Flying to Atlanta last week, it struck me that a familiar part of the airport experience was missing – the staff. There was a noticeable reduction in the number of agents on duty at ticket and gate counters, but their absence wasn’t causing chaos the way it would have in the past. The reason? Self-service is becoming status quo as travelers are increasingly comfortable using technology to navigate the airport. A passenger can use a kiosk to self check-in, then FIDS (flight information display systems), websites or mobile apps to check flight status which means fewer questions for gate agents to answer.
As it turns out, passengers aren’t only comfortable with self-service, they prefer it. A recent survey from SITA found that the most stressful part of a trip is fear of missing a flight, which is exactly what can happen when travelers have to wait in long lines at bottlenecks like check-in, bag drop and ID-check before going through security. Convenience and speed through processing checkpoints definitely help get passengers to the gate, but self-service options are valued at every point in the trip. The most welcome features among survey participants were flight status updates via mobile phone, self-boarding gates and kiosks for flight transfers.
Good news for travelers – the industry isn’t turning a blind eye to self-service requests. In 2007 the International Airport Transport Association (IATA) created the Fast Travel program, with a vision of offering a complete self-service airport experience to 80% of eligible passengers by 2020. Six key areas of self-service span the entire journey:
- self-check in via web, kiosk or mobile device
- self-tagging of bags
- self-scanning of travel documents at kiosks to avoid manual ID-check at check-in and again at airline gates
- kiosk-based rebooking of cancelled or delayed flights
- self-boarding via barcode scanning
- and reporting missing baggage via kiosk upon landing at the destination.
IATA sees the self-service trend as a win-win since all of these measures aim to create a better travel experience for the passenger while the industry stands to gain nearly $2.1 billion in savings once the plan is fully implemented.
What’s your experience with self-service at airports? Do you agree that humans create unnecessary bottlenecks, or do you prefer dealing with an actual person to answer questions about why your flight is delayed or to help you rebook?