Authenticity: A Near Future Travel Story

by Narcisse Navarre

Reanne Sáez and her assistant rushed to their departure gate. Reanne wore her usual plane getup—sneakers and yoga pants, while her companion Michaele brandished a tailored Italian suit. The pinstripe jacket accentuated his dark hair and high cheekbones.

“Ree, you’re not going to believe this, but our gate just changed.”

Reanne brushed a hand through her long, brown hair. “For real? We should be boarding by now.”

Michaele nodded and checked his phone. “We need to switch terminals and go to C88. The flight’s been pushed back to eight o’clock.”

“Could be worse. We’ll still make Barcelona in time for the conference.”

“Yep. There’s a bar in Terminal C that makes great martinis.”

“Food?” asked Reanne.

“Loaded fries.”

“Sold, let’s go.”

The two companions zigzagged through the busy concourse. Four escalators and a tram ride later, they arrived at their destination. The restaurant wound through the center of the building like an underlit glass snake. Scores of tablets flashed drink specials while bartenders mixed drinks and waiters rushed between tables. After taking a seat, Reanne punched-in an order for a Negroni and truffle fries.

Michaele sat back and stretched his legs. “I suspect the Negroni will disappoint you. The last three were failures.”

Reanne took her laptop out of her backpack and opened it. “I don’t know what the big deal is. How hard can mixing equal parts Campari, vermouth rosso, and gin be?”

“To quote Galileo, you cannot teach a man anything.” Michaele leaned his elbows on the bar and flashed her his even, white teeth.

His smile combined with his nerdy good looks never failed to amuse her. “And a woman?”

“She is like a tea bag according to Eleanor Roosevelt. A queen according to Oprah, and classy and fabulous in the mind of Coco Chanel.”

The waiter set down a blood-red martini glass, and a plate of skinny fries sprinkled with shaved parmesan cheese. A thin slice of orange peel swirled in the ruby liquid.

“A teabag?” Reanne scoffed. “You serious?”

“A woman is like a tea bag. You can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water. First Lady’s words, not mine.”

“Look at this!” Reanne took a picture of the drink and uploaded it to her social profile. “Who serves a Negroni in a cocktail glass?”

“An airport bar called Mile High?”

“Touché.” Reanne turned on her laptop. She drank and picked at her fries while going over the slides for her upcoming presentation. The annual Hospitality Conference at the Fira attracted every major player in the business. As a Futures Analyst, her job was to stay one step ahead of travel tech industry. Luckily, she had help. Michaele proved invaluable. “Does the itinerary require my attention? I haven’t reviewed it yet.”

“I took the liberty of booking a tour of La Sagrada Familia on Tuesday afternoon. The experience is enhanced with AR.”

“Glad I included that in my presentation.” Reanne cycled through the interactive slideshow and perused her speaking points: Future of keyless mobile entry, 6G bandwidth, connected appliances, VR decision making and tag-along tourism, augmented reality tours, blockchain security, hospitality cryptocurrency, facial recognition, and the oddball of the bunch, charter plane timeshares. The list was long, but she felt like something was still missing.

“Michaele, in your opinion, what do people value most when they travel?”

“Convenience, security, and authenticity.”

Reanne finished her drink. “Authenticity. Yes!”

“According to recent polls, a ‘real’ experience is what differentiates a mediocre getaway from an extraordinary one. Trust is essential as are meaningful interactions.”

“So, fewer chatbots?” Reanne presented her phone to the tablet and paid her bill.

“Or more memorable ones. That Jeeves at our last hotel was a bore.”

“Please enter your five-digit security code,” Reanne mocked. She closed her laptop and slid it into her bag. “How many times did that thing say that?”

“Technology gone wrong,” Michaele said looking at his watch. “Plane will begin boarding in five minutes. We should go.”

They walked across the hall to their gate and joined the line.

“I’m glad we’re not flying in one of those older planes. 5G is a godsend. Before I forget, forward my itinerary to my mom. She’ll be thrilled I’m  experiencing Gaudi’s genius this time around.”

“Will do. Anything else?”

“Yeah, book some spa time after the conference. I’m going to be bushed.”

“Already done. I booked you the detox massage and hydrocycle at Aurora a few blocks from our hotel. 7 PM on Friday. Catalans eat very late so you will have plenty of time before dinner. Do you want to leave a review for Mile High?”

“Sure. Truffle fries hit the spot. Stick with beer. Three stars.”

The facial recognition camera in the jet bridge blinked a bright green as passengers headed down the ramp and boarded the plane. After stashing her carryon in the overhead compartment, Reanne sat in the window seat.

Crossing her legs, she grabbed the e-magazine, flicked past the evacuation protocols and feasted her eyes on the tapas. Thanks to analysts like her, airplane travel had gone from octagonal, sardine-can layouts to civilized meals and legroom for all. “Michaele, I have to shut you down for liftoff; order me the Vegetarian Combo before you go.”

Her virtual assistant winked. “You got it. Ciao, Bella.”

Reanne removed her AR glasses, set her phone to airplane mode, and buckled her seatbelt. Who said work and play couldn’t coexist? Barcelona was going to be fun.