Net travel options could ease holiday headaches

The travel trauma that usually accompanies the holiday season may be less grueling this year as consumers are finding more places online to buy airline tickets and seeing new wireless e-commerce options.
Barreling into the kickoff of the holiday travel season, which usually begins with Thanksgiving in the United States, travelers and airlines alike are bracing for overbooked flights, jam-packed airports and long delays.
And while a mouse click will not stop an ice storm in Chicago from snarling holiday travel plans, many online tools and services may be able to ease some of the stress. In the last year, the industry has seen the emergence of wireless features and many airlines installing self-ticketing kiosks and computers in terminals to better serve online clients.
“The Internet will never be able to control Mother Nature,” said Joshua Friedman, an analyst at IDC. “But sites that allow travelers to react to delays quicker than they otherwise would have by traditional means, like travel agents, will help make traveling easier.”
Online travel is already one of the most active and busy areas of the Web. According to recent research from PhoCusWright, 40 percent of online consumers have bought airline tickets on the Internet. By comparison, 44 percent have purchased computers or software, and 42 percent have purchased books. This year, consumers have spent $12.2 billion in e-commerce, with $8 billion on airline tickets alone, according to Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. Online travel sales are expected to reach $29 billion in 2003.
And the holiday travel season will simply increase the volume for the many companies competing in the crowded online travel area., which is backed by Sabre, has long been providing online tools for making air, car, hotel and vacation reservations, along with other stalwarts Expedia, a Microsoft spinoff, and
In the last year, the airlines themselves have pushed online, forming or backing multi-airline companies like Hotwire, a discount ticket broker. The Web site, which offers last-minute and nonrefundable airfare deals, became operational in October.
A consortium of airlines is also backing Chicago-based Orbitz, which will offer online flight booking to more than 30 participating U.S. and foreign carriers. But Orbitz will miss the boat, so to speak, this holiday season, since it has delayed its Web site launch from this year to next June to fine-tune online features such as customer service and its search engine capabilities.
Orbitz, once known as “T2,” will offer people free access to its search engine to find airfare. Consumers will also be able to complete online purchases of cruise and vacation packages, the company said.