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Left: Self-service check-in kiosks at Heathrow Terminal 2

The traditional check-in model was full-service, which required passengers to queue to get their boarding passes and wait to find out about delays. There was a general concern in the travel industry that a move to self-service would mean ‘no service’ but, gradually, the industry has embraced a self-service model that allows passengers to actively participate in the pre-departure experience and move themselves more easily through the airport and board the plane.

Airport check-in is a prime example of self-service technology. There are countless options for obtaining your own boarding pass: mobile apps, web check-in, kiosks. For passengers who choose to check in at the airport instead of at home, there are new ways of providing a more convenient check-in experience. This becomes particularly clear when looking at Terminal 2 at London Heathrow Airport.

Terminal 2 houses Star Alliance carriers and uses a true common-use approach to ensure a seamless and more efficient airport experience for passengers. Many STAR airlines use the same departure control system, so any passenger can use any self-service kiosk – or check-in desk, if they were so inclined – regardless of which airline they’re flying with. So instead of having to wait in just their own airline’s queues, passengers can use any of the facilities that are in the common check-in area. This helps cut down on long queues, speeding up the pre-departure experience. Each airline can set its own business priorities for how to serve passengers whilst ensuring a consistent service level across alliance partners.

The technology involved in check-in can use a cloud-based common-use system to remove location restrictions. Copenhagen Airport allows travelers coming from cruise ships to check-in and receive boarding cards on the ship; their luggage is then transferred from ship to airport. Valet (parking lot) check-in, offered by some airlines, is another example of agents checking passengers in without a location restriction. In both of these examples, agents can be pro-active in the face of disruptions, able to advise passengers whether to go home and return later, or to proceed into the airport.

Baggage drop is also increasingly becoming more self-service driven. Passengers can either self-tag the bags at a check-in kiosk or get tags directly from the bag drop. Technology has sped up this process to the extent that it now takes only 15-20 seconds to drop off a single bag.

But check in and baggage drop are far from the only pre-departure aspects of travel that are being eased by technology. One of the biggest frustrations for travelers is being delayed on the tarmac. This is often tied to the airline waiting for a passenger, who may or may not reach the gate in time. New passenger verification technology is helping to address this issue today.

As passengers move through the airport and have their boarding passes scanned at various locations – whether at security, the duty free shop or lounges – airports and airlines are able to track passengers’ progress through the airport. This allows them to avoid delaying take off or missing a departure slot entirely due to waiting for passengers who will be late to the gate. Passengers, too, can be warned at various points that they are at risk of missing the flight or be told of gate changes.

According to Eurocontrol, it costs US$100 for every minute a plane is delayed on the tarmac, costs which could potentially be passed on to the travelers. By knowing whether a passenger is going to make the flight, airlines can pull the passenger’s checked luggage off the aircraft, close the gates and depart on time.

At the gate itself, self-boarding gates can help reduce queues and improve service levels: as the majority of passengers use these gates, the ground staff is able to help those who need assistance boarding a plane. This speeds up boarding time and improves the chances of an on-time departure.

The passenger experience has evolved beyond pre-departure technological advances: more advanced departure control systems can also offer cabin crew tablet applications to be used onboard a flight to identify passengers and their travel requirements, ranging from meal choices to onward connection details. These apps help cabin crews provide passenger services more efficiently.

The aviation industry is already benefiting from technology to help travelers get from A to B, but the pre-departure experience is arguably seeing the most change of any stage of the journey. After all, the travel experience begins long before boarding a plane.

About the author

John Jarrell is the head of the airport IT unit of Amadeus IT Group, a global leading technology supplier for the travel industry. He has held a number of high profile, globally oriented roles across the airport and aviation technology sector

January 5, 2015

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