Air Transport World

When self-service is better service: Airlines give passengers control on the ground and aim to keep them connected in the air.(PASSENGER SERVICE)

AIR TRAVELERS TODAY ARE MORE technologically savvy than ever, quickly embracing any new breakthrough that enables them to access information both on and off the ground. In a very real sense, passengers now can manage much of their flight experience from start to finish. They have taken the lead in this technorevolution, with airlines playing a supporting role by implementing more self-service options.


A recent IATA survey revealed that passengers not only expect but demand more opportunities to take control of their travel experience. Nearly 90% prefer e-tickets, 56% had used Internet check-in and 69% of the 10,000 passengers surveyed said they used selfservice kiosks. They also want to remain tethered to their PDAs, mobile phones and laptops, a reality that is forcing carriers to install broadband or cell phone access in their aircraft.

"Reliable, high-speed broadband is perhaps the Holy Grail," says World Airline Entertainment Assn. Executive Director Richard Owen. "Once twoway communication is available on an airline, the opportunities are pretty endless. Think of the things you can do on the ground--you can do a lot of that in the air. That will change the industry tremendously."

Owen tags broadband, or WiFi access in flight, as one of the biggest improvements that carriers will introduce over the next year, following closely on the heels of IFE systems. "IFE, broadband are going to be pure expectation. It could be a factor for choosing an airline," he says.

For more than a decade, carriers have been linking technology to check-in, starting with kiosks that afford passengers the opportunity to download and print a boarding pass at the airport. The kiosk concept soon was adapted to allow customers to print out their boarding passes on a PC before leaving home. Newer technology, being used by some airlines, enables travelers to check in via a mobile phone or PDA that will display a readable barcode or other identifying password that can be scanned at the gate. …

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