Universal automated check-in coming
All airline passengers will soon be able to check in on their smartphones and use permanent luggage tags to avoid the need for printed stickers, says Star Alliance chief executive Mark Schwab.
The 28 members of the airline alliance, including Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, United Airlines and Thai Airways, agreed to step up automation efforts to help improve the check-in and baggage experience at a meeting in Zurich on Saturday.
Star Alliance wants to provide seamless connections for passengers. Photo: Bloomberg
By the end of next year, Star Alliance wants all airlines to have facilities in place for passengers to check in online or using an automated kiosk and to be able to print a baggage tag at home or at the airport kiosk.
Mr Schwab said when Terminal 2 at London Heathrow used by the Star Alliance carriers opened in 2014, there had been a target of 70 per cent of passengers using self-service transactions that had seemed ambitious at the time.
Customer service agents would still be at hand for those who can’t use the automated check-in.
“Many of our airlines suggested to us the customers wouldn’t like it and they would prefer to have contact with the check-in agent and in their culture that they didn’t want to deal with a machine, they want to deal with a person,” he said. “Within a few months we found customers did indeed prefer the automated transactions and would step up to do it themselves.”
Smart devices the key
Mr Schwab said airlines would still make customer service agents available to passengers having difficulty using automated check-in, but he expected further improvements in automation in the year to come.
“We have to get all of the transactions on your smart device,” he said. “We shouldn’t worry about bad printers. You should just use your device and flash it. When we get to permanent bag tags in the industry that will be solved for.”
Some airlines have proven more advanced than others in offering automated check-in and baggage services to passengers. Qantas gives permanent bag tags to its high-status loyalty program members that can be checked at automated bag drops on its domestic flights.
Air New Zealand in December introduced the world’s first biometric bag drop system to speed up check in at its Auckland hub.
Featuring technology similar to that used by SmartGate passport control facilities, customers scan their passports and boarding passes to have their identities verified by a biometric camera before being invited to place their bags on the scale to be weighed before they are sent through to the airline’s baggage handling system.
Inconsistency a challenge
But while some of Star Alliance’s members make strong use of technology, there is inconsistency across the global aviation group.
Other initiatives being pursued by Star Alliance include an improvement of frequent flyer system connectivity that allows member airlines to immediately be aware of the 20,000 loyalty status upgrades or downgrades that occur each day so that they can provide appropriate services to passengers.
“It allows us to know today you are now a gold customer when you are trying to access the lounge somewhere across our network,” Mr Schwab said.
Star Alliance has also improved the process for ensuring loyalty program members of one alliance member receive frequent flyer points for flying on other members as quickly as possible, in a move that has reduced missing points claims by 30 per cent and reduced calls to customer service centres.
“It was a highly frustrating experience for the customer,” Mr Schwab said of missing points.
*The reporter travelled to Zurich as a guest of Star Alliance