LAS VEGAS: I haven’t met too many people, or any people for that matter, who enjoy long lines at the airport. And yet the queue, the line, the snake (or whatever you happen to call it), has become synonymous with commercial air travel. But fear not fellow road warriors. If my recent trip to Las Vegas for the Future Travel Experience conference and exhibition taught me anything, it is that quite a few very intelligent people (backed by very experienced airport, design and technology companies) are working diligently to smash the queue and make air travel better for you.
We are all by now familiar with the self-service check-in kiosk. Those lovely little bastions of technology that, when all goes well, help passengers check-in to their flights, obtain their boarding passes and, increasingly, select and pay for ancillaries like second checked bags or exit row seats. These kiosks can definitely help reduce check-in times for some passengers. But what happens if you still need to check-in a bag? Well, in many cases it’s back to the end of a long line – often the very same line you thought you had dodged by using the kiosk. Frustration ensues.
However, in a growing number of busy airports around the world a new range of solutions are coming into maturation that hold strong queue-reducing promise when it comes to automated luggage drop off procedures. SITA, IBM, ICM Airport Technics, Type 22 and DSG Systems (in collaboration with Marcus Pedersen Airport Interior Solutions) are just a few of the companies currently offering self-service bag-drop systems designed to expedite the baggage counter experience; alleviating weary travelers of queue fatigue and bringing airline personnel out from behind counters to interact directly with passengers who require special assistance or pampering (think premium passengers).
Of course no two airports are the same, and so there are a wide variety of self-service bag-drop installations on the market with numerous price points and requiring different levels of ‘architectural overhaul’ to get up and running.
New terminal or retrofit solution?
With a blank slate or ‘green construction’ a lot more fun can be had. In the case of a new terminal build or an extensive overhaul, there is more time and a larger budget for attractive, aesthetically integrated and really high-tech self-service bag drop solutions to be installed. Sometimes though, airlines and airports need to alleviate congestion fast and without selling the farm.
For these guys, the Scan&Fly overnight retrofit solution by Dutch company Type22 (in collaboration with ARINC) might be a perfect fit. This Red Dot Design Award-winning system is now supporting speedy check-ins for Cathay Pacific, Finnair, KLM, China Airlines and many others. The solution takes advantage of existing airport infrastructure and does not force airlines to scrap their own software systems. Should the Scan&Fly system fail at any point, airlines can switch back to manual baggage processing within minutes.
One step or two?
Two-step systems are generally considered to be the faster solution in terms of passenger flow. In a two-step configuration, the passenger first encounters a self-check in kiosk (mentioned above) where he/she scans travel documents and enters personal information. Here they obtain a boarding pass and possibly an adhesive luggage tag. Next, the passenger will continue on a few paces to a bank of actual intake contraptions where they put their luggage on belt/scale which weighs the package and prints the adhesive luggage tag (if this was not provided at step one). The traveler then attaches the luggage tag to the bag for scanning.
Manual or automatic scan?
There seem to contrasting opinions as to whether it’s better for the passenger to scan his/her own affixed luggage tag with a scanning wand, or for the intake machine to do this. Some options, such as the Type22 Scan&Fly retrofit, require the passenger to scan the barcode, while larger more integrated solutions like those on offer from IBM, ICM Airport Technic and DSG Systems/Marcus Pedersen, have sweeping and multi-directional scanners installed across a host of locations to capture the tag no matter which haphazard way the traveller tosses their luggage onto the belt.
What about security?
Invisible curtains or fancy laser grids to detect intrusion and emergency stop buttons are key selling features the high-tech IBM Fast Self Bag Drop and the stylish DSG/Marcus Pedersen collaboration… but are they truly necessary or just extra bells and whistles? According to Jelmer Jarig Huizinga, head of business development at Type22, it’s all about perception. “I don’t have to tell you as a passenger that you shouldn’t go on the belt, and it doesn’t happen. We have done over one million bag drops without any problems,” he told RGN.
Despite the many differences between competing solutions, there are a number of key characteristics that appear to be universally requisite when we discuss these systems. First of all, the machines must be intuitive, a.k.a. easy enough for your grandmother to use. Next, it is an advantage for the solution to be common-use compatible; this means it can be used by multiple airlines within the airport environment. Finally, and most importantly, they must actually reduce queue times and congestion to improve the customer experience.
Each of the solutions that we checked out at Future Travel Experience has hard evidence that they can do this in a significant way. Thank goodness!