While waiting to board a flight back to Seattle last Friday night, I sat near the check-in counter at the gate and listened with interest to the various questions, trials and tribulations faced by the airline staff and my fellow passengers.The flight was overbooked, so the airline needed three people to travel the next morning and accept a voucher for a free flight. One woman had a question on when the flight was going to depart. The staff paged a passenger numerous times, but he never came to the gate. A young mother asked if another passenger could switch seats with her so that she and her daughter could sit together.Sitting there, it occurred to me how well IM on wireless devices would have worked to improve the customer experience and reduce the workload on the airline staff.For example, if a widely deployed IM infrastructure were available, the airline\u2019s computer system could have started contacting a few of the passengers via text messages to determine their willingness to be bumped to a flight the next day. By the time the airline was ready to make a final decision about their need to bump a few of the passengers, they would have already known which passengers were willing to travel the next day, making better use of the airline staff\u2019s time.The passenger with the question about the flight\u2019s departure time could have contacted the airline\u2019s reservation system that was already on her buddy list; if the flight was going to be delayed an hour, she would have been able to spend another hour with her family or clients instead of waiting at the airport.For the passenger who never showed up at the gate, the airline might have been able to contact him hours earlier and done whatever they had to do with him instead of hoping he would respond to a page minutes before the flight departed.The young mother could have made her request for a seat change hours earlier.It\u2019s not just wireless users that could benefit. Desktop computer users could get real-time updates from the airline via IM when they\u2019re taking a flight later that day so that they could know about delays or flight changes well in advance. And don\u2019t forget all of the other customer-facing entities that could benefit from IM, like delivery services, restaurants at which you have to wait an hour for a table, your doctor or dentist, travel agents, etc., etc., etc.In short, IM can dramatically improve the quality of customer service for a wide range of providers while letting staff members operate more efficiently. All we really need is IM interoperability and those providers with the foresight to understand the competitive advantage that IM can provide for that to become a reality.