More jobs & human contact eliminated. Continental testing “Self-Boarding”

Continental tests ‘self-boarding’ at Houston airport

“It’s a great idea,” says aviation analyst Michael Boyd. “Any reduction in human contact between employee and customer is good these days.”

By Roger Yu, USA Today

Boarding a plane without an agent to inspect or take your pass has arrived in the USA.
Continental Airlines has confirmed it’s testing the procedure at a gate at its hub in Houston Intercontinental. It’s the first experiment at what’s called “self-boarding” in the U.S.

Travelers scan their tickets at an automatic boarding gate in Frankfurt; while common in Europe, Continental is the first U.S. airline to try a similar procedure with a single self-boarding gate in Houston.

In self-boarding, passengers — much like customers of the New York City subway— swipe their boarding passes at a kiosk reader at the gate. That opens a turnstile or door to the jet-bridge. Although an agent isn’t there to take the pass, one is typically present to handle problems and other customer service tasks.

Continental declined to provide further details on its experiment. The Transportation Security Administration, which is in charge of air security, “determined it does not impact the security of the traveling public,” says Greg Soule, a TSA spokesman, adding all passengers are screened at airport checkpoints prior to arriving at boarding gates.

Self-boarding is the latest in a series of new technology that airlines are using to automate getting on a flight. Among others: check-in kiosks that print out boarding passes and boarding pass barcodes e-mailed to smartphones.
The practice has been common at many foreign airports for several years. And if the rate of adoption abroad is any indication, self-boarding could soon proliferate here.

Last year, 14 airlines worldwide were using self-boarding gates, including Air France, Korean Air, Japan Airlines and Air New Zealand, according to the International Air Transport Association. The association, an airline trade group, has been pushing members to embrace the practice and develop standard technology. The German airline Lufthansa started using its “quick boarding gates” in 2003. All its gates at Frankfurt and Munich are now automated.

To do this, airlines need to use boarding passes with so-called “two-dimensional” barcodes, which contain more traveler information than magnetic strips or traditional barcodes, says IATA spokesman Steve Lott. Airlines have agreed to phase out magnetic strips by the end of the year.

Lufthansa spokesman Martin Riecken says while loading customers at self-boarding gates is “a little faster” than traditional gates, the airline’s primary goal was to free agents from the mundane task of scanning boarding passes. It frees them to handle other customer issues that require individual attention, such as upgrading seats, he says. The number of agents assigned to automated gates isn’t different from other gates: one or two agents for short-haul flights, three or four for longer ones, he says.

Lufthansa passengers who don’t like self-boarding can still approach agents to have their pass scanned in “the manual line,” he says.

“It’s a great idea,” says aviation analyst Michael Boyd. “Any reduction in human contact between employee and customer is good these days.”

Despite technological advancements, agents have more to do now than 30 years ago to get the plane out of the gate, Boyd says. “It takes more manpower. They let technology drive manpower rather than the other way around.”
“As long as you have someone to tell grandma where to stick the paper,” he says, “you’re fine.”

link: USA