Text messaging is the newest way for those on the go to share and receive real-time information about everything from flight delays to tortuous check-in lines through OrbitzTLC Traveler Update. Type a very basic message using commands like 'JFK update' and then send the message to Orbitz at 672489. You'll receive a message asking you to specify the topic of update, for instance by typing 3 for taxi lines, and a little blitz of back-and-forth messaging ensues. Click here for Orbitz's complete text-messaging instructions.
As we reported in early September, the Traveler Update application launched with the ability to post updates from a web-enabled PDA at mobile.orbitz.com and from a computer. It combines travelers' posts with Google maps and official updates from the TSA and the FAA. You don't need to register to view the information or submit an update, but only registered users can be ranked—and rank others—for the usefulness of their comments.
We recently followed up with some folks at Orbitz to find out how Traveler Update is progressing and what users' tips have been most insightful. One example: a little-known security checkpoint at O'Hare International Airport that will cut your wait time. Read on for highlights from the interview...
Number of registered users? More than 24,000. According to Tom Russell, VP of brand marketing, growth has been steady since September and that traffic is increasing on an almost daily basis. But they aren't quite at a critical mass of users. "We're still paying posters at the top ten airports, but we're going to phase that part out," said Russell. "We wanted to continue the service through the holiday season because it's such a heavy travel time, and we see the paid posters as a service to our customers."
Airports with the most Traveler Update posts? "What you would expect: LaGuardia, Denver, Chicago, Los Angeles, the airports where there's the most people," said Russell.
Which posts are most useful? "Pieces of information that reveal an insider secret or a trick of the trade of a certain airport," said Russell. "At O'Hare, there's a new security checkpoint all the way to the left of the United terminal. The main one has 100 people in line, but walk two minutes to the left, and there are 20 people in line—that post has been rated very well. At BWI, there's light rail service from downtown Baltimore for $1.60."
Is the application changing how travelers think of Orbitz? Jim Cohn, senior communications manager, chimed in: "We have a lot more people who tend to go to Orbitz before leaving for the airport. If it's 1 p.m. and someone has a 4:30 p.m. flight, there have been times when such a person has checked and seen that there's a major traffic jam in Chicago and has decided instead of taking a cab to take the El instead."