past 12 months at a cost of more than $26 billion to the U.S. economy.

3.          Business travel in the U.S. is responsible for $246 billion in spending and 2.3 million American jobs; $100 billion of this spending and 1 million American jobs are linked directly to meetings and events. For every dollar invested in business travel, businesses experience an average $12.50 in increased revenue and $3.80 in new profits.

4.          The Internet was used by approximately 90 million American adults to plan travel during the past year with 76 percent of online travelers planning leisure trips online.


The Social Market of Travel Is Hot Every other day or two, you hear about a new travel app, a travel related company, or a mega travel player partnering, acquiring, or developing the next industry killer app. Consider some of the recent developments in the travel space over the last year:


1.          Tripit acquired for 120M

2.          Google’s purchase of ITA

3.          Facebook buys Nextstop

4.          Google managed to get the folks behind Ruba – a travel site – to join its organization

5.          Hotwire, Kayak, Orbitz and Farecast, are now part of Microsoft’s Bing

6.          Plancast launches a site enabling people to post and share events they are attending

7.          Gowalla Offers Trips & Travel Guides with USA TODAY

8.          Dopplr makes your travel planning smarter. Share travel plans with the people you trust.

9.          Facebook now drives 12%, and growing, of the airline’s traffic compared with Google 17.6%, and Yahoo 10%.

10.      Mobile travel apps are flooding into the market in numbers too large to follow.


The list goes on, but by now you should conclude that “social” and “travel” are hot and competition between Google and Facebook will continue to rage. Will Facebook trump Google as the most important travel site?

Time will tell but none of these applications or developments really do anything to improve the efficiency of the travel experience.


What Will Improve the Travel Experience?

Providing social technology to travelers may help people find things faster, get recommendations and collaborate with friends and associates, but it still doesn’t improve the existing system of travel. Will social technology reduce delays, hassles and loss of productivity? Not likely, but then again it could if applied to a different travel system.

Private Aviation represents $8 Billion in annual revenue, just a small fraction of the entire travel spend,  but little has been done to bring innovation to the industry, and it lags way behind all markets in use of social technology.

Private Aviation offers a superior experience for travelers. If social technology was applied innovatively just maybe the cost of flying private could be reduced. Just maybe, friends could form “travel tribes” and buy seats on private aircraft. Just maybe, brands would sponsor flights to reach this new market of travelers and thus bring down the cost.


Consider the possibilities.