Flying the Apple Watch skies

The iPhone has been my frequent travel companion for a while now. I do almost everything with it. So, I was curious to see how different (if at all) traveling with the Apple Watch would be. I've long believed the Apple Watch's killer feature would be convenience. But reality doesn't always live up to our beliefs, especially when it comes to travel. So, with that in mind, on my flight home yesterday I decided to put the Apple Watch to the test.

Flight status

I woke up in the morning and strapped on my Apple Watch. A few minutes later, as I was packing, I got a tap on my wrist. I looked at the Apple Watch and saw a notification from Tripit Pro, the app and service I use to keep my travel organized. The message said my flight was on time. Phew! My iPhone was across the room on the night table, but I didn't need it.

I'd woken up early anyway, and had plenty of time to walk over to Philz and get a Mint Mojito for the road. They don't have an app and don't take Apple Pay yet, but if McDonald's or any of thousands of other retailers had been my thing — and my cards supported it — I could have used my Apple Watch to pay for my morning meal as well. All without ever reaching for my wallet.

Checking out

The hotel I was staying at has the SPG Starwood Hotel & Resorts app. If you have it set up, you can hold your iPhone to the door sensor, and it just unlocks. Now they've made an Apple Watch app as well. I didn't have a chance to test it this trip, but I saw a demo and it's brilliant. Especially if you have bags or drinks or food, you can get in without having to fumble for a card or even your iPhone.

Uber-ing over

It usually takes Uber a few minutes to arrive, even if I call them while I'm finishing up and heading down from the hotel. Previously that meant I'd pull my iPhone from my pocket every few minutes to double check the status in the and make sure the driver wasn't having a hard time finding me.

With the Apple Watch, there's an Uber app extension that shows you all the information you need. Once you launch it, you can check periodically with just a flick of the wrist. When you Uber is about to arrive, you get that notification as well, right on your Apple Watch. With an iPhone, you have to pull it out to see if its the Uber notification of course. With the Apple Watch, you just have to look.

That same convenience is invaluable on the road. Roaming is tough on battery life so the more my iPhone can stay safely asleep in my pocket, the better. Especially since it's so easy to check a notification, and then 5 minutes later realize you're back on Twitter...

With the Apple Watch, you just look and most of the time you can easy instantly see that it's not a notification you need to worry about immediately, or the expanded information is enough that you're informed and need to take no other action.

So it was with Uber arriving.

Starbucks-ing up

I have my Starbucks card in Passbook on my iPhone; it means I also have my Starbucks card on my Apple Watch. As cool as pulling out my phone is to pay for my juice and snack, paying with my watch isn't just infinitely cooler — it's easier. Especially when my hands are already full.

Passing pre-check

Air Canada has an iPhone app and they enabled it for Apple Watch well before launch. They also just added electronic boarding to SFO as well. The result is no more long lines at check-in: I just walked to the gate.

Just like on the iPhone, my boarding pass is readily available on Apple Watch. It shows TSA Pre as well, so I got straight into the short line. Since I knew how the scanners worked, and didn't want to distort my arm, I loosed the Milanese Loop, spun the watch to the inside of my wrist as I was walking to the checkpoint, and then gentle placed it over the scanner.

When you scroll down to the code on the pass, the Apple Watch fades everything else to black, which made for an easy scan. Then I slipped the watch off, stowed it safely in my bag with my phone, and made for the metal detectors.

Getting to the gate

Sadly, Air Canada still hasn't figured out how to push gate updates to Passbook, but there's both an app and a glance, and they do a push notification when it's time to board. That all shows up fine. Tripit also has an an app, a glance, and sends notifications, and the latter are more frequent and verbose than Air Canada, so I knew exactly which gate to get to and when.

They didn't have scanners yet at the gate, so along with checking my passport they just asked for my seat number. I'd glanced at it moments before on the Apple Watch to remind myself where to go when I got on board, so it was easy enough to give.

Time flies

There was Wi-Fi on the flight, which, up until this month, has been almost non-existant on Air Canada. That let me work for roughly half the flight before my eyes and brain needed a rest. At that point I switched to listening to an audiobook and tried to tune out a bit. Usually I'd pull my iPhone out a few times an hour to check how much time had passed and remind myself about the time of arrival. Since I have an iPhone 6 Plus, and plane seats are cramped and belted, it's always a dance and shuffle to get it out, glance at the Lock screen, and put it away again.

With the Apple Watch, I just turned my wrist, glimpsed the time, and closed my eyes again. It was a far more relaxed, far more human process.

Although, a couple times when I noticed a Sketch come in, I did fire off a couple Vader and Batman heads in return...

A photo posted by on

Likewise, when a message came in, I could take a quick look and again not have to bother squirming to get my phone out and squirming again to put it away. And since I added the "live long and prosper" emoji to my Apple Watch app default replies, a couple times that's exactly what I sent back.

Touch down

There's no Uber outside Montreal's downtown core, including the airport, but my best friend was kind enough to meet me at the exit and take me home. Thanks to my Apple Watch, I could easily feel and see when he iMessaged me to update me on his proximity, and was ready and waiting when he pulled up.

I don't have automated locks at home, but I do have Hue lights. So, as we got to my driveway I opened the Philips Hue app on my Apple Watch and turned on the lights.

No place like home

There was nothing that my Apple Watch could do that my iPhone couldn't. No surprise there. But many of the things my iPhone could do the Apple Watch could do better. Not as deeply, not as powerfully, but much more conveniently.

When juggling luggage, rushing to make cars and planes, grabbing coffee, or doing any of the many things you do while traveling, the Apple Watch gave me just what I needed, just when I needed it.

And it's going to be my constant traveling companion from now on.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.