Last month, facing a last minute strike by baggage handlers at both Parisian airports, Air France successfully used their downtown Paris office as a place one could check-in and drop off luggage for complimentary transport to the airport to avoid the extra long line-ups. A well received and executed plan but not revolutionary by any means. Not to be outdone, south of the border, a handful of U.S. airlines are one-upping their European counterparts by offering a new optional service for time-challenged travellers.
Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, United Airlines’ primary hub and one of the world’s busiest airports, has enhanced their 24 electronic kiosks to not only check you in, find you a seat and print your boarding pass but to now also print your checked luggage tags too. The two step system allows guests who have already checked in for their flight using their mobile device or the terminal kiosk to issue their own luggage tags before joining a fast-track line where your bag is weighed and identification verified. Bags are then collected by United Airlines staff in a process that promises a reduction in wait times of between 30% and 50%. The time spent with an airline representative is now an estimated 20 seconds on average.
American Airlines has been trying the idea since March 2013 and Alaska Airlines has also jumped on the bandwagon as has Australia’s Qantas, but the system currently only applies to select domestic, non-stop routes and may take a while to catch-on for international travel and connecting flights. Widely available, affordable printable adhesive paper is another obstacle preventing airlines from offering the service as a complete DIY operation which would allow flyers to literally tag their own bag before leaving for the airport. With Boston’s Logan Airport and the aforementioned O’Hare, eight U.S. airports are now trialing the service proving it isn’t just a flash in the pan. If anything, the current advancements are just a glimpse of things to come.
Let’s face it – automation in the travel industry is a beautiful thing and has changed the airport experience forever. Gone are the days of arriving at the airport three hours prior to departure and as it turns out, the days of constantly worrying about losing your passport while away may become a thing of the past as well. If United Airlines’ new pilot project of accepting a scanned version of your passport presented to airline staff and customs officers on your smart phone or tablet takes off, a true technological revolution will undoubtedly be taking place.