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Business Press, Ontario, CA : Jul. 26--What began as a novel way for one carrier to cut costs has now been adopted by all nine major passenger carriers at Ontario International Airport.

Electronic ticketing, introduced by Southwest Airlines in 1995, the airport's largest tenant, passed another milestone when United Airlines announced that more than half of its 7 million passengers in June traveled on electronic tickets rather than traditional paper ones.

At Southwest, paper is almost a thing of the past: More than 70 percent of its passengers forgo paper tickets in favor of electronic ticketing, said Linda Rutherford, senior manager of public relations for Southwest Airlines.

In electronic ticketing, a passenger calls an airline's reservation center, pays for a travel transaction with a credit card, gets a confirmation number, then presents that number along with a picture identification at the gate to receive a boarding pass.

Now, increased automation is also reducing the need to go to the gate or ticket counter. Electronic kiosks are appearing increasingly frequently in airports like ONT because they speed passengers through what many consider the most tedious part of travel, reducing transaction time and expense for the airlines.

"Ever since airline deregulation, the sheer volume of people traveling has increased more than ever. But there are not many new airports being built, " said Jack Evans, manager of corporate communications for Alaska Airlines.

"And even with newer buildings like Ontario's, they can only open so many counter spaces, so we install kiosks throughout the airport."

The Seattle-based carrier has installed more than 100 kiosks in all 41 cities it serves, including two in front of its counter at ONT earlier this year.

The kiosks, called Instant Travel machines, enable passengers to receive a boarding pass by punching in a confirmation number given to them when they made their flight arrangements.

By using the machines, passengers can avoid waiting in check-in lines -- assuming they don't have to check their luggage, Evans explained.

Paperless ticket transactions are part of a phenomenon started by Morris Air Inc. in 1993 and adopted in early1995 by carriers like Dallas-based Southwest, which claims to be the first major carrier to provide paperless ticket travel on all its routes.

The system eliminates the need for paper tickets, which are considered currency by airlines and can take up to six weeks to replace if lost, Alaska's Evans said.

Another advantage is the savings for the airlines -- not only the cost of printing paper tickets, but the time it takes to stamp, staple and process them.

Southwest Airlines saved $10 million in the first year it converted to electronic tickets, Rutherford said.

The airlines' adoption of technology doesn't stop with ticketing. Last month, Alaska installed a prototype automated baggage check-in system at Anchorage International Airport.

Passengers not only receive their boarding pass from a machine, but also a baggage claim ticket and stub.

Passengers attach the claim tickets to their bags and place them on a conveyor belt, where the baggage is automatically routed through security machines before being placed on the correct aircraft, Evans said.

Because the system is in development, Alaska Airlines was unable to project when ONT would get a similar machine.

While Alaska develops its automated baggage system, United is deploying mobile check-in stations and electronic boarding pass readers.

The airline installed the machines at ONT when the new passengbers terminals, which opened last September, were being built.


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