Meet George Jetson

The world of the business traveler is becoming more like the space-age world of George Jetson all the time. Sixty-two percent of Americans surveyed recently by CLT Research Associates and Marriott International lug personal computers along on business trips; 28 percent bring portable phones; and 24 percent hook pagers on their belts or stuff them into their handbags. This makes American business travelers more gadget-laden than their Japanese counterparts-42 percent of Japanese business travelers pack PCs, 15 percent carry phones and 5 percent carry pagers-but slightly less dependent on laptops and portable phones than business travelers from the United Kingdom, according to the survey.

Business travelers love the sound of their voice mail: Fifty percent of travelers with voice mail polled by DK Associates last year say they check their messages at least three times a day.

Federal travelers often complain their agencies are behind the corporate curve when it comes to adopting best business practices for travel management, but nothing is stopping them from getting their hands on new technology. Personal gadgets are on sale to anyone who wants to feel like Flash Gordon, and other innovations are sprouting in public spaces. Information kiosks and customs kiosks are appearing in airports. If a test on Cathay Pacific and Swissair planes pans out, automated teller machines (ATMs) with currency exchange capabilities may be installed in airline seats one day soon.

The General Services Administration has formed a new division that's "trying to move the government into the smart card arena," Becky Rhodes, associate administrator of GSA's office of governmentwide policy, told delegates at the Society for Travel Agents in Government conference in February. Credit-card size smart cards contain memory chips that can store and retrieve data-and, hence, dispense electronic cash with a swipe or keep track of travelers' frequent flier miles.

The 21st century is in travelers' faces no matter which sector they work for.

Card Tricks

Before prepaid phone cards, the 5,500 sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kennedy could only make personal calls from the ship in emergencies using expensive International Maritime Satellite Transmission technology. Now, the sailors can buy $20 MCI prepaid Americana cards in the ship store and place calls via satellite at a set rate of $1 a minute. The cards work on land, too, at pay phones.

With prepaid cards, telephone service is purchased in advance. Users dial a toll-free number and enter a personal identification number to activate their accounts.

Prepaid phone cards can be purchased directly from large telephone carriers such as MCI or AT&T, at some federal facilities such as Veterans Canteen Services locations and Army and Air Force Exchange Service locations, or at shops. One warning: The $1 billion U.S. prepaid card industry includes unmonitored distributors who buy phone time from the major carriers and resell it on phone cards to retailers, and customers have had cards deactivated because of billing disputes between distributors and carriers. A familiar retailer's name on the front of a card is no guarantee that the distributor is dependable, as Kmart customers found out last year when the store's distributor ran into trouble.

Cards on sale at federal facilities are safe because telephone carriers supply them directly to the government. "We don't have a middle man involved," says Tracy Smith, an MCI representative.

Cards sold at federal installations often feature illustrations to warm a fed's heart. MCI has custom-designed a series of five cards to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force, for example.

Some business travelers already swear by another new type of phone card-the enhanced calling card. Enhanced cards give travelers access to conference calls and services such as voice mail, faxes, speed-dial numbers and weather forecasts; charges are billed to their credit card. The Worldlink card from Premiere Technologies, for example, enables travelers with e-mail accounts on Compuserve to scan their messages and forward them to any fax machine to be printed. Travelers can save up to 70 percent on international calls and avoid hotel access fees and surcharges by using enhanced calling cards, reports Sato Travel's TravelLine newsletter.

Savvy international travelers have discovered they can exchange money at more attractive rates than offered by banks and travel agencies by simply using ATMs overseas. The machine spits out foreign cash, and the traveler's bank statement indicates the withdrawal amount in American funds.

Let Your Kiosk Do the Talking

In a few months, Immigration and Naturalization Service kiosks will be operational in 11 airports in the United States and Canada, including New York's Kennedy International, Newark, Miami, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Houston, San Francisco, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. The kiosks, developed by the Transportation Department's Research and Special Program Administration's Volpe National Transport Systems Center and the INS to speed up immigration verification procedures, are designed for use by travelers who take at least three international business trips a year. Travelers must be citizens of the United States or the 26 other countries in the visa-waiver pilot program.

To use a kiosk, travelers must first visit an INS office to register their hand prints with the INSPass program. Thereafter, clearing U.S. immigration is a matter of inserting a card and a hand into an INSPass machine, which will automatically approve the traveler for entry.

"These new-age automated passenger inspection systems reduce delays at U.S. ports of entry, save travelers time and promote international commerce," RSPA administrator D.K. Sharma said in a Transportation Department newsletter last year.

More than 65,000 low-risk travelers are currently enrolled in the INSPass program, which won a 1996 Government Executive Technology Leadership Award.

Also in the works at RSPA's Volpe Center is a voice-activated automated inspection system for travelers entering the United States by car.

Touch-screen airport information kiosks provide travelers with easy access to information on ground transportation and local lodging options. In February, at San Francisco International Airport, QuickATM Corp., a leading airport information kiosk supplier, launched a new kind of kiosk-the airport Internet station. Once they register with QuickATM, travelers can visit a station to send and receive e-mail; log on to America Online, Compuserve and the Microsoft Network; surf the World Wide Web; telnet into remote computers to retrieve files, databases and e-mail; and even dig up Internet bookmarks stored on their home or office computer. Charges are billed to the customer's credit card. For more information, visit the QuickAID Web site at www.quickaid.com.

Satellite, Show Me the Way

Rental cars with computer navigation systems are no longer uncommon. Hertz Corp. just installed systems linked to the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) from Rockwell International in 8,000 cars in 16 cities, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, Orlando and Washington. Avis Rent A Car has equipped 1,000 of its cars in 20 cities with Rockwell units.

The Rockwell navigation system consists of a computer voice which barks turn-by-turn directions and a 4-inch color monitor, installed between the driver and the front passenger seats. The monitor can be read by either the driver or a passenger riding shotgun and shows the position and movement of the car on a map.

Currently, computer navigation systems are only installed in mid- and full-size, premium and luxury cars at Hertz and full-size and premium cars at Avis. Hertz and Avis representatives say there's nothing stopping travelers paying government car rental rates from obtaining cars with computer navigation systems if the cars are available. Government travelers will have to pay the additional fee that each company charges for use of the devices out of their own pocket, however: That fee is $6 a day at Hertz and $5 a day at Avis.

Budget Rent A Car and National Car Rental are testing computer navigation systems. Budget is experimenting with a system that is not GPS-based. The driver tells the car where they are along the chosen route and the computer responds with directions.

While the systems have yet to be perfected, researchers are already developing enhancements, Sato Travel's TravelLine reports. In the future, rental cars may reroute drivers around traffic jams using real-time traffic reports, steer drivers from high-crime neighborhoods and offer them advice on where to go to dinner.

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