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 (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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...

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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 (opens in new tab) 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.

  • Thanks Rene! When you say things like "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. " what does that actually mean in term of user interface? Could you give us a sense of what motions, swipes, pushes, etc are needed to go from telling time to checking Uber or some other app periodically? It's always hard to get a sense of this from all the reviews out there. Maybe you could make an instagram video of it in action or something?
  • No Uber where I live, but basically, the first time, turn your wrist to wake the watch, press digital crown to go to the Home screen, tap Uber app. See where the driver is on a map and how long it'll take them to get to you. Scroll down to see driver name, car, license plate. For the next little while, or forever if you change a setting, turning your wrist wakes the watch right back to that screen.
  • Cool that makes sense. And I've learned that you can double press the crown and it will swap between your two most recent apps. Thanks a bunch Rene, love your presence on MBW!
  • Air Canada had inflight wifi from Toronto to Kingston, Jamaica 2 or 3 years ago. Sent from the iMore App
  • I got it maybe once a year if I was lucky. They only promised roll-out to Airbus line in 2015. So sounds like you got lucky too.
  • Good article but I couldn't help but notice that it appears you have your band on backwards. I believe the loop goes at the bottom of the watch. I have yet to receive mine yet... Have you tried it both ways? Does it make a difference for comfort? I ordered the same model.
  • No matter how I wear it, someone says that. (And I've made a point to wear it both ways to see how it feels). The answer is this: there's no backwards, wear it in a way that's most accessible and comfortable to you.
  • Thanks Rene... I'm just basing it on apples photos but I was curious... Hopefully mine will come sooner rather than later
  • When you used the watch to pay for your Starbuck's order, was your Starbucks card already loaded into your glances? I used it this morning, and was suprized that the process was a bit clunkier than I had initially thought it would be (IE -- Can't use card from Starbucks app, then had to open the passbook app to show the card)
  • I also have a question about the Starbucks card and Passbook. I added my Starbucks card to my passbook on my iPhone... but it doesn't show up when I double click on my side button for Apple Pay... only my 2 credit cards. So do I have to open up the Passbook app, and pick the starbucks card to be able to pay w/ the apple watch? That seems "clunky" like Mspikes82 said. Anyone else use their Starbucks from their Apple Watch? Am I missing something?
  • did you have to take the watch off to go through the metal detector or body scanner?
  • Nice article Rene! I received my watch on the 24th and I'm really enjoying it. I was listening to Leo (TwiT) on the way to work this morning and he seemed to think that it wasn't doing much for him that his Moto X didn't already do. For me, there were a few things that I did notice: - At Panera Bread I simple double tapped the "friends" button and ApplePay was ready to go. It was seamless. I never had to take my phone out of my pocket at all! Additionally, the person who rung me out asked if it was the Apple watch and we had a short convo about it. (Luckily there was nobody in line behind me!) - My girlfriend also has one and she took a call from her watch while we were out walking out dog! Normally she said her iPhone is in her purse and sometimes she forgets to turn it off silent or just plain misses calls or texts. Her watch rung and she answered easily! She loves that feature! - I have a Gorilla pod magnet mount for my iPhone 6 Plus and it's great! What I was doing yesterday was positioning the gorilla pod with my phone in places where i could not see the screen. I would turn on the camera with my watch and focus and take the shot for it! I got some pretty cool high shots that I would not have been able to get normally! - I noticed this weekend when I was at home that I did not reach for my phone at all! Texts would come in and I would use Siri to reply. I used the Hue app to turn off my lights before going to bed. My watch even let my know that I was running low on gas via the Automatic app in my Jeep! Pretty slick! - I find I use Siri a lot more now with the watch. I text with it. I ask her the weather. Notifications come in I triage them easily with a tap. I even stand more then I used to! - My girlfriend ordered lunch for us using the Seamless app! It supports the reordering of past meals so we just picked what we wanted and it came. -The Taptic feedback is really interesting as well. It's similar to a vibrate function but with more "pressure". A lot of times I would miss a text or email if my phone was somewhere else in my house. It's just easier, don't you think? It is already changing the way we interact with out tech.
  • Ohh and one final note! Unlike the Pebble or other normal watches I have worn, this watch doesn't get caught on my clothing at all! It's so nice to be able to put on a jacket or long sleeved shirt and not worry that my watch it going to get caught and possibly rip the garment.
  • Rene, which size watch are you wearing in the video?
  • Rene, you sort of touched on it in the article but I'll ask - do you think the Watch mitigates the physical awkwardness of using a 6 Plus? How do they go together as a team? Any readers have a Watch+6 Plus combo?
  • I have that combo - they're certainly a good team, especially for relatively minor interactions that don't really require a 5.5 inch screen. I love my 6 Plus, especially for the battery life, but it's nice to not have to use it for simple tasks anymore.
  • I bought the 6+ with the Watch in mind and I am happy with my decision. Siri actually works really well on the Watch and allows you to do a lot of stuff hands free. Getting directions, texting, news alerts, all work flawlessly while your phone sits somewhere else. One side effect is your 6+ screen looks impressively large again after reading a few texts on the Watch's screen. Personally I love the combo.
  • Rene, A really good, in-depth article. Thanks for sharing. Great to showcase exactly how it works. Your Apple Watch is slightly better looking than my Sport after testing. I thought you (and anyone else here) might also be interested to read our short post on exactly how Passbook content works on your wrist (Apple Watch). And how to get content on there. It's really simple. And it happens natively - Any content you create for Passbook, including vouchers, coupons and so on, all automatically appear. And the QR codes don't disappear when you twist your writs.