2017-07-24 08:02:05
The Getaway: Innovations to Help Speed Up Your Travel Planning

Travel is supposed to be about the journey. The goal isn’t to get there first. Yet a variety of new services are aiming to speed things along, be it automatically checking you in for your flight, accompanying you through security, reserving a car or hotel with voice commands, or whisking you to the French countryside on new high-speed trains. Here’s a look at half a dozen of the latest innovations.

CHECKING IN FOR YOUR FLIGHT AirlineCheckins.com, an automatic check-in tool that was in beta last year, is officially up and running. AirlineCheckins.com is free and does just what the name suggests it does for flights on more than 100 airlines worldwide with automated check-in. It’s handy for those who don’t want to bother looking up their reservation number and going through the usual steps the day before a flight.

When you register on the site — which includes filling out a profile with seating preferences, travel companions, frequent-flier program information and identification documents — you receive an AirlineCheckins.com personal email address. Thereafter, whenever you book a flight, you use that personal email address. This allows the site’s agents to check you in as soon as the airline’s online check-in window opens. If applicable, the site will also choose seats for you based on the preferences you selected. After that, your boarding pass is automatically sent to you via email or SMS message. The tool was created by the Lufthansa Innovation Hub, a subsidiary of the Lufthansa Group in Berlin, but can be used by any traveler on any airline that has online check-in capability.

GLOBAL ENTRY ENROLLMENT ON ARRIVAL You’ve probably heard of Global Entry, the expedited security program from United States Customs and Border Protection. If so, you’ve probably also heard that wait times can be tedious at its enrollment centers. Customs and Border Protection is endeavoring to change that with “Enrollment on Arrival,” introduced this month at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, William P. Hobby Airport and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, all in Texas; San Francisco International Airport; and Vancouver International Airport in British Columbia.

With “Enrollment on Arrival,” if you’ve been conditionally approved for Global Entry, but still need to complete the in-person interview, you can do so during Customs primary inspection at the participating airport instead of at a Global Entry enrollment center. The program will be rolled out to more airports in the coming months. (The Global Entry application fee is $100 for a five-year membership; you must begin the enrollment process online.)

AN ESCORT THROUGH THE AIRPORT A new tool, Solve, describes itself as an airport concierge service. Its goal is to save travelers time and alleviate confusion by providing someone to meet them at their arrival gate, expedite the immigration and Customs process, and then escort them to whatever car or shuttle is to take them to their hotel or home rental. The company sees itself as particularly useful for business travelers and young and elderly travelers. Solve is available in more than 480 airports globally, and the company says most of its employees speak both English and the local language. The cost starts around $225 a leg for two people.

BOOK A HOTEL OR A CAR WITH YOUR VOICE If you’ve always wanted to be able to say “Book me a hotel room in Las Vegas” and suddenly find yourself with a reservation, you’re in luck. Kayak just announced that users can now book hotel rooms with voice commands through Amazon’s Alexa smart home devices. (Previously, you could search for hotels, flights and rental cars by speaking, but you couldn’t book them that way.) Kayak performs the search for rooms while the booking is done through its sister brands, Booking.com and Priceline.com. This, as one might imagine, is not necessarily for obsessives who want to look at and compare dozens of hotel reviews, photos and lists of amenities. Early reviews suggest voice booking is best for the traveler who is looking to reserve a room at a familiar hotel, such as one he or she regularly stays in for business.

Kayak is not the only travel company wading into voice-only booking. Next month, Avis will introduce voice-powered car reservation capability with Alexa, allowing users to issue commands such as “I need a car at La Guardia Airport at 9 a.m. this Friday.” Customers will be able to make car rental reservations, review current or past reservations, and request electronic receipts of their last rental. As for booking your next flight, you still have to do that the old-fashioned way: online.

UNLOCK YOUR HOTEL ROOM WITH A SMARTPHONE A few years ago, digital room keys were a novelty. Today, brands like Marriott and Hilton have made them available through their mobile apps at hundreds of hotels and are planning to make them even more widely available. Hilton, which offers digital keys at hotels throughout the United States and Canada, is now introducing them in Britain. This year Marriott is rolling out its mobile key to more than 500 hotels globally. The company has also expanded the capabilities of its mobile check-in/checkout feature. For the first time, users can request room upgrades and find out if they have been approved before they arrive. Additionally, they can skip the line at the front desk and request late checkout, which is guaranteed for Gold and Platinum Elite loyalty program members.

WHIZ THROUGH THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE This summer, France began operating two new high-speed trains. Now you can get from Paris to Bordeaux in about two hours, and from Paris to Rennes in less than an hour and a half. Every day, some 35,000 high-speed seats will be offered between Paris and Bordeaux and 30,000 high-speed seats between Paris and Rennes. Look for interiors by the French designer Christian Lacroix on the Rennes route. For those who care about staying connected, some trains to Brittany will begin offering Wi-Fi later this year. The Bordeaux route trains will offer internet access.