February 03, 2004

Airline Check-In Kiosks

Speeding Flight Check-In at Self-Service Kiosks [ny times]

Speeding Flight Check-In at Self-Service Kiosks
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Published: February 3, 2004

Tami L. Chappell for The New York Times
Travelers at a kiosk at Hartsfield International Airport serving Atlanta, one of the nation's busiest, negotiate the self-service check-in process.

Mark Graham for The New York Times
Walter Jones, using a Delta Air Lines kiosk at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, appreciates not having to stand in long lines.

do-it-yourself check-in kiosks have sprouted up in airports, and lots more are coming.

Since the fall of 2001, when new security rules slowed passenger check-in to a crawl, airlines have doubled the number of self-service kiosks, to 3,000. Make that 3,001: Today, JetBlue Airways plans to introduce the first of 150 self-service kiosks it will install around the country at its hub terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport. JetBlue, whose passengers book about 75 percent of their tickets online, worked with I.B.M. to develop a kiosk with extra large interactive screens.

Self-service kiosks have been a boon to rushed travelers, cutting check-in times, and have saved the industry millions of dollars in labor costs. The machines have proved so successful at airports that two major hotel chains are testing automated check-in systems at some locations.

Analysts estimate more than 25 percent of all travelers in the United States have used a self-service machine. At Continental Airlines, about 60 percent of all passengers are using the kiosks. Those with e-tickets are eligible, but not those with paper tickets. And at this stage, the system is in use on domestic flights and those to American territories, but not on international routes.

For the passengers able to use them, such an expansion has changed the logistics of business travel. Without it, analysts say, more fliers would be spending time at check-in counter lines. Instead, by swiping a credit, debit or frequent-flier card through an electronic reader and punching in information to confirm their identity, they can get boarding passes, upgrade to first class, or rebook canceled flights.

The airlines are reaping benefits. A study in November by Forrester Research showed that self-service check-in costs the airlines 16 cents a passenger, compared with $3.68 using ticket-counter agents. The study's co-author, Henry H. Harteveldt, vice president for travel research at Forrester, said check-in machines would become standard in the near future for most carriers. "Ideally, a self-service kiosk should be able to help an airline serve 95 percent of its passengers with 95 percent of their needs," he said.

In 1995, Continental became the first United States carrier to install a self-service machine - at Newark airport, one of its hubs. Continental now has 779 kiosks in 130 airports around the country.

The machines caught on as airport gridlock worsened. "The airlines realized this was a technology that was part of their core business," said Robert R. Ranieri, who oversees I.B.M.'s travel kiosk unit in Toronto, "sort of the way the Internet is a mainstream tool.''

Plans by Northwest and other carriers to accelerate electronic check-in were put on hold by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Before security procedures measures were tightened as a result of the attacks, passengers had been able to go through airport security with a printed confirmation of their flight and obtain boarding passes at the gate. Now, they must get the boarding pass first - on the Internet, at a ticket counter or at a self-service kiosk.

The kiosk can be fastest. Walter Jones, vice president for business development at Carrington Laboratories in Irving, Tex., recalled arriving for a flight at Salt Lake City International Airport and finding a long line. "It would have taken me at least 40 minutes," he said, "but there was nobody at the kiosk. I got processed in less than two minutes." Mr. Jones says he never goes to the check-in counter any more and flies on Delta Air Lines and American Airlines to take advantage of their kiosks.

A frequent passenger on Alaska Airlines, Tony Zawaideh, senior vice president for sales at Zapp Packaging, near Los Angeles, is able to check in electronically and to get priority security screening at some airports. On a December flight, Mr. Zawaideh helped his mother, who travels infrequently, obtain a boarding pass at the check-in counter. "I got through the kiosk in about five or six minutes," he recalled. "I had to wait in line with my mother for an hour and 15 minutes."

After Sept. 11, as stories about delays and missed flights abounded and more passengers avoided short flights, several major carriers expanded their kiosk services and others increased incentives to use them, like awarding bonus frequent-flier points. Increasingly, airlines have been promoting the kiosks in an effort to attract new customers.

Last fall, for example, in an attempt to take business travelers from American Airlines, America West installed 10 check-in kiosks at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and said it planned to extend use of the machines to all its markets in the next year. America West's kiosks allow passengers to check in, change seats, upgrade to first class and print receipts. The kiosks at US Airways can be used in Spanish as well as English, and allow the reissuing of tickets if a flight is canceled.

Some airports are having trouble finding space for all the new kiosks. McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas is testing a common-use check-in system called SpeedCheck, developed jointly by I.B.M. and Arinc of Annapolis, Md.

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In the first phase, 38 SpeedCheck kiosks in McCarran's ticketing area are being shared by 12 airlines. Six more kiosks are at the Las Vegas Convention Center, where those attending meetings can check in and, if they have only carry-on luggage, go straight to airport security points.

The second phase, intended to start in the second quarter of this year, calls for the installation of kiosks at airport counters for use by passengers with check-in baggage. For international flights, the kiosks are to be equipped with passport readers. Suitcases would be given to an airline employee behind the kiosk.

In the last phase, with no starting date yet established, according to Arinc, SpeedCheck will be extended to charter flights.

The SpeedCheck system has drawn the interest of airport officials nationwide. If it succeeds, it is likely to encourage other big airports to introduce common-use kiosk systems.

Before SpeedCheck, several major Las Vegas hotels offered airline check-in to their guests. Now, some hotel chains are testing the self-service concept for their own use. In October, Starwood began testing self-service kiosks at the W Times Square in New York and the Sheraton Boston Hotel.

A guest swipes a credit card at the kiosk to confirm a room reservation and receives an electronic room key - a process that can take less than a minute. Guests can also check out using the machine, which will either print a receipt or e-mail it.

Starwood is planning to expand its use of kiosks to other downtown, airport and convention hotels, and to add a feature that allows guests to change room assignments.

Hilton Hotels has scheduled tests of self-service kiosks at the Hilton New York and Hilton Chicago. On the basis of the results, it will decide whether to introduce kiosks throughout the chain. Hilton is talking with several airlines to see if the self-service machines can be enhanced with airline check-in systems, according to Thomas Spitler, a Hilton vice president.

"The airlines,'' Mr. Spitler said, "have really trained customers to look for alternatives to human agents."

Posted by Craig at February 3, 2004 04:09 PM