Trains and WiFi in the sky
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - October 31, 2017 - 4:00pm

It is different in real life!

After several trips to Japan, I only recently experienced first hand what it’s like to ride the Tokyo Subway trains during rush hour, particularly in the evening. They are still way better and more humane than the MRT perhaps because Tokyo is cold during most months of the year so you don’t choke or suffocate from sweat induced body odor and extreme humidity. But still, you get pushed, squeezed and packed which makes me wonder all the more since the Japanese are not the sort of “touchy – touchy” people in public or private. I guess they simply switch to zombie mode when they go underground or when they go home during rush hour.

I did get to see some interesting things like how simple or intimidating buying a ticket could be, how the Japanese walk backwards into the train using their backs and behinds to push people in and make space for themselves. It is apparently a patented move or established practice which is effective for those entering the jam-packed trains because the last thing you want to experience is a knee or bag jamming your crotch or pressing your boobs against someone just to get in. Having a bulky bag or belongings during the rush hour would be a no go but I did see a desperate couple bring a child in a baby carrier. Filipinos freaked out but the locals acted as if the carrier was invisible.

Being the electronics country, you can expect almost everyone sitting inside a train to be tuned out with their earphones and listening to music or watching something or playing one of hundreds of games on their mobile phones. But one thing I never saw was someone using his or her mobile phone during the ride. I also never heard a single phone ring. I found out on the on board video that passengers are required to put their phones on silent during the ride so as not to disturb others. You are also requested not to use your mobile phone on board, probably so you can hear the train driver’s announcements especially in case of an emergency.

After several stops, one thing I learned about life on the trains during rush hour is that as polite and demure as the Japanese may be, when it comes to getting out of a train, you better get out of the way because they will get out one way or another! After this experience, it might be a good idea for the government to regularly show films on subway use and etiquette so that when we finally have our honest to goodness made in Japan subway system, the users will already know how to survive the ride. The DOTr, the PCO and maybe even DepEd should study the matter and not just let people figure things out for themselves when it’s too late.

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The first time I attempted to use a Wi-Fi service inside a plane was during the inaugural flight of Philippine Airlines to London – Nov. 5, 2013. Back then I was pretty much new to the technology, my phone was not the latest smart phone and I remember that the wi-fi technology for planes or PAL was not yet perfected. All I managed I think was one phone call before paranoia of the cost took over and I promptly shut my phone down for the remainder of the flight.

Four years after, I once again saw and heard the on-board announcement informing passengers from Tokyo to Manila that our flight PR 421 was equipped with on-board wifi and Internet access called myPAL Wifi & myPAL Mobile. As an added bonus PAL even gives passengers 30 minutes of FREE Wi-Fi. Aside from the PAL announcement, I also received four text messages from Globe advising customers that calls cost P 150/min, while received calls would be P75/minute. Text messages with 160 characters would cost P25 while text messages received would be free of charge.

I don’t know why or how but for some reason I found myself connected to the on-board Wi-Fi just as we were preparing to land. Assuming the meter ticked only when you start using, I sent out three to four text messages and BRAVO the system worked and worked well. In spite of the international rates, just being connected to the Internet was certainly a travel plus because you can carry on working or communicating while flying from one country to another. Personally, it gave me a chance to sort out transport arrangements before landing at NAIA.

People may not think much of the on-board Wi-Fi or simply take it for granted, but if you ask flight attendants on long haul flights, they all appreciate how having Internet access on board tends to quiet things down during the flight. Children or young adults are entertained or distracted with games and programs on their tablets or iPads, while the more adult travelers don’t move around as much or make as many requests for food or stuff and business travelers don’t drink as much out of boredom which can make some of them quite a handful to manage. Even on the much shorter flight from Tokyo to Manila, I noticed that the flight was indeed quiet with many tablets and laptops glowing in use.

I have no idea what sort of capitalization and logistics is required but as I already mentioned in my earlier column, the DOTr, the airline companies and the telcos seriously need to embark on a program where passengers have access to at least 300 minutes of free Wi-Fi Internet service in our airport terminals as well as on-board Wi-Fi for all flights both domestic and international because everybody benefits!

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