ready for takeoff
Posted by Barry Silverstein on July 27, 2010 12:30 PM
It's a common practice at numerous international airports, but in the United States, self-boarding is just now being tried for the first time with a trial by Continental Airlines (which recently merged with United and today announced its senior leadership team).
Continental is testing self-boarding — allowing passengers to scan their own boarding passes without assistance from an agent — at a gate (pictured at right) at Houston Intercontinental Airport, one of the airline's hubs.
When the pass is scanned at a kiosk reader, a turnstile allows the passenger to enter the jetway. The test was approved by the U.S. Transportation Security Agency, since passengers who are boarding a flight must have already been screened at airport security checkpoints.
While the process is said to be faster than having airline workers scan passes, it also frees up gate agents to address customers' pre-flight needs and thus boost the airline's reputation with its customers.
Gate agents would now be free to address service issues that can delay flights, such as helping passengers with seat assignments or upgrades. It's anticipated that the same number of agents would be available at a gate, they would just be deployed differently. An agent would be nearby should a passenger have a problem with the scanning process.
Self-boarding gates are in use by at least 14 airlines, notes USA Today, and the International Air Transport Association is lobbying for widespread acceptance. IATA requires airlines to agree to use a different type of barcode that includes more traveler information, but that isn't expected to be a major barrier to self-boarding.
U.S. airlines are catching up with their foreign counterparts in implementing such technologies as self-printing of online boarding passes and airport kiosks for automated check-in.
As we pointed out in yesterday's post about Cathay Pacific, airlines are increasingly looking for ways to reduce costs and improve service. Self-boarding, and empowering the customer, could be one more way for US airlines to remain competitive and increase brand loyalty.