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Jihad Boueri from IT technology developer SITA explains how self-service kiosks at regional airports help reduce passenger check-in delays.
COMMENT, Transportation

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Question: How will self-service kiosks at Middle East airports reduce passenger check-in delays?

Expert: Jihad Boueri
Regional director for the Middle East and Turkey at IT technology developer SITA.

Self service isn't new. It was implemented in banks and hotels and the photo printing sector. Lot's of self service options were provided to people a long time before it was introduced to the airline industry and airports. But it's much more complicated at airports because there is a traveller, documents, baggage and security processes.

Lately, based on IATA and ICAO statistics, we know the number of passengers is increasing at all airports. For example, the Middle East has seen a 17.9% increase while Africa is 10%. IATA is expecting the number of passengers to double worldwide within the next 10 years. That means all airports and airlines have to be ready to accommodate these travellers by extending the hubs and enlarging planes. The main idea behind implementing self service was to make passenger transfers quicker.

There are three ways to check-in using self service. When you go to the airport, you go to a kiosk where you can do self check-in. At Dubai International Airport there are kiosks dedicated for one airline, but SITA has come up with the Common Use Self Service. You can use it regardless of which airline you are flying with. You choose the logo for a specific airline, put the flight and ticket number in, complete check-in and get the boarding pass. You can do this without any human intervention and it doesn't require going to the counter.
 

Another way, which is being implemented now, is online check-in through the internet. You can check-in, select your seat and proceed to the airport. The web check-in is beneficial to the airlines because they are outsourcing this to the customer himself. The second advantage is you can take your time to check-in. The third, which is not well known at the moment, is the phone check-in using a mobile. Through your phone, you access the server, get a seat map after selecting the airline and flight number and then check-in. You then receive a boarding pass with a barcode.

For web check-in, you print the receipt, which has a barcode, and then go to the airport. There is a special counter for the people who checked in online. You have a barcode with all the information, although you still have to go to the counter for the time being to hand over luggage. But it's much faster than going through the whole process. For the mobile check-in, it's the same but the agent at the counter will need the barcode from your phone.

For the passenger, the self service benefits are obvious. He can check-in from the car park, train station or hotel [using a mobile or computer]. It allows the passenger to check-in before arriving at the airport, which is very convenient for him. For the airlines, the latest studies estimate a $2.50 saving per passenger, which is huge. If there is 40% market penetration using this technology, $1 billion per year will be saved by the airline. The airline will rent fewer counters at the airport because half of the passengers will go through self check-in. If you are used to having three counters for two hours you will have enough for an hour and a half, so there is a big reduction on the required space allocation.

In May 2007, some 60 airports had already installed Common Use Self Service technology, which is a multi-use system for all airlines. IATA wanted 70 airports by the end of 2007, but this has already been exceeded. The latest statistics show there were 78 by August. It's not enough to implement it at the airport because you need the airline to develop an application to work on this kiosk. Every airline has different scripts running on the kiosk, which are needed to accept online or text check-ins. In May 2007, some 50 airlines had developed these applications. By August 2007, up to 77 airlines had done so, showing how this technology is growing.

The challenge is to get people using it. Last year, SITA conducted a survey with IATA at three airports: Atlanta, Heathrow and Hong Kong. The first question we asked passengers was if there is a check-in facility available at the airport and whether they have used it. Some 38% used it in Atlanta, 20% in Heathrow and 15% in Hong Kong.

On average, 23% of travellers had used the self check-in. Another 20% knew about it but didn't use it, while the remaining 57%, didn't know it existed at airports or had no idea what we were talking about. Many people don't know about self check-in, so the challenge for airports is to not only put kiosks in place but also promote them.

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