The evolution of technology in the airline industry is bringing about a significant change – especially when it comes to enhancing self-service solutions to ensure the total experience for passengers will be as stress-free as possible.
According to the Airline Business/SITA Airline IT Trends Survey which has been tracking this section of the industry for the last 10 years, the rapid growth of self-service has been a major force for change and a great success for passenger services.
"The uptake of self-service technology is very good and holds great promise for the industry," says SITA chief executive Francesco Violante. "The evidence suggests that the more frequently people fly, the more likely they are to use self check-in. In fact, the usage of self-service technology, both from making a reservation or for checking-in for a flight, is already the primary channel for servicing passengers in some parts of the world or some specific airlines or airports."
According to the survey, within the next 12 months, more than half of passengers will be processing themselves through check-in, with an industry average of 18% (passenger weighted) of people checking in via the internet, growing to 30% by 2009, and an average of 17% (passenger weighted) using kiosks, rising to 26% next year.
Violante says the big self-service opportunities in the future will be around mobile telephones and mobile devices.
"Globally, passenger notification services on mobile phones are already offered by 42% of airlines and this looks set to double over the next two years. While 21% offer check-in via mobile now, another 46% are planning to do so by 2010. There is also a buzz of excitement around new mobile services among survey respondents, with many considering other implementations."
The survey showed that supporting bar-coded boarding passes on mobile telephones is being considered by 72% of respondents, with 55% thinking about supporting payments via passenger mobile telephones, 40% about retail marketing of airline products on mobiles, 32% providing baggage receipts on mobiles and 22% thinking about using location sensing to improve passenger boarding.
"We are standing on the threshold of a new era in the air transport industry with the arrival of wireless broadband such as 3G and WiMax and new powerful mobile devices like Apple's iPhone and Google's Android platform. We will see a 'mobile web' integrating with customer applications that will be used for distributing products and servicing customers," says Violante. "There are opportunities to innovate at every point along the journey through mobile devices."
The self-serviced journey starts with ticket sales and 91% of airlines now have their own web sites, according to the 2008 survey, with 63% also using third-party online booking channels. Only 8% do not use web sales. On average 26.4% (weighted to passenger numbers) of ticket sales are made through the web – this is down on last year's average of 35,2%, but this can be partially explained by an influx of smaller airline respondents to this year's study.
Web sales are higher than the industry average in some sectors – among the major carriers they average 28,2% (passenger weighted) and 74,6% (passenger weighted) among the lowcost carriers. In fact, the web is the main route to market for low-cost players.
The survey reveals that 59% of airlines now offer web check-in, with another 34% planning to do so in the next two years. Other self-services, both online and at the airport, are starting to take off, with a quarter of airlines providing online trip changing, and another 43% planning to do so by 2010. While 21% do offer self-boarding kiosks, this looks set to increase to 47% within two years. A small group now offers lost baggage self-service, and this looks set to grow to 44% over the same period.
Baggage processing and management is a high priority investment area for just 18% of airlines, with only 15% currently offering offairport baggage check, rising to a third in the next two years.
As self-service continues to evolve, baggage processing will become a key area for future development, according to SITA's Violante: "Moving a queue or long wait time from one area to another is just moving the problem, so an end-to-end approach must be adopted, taking into account the whole passenger journey. Without this, good initiatives can quickly fail. There isn't a great deal of value to airports or passengers if kiosk check-in is fast and smooth but baggage drop-off points result in congestion."
Meanwhile, British Airways has launched a remote check-in service, allowing travellers on the go to check-in for flights using their mobile handsets.
The service is quick, free and does not require users to download any accompanying software.
Logging on to www.ba.com/mobile using any mobile device with internet connectivity, customers can access British Airways' timetable in real time, as well as select seats and check-in individuals, groups and families for departing or return flights.
South African customers are able to use the service to check-in for both British Airways' international flights as well as British Airways' domestic and regional services operated by Comair.
Lin Glass, British Airways GM in South Africa, says that the new application will be a welcome time-saver for customers flying over the busy summer holiday season as well as business travellers who don't want to waste time queuing at airports.
"Once you're checked in you simply collect your boarding pass at a self-service kiosk and drop any luggage you need to check-in at the fast-bag drop."