Forget queues: The self-service airport

Will the next step in airports be a fully automated experience?

Will the next step in airports be a fully automated experience?

There are gradual changes in airline procedures that have taken out the reliance on airport staff and placed it on the shoulders of either machines or the customers themselves. Customers must check-in online and provide advanced flier information beforehand or face a fine; tickets must be printed out at home, automatic baggage drops and e-tickets are becoming common practice.

Unisys Corporation recently announced the implementation of such a home-printed bag tag scheme at Billund Airport in Denmark, where customers must check in online and print their luggage tags at home -- in an effort to 'streamline' services.

In addition, supermarket chain Tesco recently finished a trial in London's Gatwick Airport, where a smartphone-based virtual shopping application and touchscreen kiosks installed in departure lounges could be used to order shopping to be delivered to your door when you're back from your holiday.

It seems that electronic systems are quickly taking over procedures that you'll have to complete before your next flight.

However, Ben Minicucci, chief operating officer of Alaska Airlines takes it a step further -- believing that in the near future, a customer's first human interaction "could be with a flight attendant", according to the Wall Street Journal.

Taking a tip from Denmark's Billund Airport, baggage self-tagging has been introduced in Seattle and San Diego -- with eight more airports planned this year. In addition, American Airlines is rolling out kiosks which help passengers tag their own checked luggage.

Want to go a step further? Head to JetBlue Airways in Las Vegas, where you can go through a self-boarding gate to get on a plane. 5 U.S. airlines are among those who use 150 kiosks and 14 gates featuring self-tagging and self-boarding systems.

In any industry, eradicating staff roles is likely to cause job losses. Where some say that these systems 'free up' staff to troubleshoot for customers, airline unions are considered that outsourcing preboarding tasks -- potentially at the expense of safety -- is simply a way to cut employment.

Frank Larkin, spokesman for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers told the publication:

"Clearly it's not something passengers are clamoring for. More technology, fewer people? I don't think so."

However, a recent SITA survey suggests otherwise -- 70 percent of passengers finding the idea of self-boarding and tagging 'appealing'. In addition, a survey conducted by FlightView of over 600 business-class passengers found that customers wanted more modern services, including mobile notification and updates, boarding alerts and reliable, online information.

The airline IT provider SITA wants to push for a complete self-service airport for the majority of the world's fliers by 2020. Audacious, perhaps, but when such a move could save the industry $2.1 billion a year -- already beset by rising fuel costs -- airlines may find the idea appealing themselves.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is monitoring pilot programs for self-tagging and self-boarding and approves of the technologies; believing it has the potential to shave check-in times for security and make the flying process more efficient.

Image credit: Flickr

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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