Wrist baggage: how the Apple Watch made an airport slightly more bearable.

It takes an awful lot of work to makes something as simple as a push notification about baggage work - but it's worth it.

I’m just back off my holiday – hence the silence here – which was spent, rather ironically, in Germany (but a long way from lovely Hamburg where I’ll be in less than two months…)

And, in fact, I’ve been spending a lot of time in airports in recent weeks, with my flight to Germany coming about 24 hours after I landed at Gatwick Airport after a flight back from a week working in New York. Airports are great places for noting the rise of technology. Back in 2011 I noted the sudden rise of the tablet (mainly iPads then) on flights, as an alternative to the in-flight entertainment. More recently, the rise of phone-based boarding passes has been evident. In this most recent trip, I saw one woman laboriously open three different boarding passes on her phone to get the whole of her family through the security gates.

This time around, it was the potential of wearables to make that horrible time in the airport a bit more bearable. Or, more specifically, my Apple Watch.

On the way back from Stuttgart, standing in the endless queue for passport control at London’s Gatwick airport (my wife is an American citizen, so we don’t get to whiz through the fancy new automatic passport gates), wrangling two small children, I felt a gentle tapping on my wrist. I lifted my Apple Watch, and this is what I saw:

IMG 3297

It was a lovely, human touch – one less thing for me to worry about. I knew exactly where our luggage would be, through a lift of my wrist. And if you think that’s irrelevant when I have a phone in my pocket – try getting that phone out in a queue when you’re carrying four passports, a shoulder bag, a wheelie case, and trying to keep a bored four year old within five yards of you. I’ve never appreciated a push notification on my wrist more than I did that moment.

The plumbing behind the wrist

It was only later on I appreciated how much effort must have gone on to get us to the point where I can get my luggage carousel number on my wrist:

  • Gatwick Airport has to have a database system linking the carousel to the flight
  • Easyjet needs to be able to talk to hat system via an API or similar
  • Easyjet’s app needs speedy access go that information as soon as the company has it
  • The notification system pushes the info to my phone – and from there to my wrist.

That’s a lot of serious back-end planning and development, for one lovely little moment of comfort and reassurance. But, given the complicated and stressful nature of most air travel, it’s a valuable reminder of how all those database entries are reflections of real people living real lives.