Fix Your Flights on the Fly

SAN FRANCISCO (06/14/2000) - Your cellular phone might tip you off to flight delays and cancellations, but a new service may help you handle your travel challenges more easily.

Galileo International is en route, at least. Launched this week at Galileo subsidiary Trip.com, the Galileo Wireless service lets you check travel reservations and rebook or cancel flights on a wireless device.

It's free for a limited time, with direct access to Galileo and Apollo reservation systems (other travel agencies may eventually charge). But it covers only part of the journey: Galileo wireless might help you avoid long lines at the airline counter but it won't let you buy a flight or plan a trip wirelessly just yet.

Galileo wireless works on two-way pagers, phones enabled with Wireless Application Protocol, and on the Palm VII if you download a WAP browser for it, says James E. Lubinski, executive vice president of operations at Galileo International.

"Just register your device at Trip.com and receive your unique travel identification number and the URL you can bookmark on your phone," Lubinski says.

Latest Info on the Move

Beyond rebooking or canceling a flight, through Galileo's service you can view and receive status notification (by e-mail or page) about any domestic flight.

You can also view hotel and car reservations, check flight schedules on certain dates, or track a flight in the air through Trip.com.

But you can't buy a ticket or even get prices on those rebooked flights.

"We could put [wireless purchasing] out there, but [wireless devices] have a clumsy interface for things like multiple travelers or trips with multiple legs," Lubinski says.

Galileo/Trip.com is hardly the first to offer wireless access to your itineraries and real-time status updates and gate information on flights. Web sites like Expedia, through MSN Mobile, and Travelocity offer wireless flight status notification and itinerary access.

A number of major airlines like United, Northwest, and Delta let you check flight schedules, status, and itineraries on phones, pagers, and personal digital assistants.

"But no one else is offering transactions today," Lubinksi says. The other travel sites only offer general information, he adds.

Still, Galileo's usefulness has limits. You can only rebook your exact round trip; you can't add another leg or make destination changes. And you can't get pricing. If the airline raises the fare when you rebook, you won't know until you get to the gate.

There, you can accept or decline the new ticket, Lubinski says. "Most airlines charge US$50 to $75 to rebook on the same airline."

For now, wireless travel services are most useful for keeping up with ever-changing flight schedules. But the services are aware that purchases are on travelers' wish lists, so ticket-buying functions may yet be around the bend.

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