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Have You Experienced 'Self-Service Boarding' Yet?

June 12, 2014 at 9:14 AM | by | ()

We've seen our fair share of changes in the airline industry over the past decade, many revolving around security programs and additional fees. There's no question there's been a huge push towards a "do it yourself" mentality as well. Airlines now encourage and empower passengers to help themselves when it comes to pre-flight tasks, launching mobile boarding passes and installing self-service kiosks where passengers can check-in, print boarding passes, and check bags with little to no interaction with a staff member. The trend is a win-win in a lot of ways, cutting down on passenger wait time while allowing the airlines to reallocate their staffs.

Despite that success, we're not so sure about the latest effort being trialed by airlines, the idea of self-service boarding gates in the terminal. We've personally experienced them in Europe and Miami, and our bro VegasChatter just reported that it's happening in Vegas, too. The idea is that passengers will scan their own boarding passes at these "smart gates" (which would have a little door or bar that swings open when a boarding pass is scanned), removing the need for an agent to be present and once again allowing the airlines to either cut back or reposition their staff members.

Sounds good in theory, but does it? Automating the system with kiosks makes sense when you're talking about the check-in process, which can take five to 10 minutes and requires an employee's complete attention. Having passengers do it themselves, partly at home and partly at a kiosk, makes sense. How much time would a self-boarding gate save? Handing your boarding pass to an agent who then scans it takes, what, two seconds? Is enough time going to be saved to justify the technological investment?

According to the reports coming out of McCarran in Vegas, the time-saving comes not in the swipe of the boarding pass, but in the reallocation of staff, who are able to focus on customer service and other boarding issues instead of taking tickets. Statistics provided by the manufacturer of the self-boarding gates (to be taken with a grain of salt) say that the new technology cuts boarding time in half while still providing the same level of customer service. Airport personnel at McCarran say the gates are designed so passengers with problems are not left out to dry.

“There is a false impression that self-boarding gates are unattended. This is not true,” said Samuel G. Ingalls, Assistant Director of Aviation and Information Systems at McCarran. “In fact, we designed it so the gate agent is actually much closer to the self-boarding machine, perhaps 5 feet away instead of 20 feet away. If a passenger has a problem, he or she can simply move one step to the side and talk to the agent, and then get back in line, without having to go to the back of the line.”

In our experience, most of the self-service gates currently being trialed have been utilized under the watchful eye of an employee, one who now, instead of taking the ticket and scanning it, stands there and watches you scan it yourself. For this idea to work, employees need to actually be doing other things, not observing the new technology at work. We have yet to notice a significant difference in terms of boarding time on gates that use self-service kiosks versus those that don't. Have you?

In that sense, we severely doubt boarding time is being cut in half. For us, the trick to swift boarding lies not in the scanning of a ticket or the presumed availability of a staff member to handle other problems, but in the organization of passengers. Hit us with your thoughts in the comments below. We're hoping that these new gates are not all smoke and mirrors for the airlines. Lord knows they've wasted enough money on so-so technology.

[Photos: Air Improvement/Kaba]

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