Airlines know that one of the most proven ways to increase business is to improve service. On-time arrivals, helpful employees, and faster check-ins-especially during these security-conscious times-translate quickly to the bottom line through satisfied customers who become repeat travelers.
At American Airlines, curbside check-in requires users to present their luggage and ID to a skycap at curbside, along with their ticket (both traditional and e-tickets are accepted). In return, they receive a boarding pass with their seat assignment and bag tag receipts. Because the ticket is surrendered and matched with luggage, the system is considered more secure than processing luggage and people separately. Boarding pass in hand, passengers are able to bypass busy ticket counters at the front of the terminal and check in stands at the gate, stopping only to present the boarding pass and identification to the gate agent for scanning before settling into their seats.
Achieving fast check in at curbside was made possible by a system design meticulously built around the needs of its users, the skycap These are hard workers who make their living and feed their families on the tips they make-one bag at a time. Any new process that cuts into a skycap's ability to process passengers quickly dies on the curbside.
While the system may reinvent the passenger check-in process, it streamlined the job of the skycap, who doesn't have to do anything differently. The clever system enables skycaps to check in passengers and generate a boarding pass using only one more keystroke than it takes to check-in baggage.
"We want our skycaps to focus on passengers.We don't want them to have to deal with anything else," says an American Airlines spokesperson.
After receiving a passenger's ticket, skycaps call up the flight number and enter the first letter of the passenger's surname on a touch-screen computer built into the curbside check-in kiosk. The data is transmitted over a wireless network from the kiosk to a host computer inside, which then transmits flight details and a partial passenger list to the kiosk. The skycap verifies that the passenger in front of him has a reservation and hits another key to create barcoded baggage tags and a barcoded boarding pass, generated by separate printers within the kiosk.
To enable fast transaction times, skycaps are not able to change seat assignments, check in international passengers, sell tickets, or make itinerary changes.
"We didn't want to increase transaction times at the curbside," says the airline spokesperson. "The application software was written to take decision making out of the skycap's hands."
Making the process easy for skycaps on the front end required the project team to do extensive development work on the back end. The project team included representatives from the flight service, airport procedures, training, and other departments. Sabre, a $2.4 billion IT services provider to the transportation industry, also played a key role in software and hardware development.
Each kiosk used in the program is outfitted with approximately $10,000 of equipment that has to stand up to outdoor environments, ranging from the Arizona sun to Minnesota winters. One of the project manager's chief tasks was to find computers and printers that could perform in any environment. With approximately 200 kiosks scheduled for deployment, many vendors jumped to bid on the project. However, many of those bids died quickly on Love Field.