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Self-service Kiosks - First Among Equals

Will an increasingly sophisticated travel experience leave the airport kiosk behind?

The self-service kiosk is only 15 years old and the common use kiosk six years younger than that. However, there are already whispers that their life span is nearing an end.

The theory is that online bookings, self-printing, and the power of mobile technology have combined to create a fresh travel experience. Check-in will be automatically completed alongside a seat assignment during the booking process. According to the SITA/Airline Business IT Trends Survey 2012, 71% of respondents believe smartphones and websites will be the dominant channels for passenger processing beyond 2015.

For airlines, it appears to make good sense. Compared with a kiosk, functionality is much easier to improve on the web and mobile devices, the improvements are quicker to market and the systems are easier and cheaper to maintain.

Speaking at the SITA Air Transport IT Summit in June in Brussels, Alex Cruz, CEO of Spanish airline Vueling, said “Kiosks are dead. Check-in is dead.”

For Cruz, reservation equals a boarding pass. For a passenger without baggage, once he has paid and inputted the requisite information, he receives a boarding pass. Check-in is no more than an unnecessary backward step. Clickair—the airline that Vueling merged with three years ago—had such a system in place. Passengers with a bag will still need assistance for the time being, but self-tagging may ultimately make this unnecessary.

Changing role

For most airlines, though, news of the downfall of the kiosk may be somewhat premature. “The kiosk isn’t dead, although there’s no doubt that its role in the travel process is changing,” says Paul Behan, IATA Head of Passenger Experience.

Certainly, with more than 5,000 kiosks in operation at some 200 airports worldwide and about 20% of passengers using them for check-in, airlines have a vested interest in getting more out of the airport kiosk concept.

The kiosk will still play a vital role for passengers with hold baggage, for example. Behan suggests that printing bag tags at a kiosk will be commonplace for a few years yet. “We’re running trials with airlines on home-printed bag tags but there’s still some development work ahead,” he says. “So kiosks, whether integrated or purely for bag drops, will remain a crucial element in the self-service baggage process.”

Behan also notes a role in document verification for the foreseeable future: “Data provision is moving to other channels but the process still needs to have a validation phase and that is happening at the kiosk. It may be different in the long term and perhaps we will see a small scanner at the security checkpoint. But in the meantime, the kiosk works.”

Rob Broere, Vice President of IT Passenger Service at Emirates, says passport scanning is required for more than 70% of passengers departing from Dubai due to the continued increase in countries that require Advance Passenger Information (API) data. API data can be digitally verified through kiosks, he says, but there is not yet a viable mobile solution. Industry groups are looking closely at the challenge of mobile verification but a solution will take some time to come to fruition.

Multiple channels

With the kiosk set to remain a vital part of the IATA Fast Travel Vision, improved functionality may be the order of the day. Rather than simply being the first point of call for a passenger arriving at the airport, the kiosk could develop as an integrated port for all aspects of booking—adding products and process information alongside more commonplace attributes such as inputting frequent flyer numbers or selecting a different seat.

IATA’s Behan underlines the kiosk’s longevity by pointing to North America, a market that has had kiosks for some time and yet shows no signs of forsaking them. “Passengers are used to them, they like them and kiosks look set to stay,” he suggests. “It’s true that some emerging markets have skipped the kiosk stage and have gone straight to web and mobile technologies, but even here we may see kiosks starting to appear for their bag-processing functions.”

Behan and Broere believe multiple channels will remain the way forward. They both say modern customer service is about giving passengers the opportunity to self-serve at a variety of touchpoints. Many business customers in particular may dash to the airport and not have had the opportunity to access the Internet or use a mobile device. The kiosk at the airport is simply another chance for them to use self-service options.

“Emirates’ vision of passenger service is one of choice,” notes Broere. “We do not want to force passengers to use a certain channel just because it is cheaper for us. We believe that ultimately the customer should be able to use the channel they are most comfortable with.

“If that is a kiosk with a baggage acceptance channel, then Emirates believes in letting them have the choice if they prefer that method over human interaction at a counter,” he concludes. “Especially for the younger technology-savvy generation, check-in via a mobile channel and then baggage acceptance or passport scanning at a kiosk is very normal.”

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