Commuters looking to bypass long lineups at airports can use self check-in kiosks where the queues are — generally speaking — shorter. Soon WestJet passengers will be able to skip even those lines.

In the first quarter of this year, the airline will offer Web-based self check-in for travellers

who will be able to print their boarding passes at home or the office before leaving for the airport. The Calgary-based WestJet will also be installing Check ‘n’ Go self check-in kiosks in Winnipeg.

Customers who opt for Web-based check-in will only have to worry about going through security when they get to the airport, says Don Bell, executive vice-president of guest services at WestJet. They will also be able to choose their seat assignment when they check in through the Web. And if they have connecting flights, they will be able to print boarding passes for those flights.

Bell expects to see a high adoption rate for the Web-based Check ‘n’ Go.

“”The world is so connected these days that I think people are going to really adopt quickly,”” he says.

If that happens, Westjet hopes it can reduce the need for staff, Bell says.

Staffing for peaks

“”For the airline, ultimately we’ll be able to save people working at the airport. There’s a lot of money spent staffing for the peaks.””

If there are five flights scheduled for 8 a.m., for example, the airline has to staff for the influx of people it will get just before those flights. And if there’s a lull later in the day, there’s not enough for the staff to do during that time.

“”This will help us more effectively and efficiently staff,”” Bell says.

According to Bell, there are some natural security checks in place to ensure no one prints out a fake or duplicate boarding pass.

“”If you duplicate [a boarding pass], you’d end up with two people in the same seat. So that works itself out when they go to check-in.””

The airline is still working out the details, Bell says, but customers will likely need to know who they are, where they’re going and their confirmation number in order to print a boarding pass. They might also have to login as WestJet users.

The Kinetics TouchPort II kiosks, which are already in place at Calgary, Ottawa and Edmonton airports, came in handy during the holidays, Bell says. WestJet customers can also check in via common-use kiosk which several airlines share at Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver. The WestJet Check ‘n’ Go interface is built on Kinetics software.

“”A lot of people are trained now to use kiosks and they like to use them. It’s like the old days, when ATMs came out and adoption rates weren’t very high initially. And then adoption rates go up and up. Those who use the machines trust them, and they trained the public that it’s OK to do business over the machines.””

On some flights, as many as 70 per cent of passengers used kiosks to check in, though the average is 30 to 40 per cent, he says.

Bob Goodwin, a managing vice-president with Gartner Inc. in San Jose, Calif., agrees that the ATM analogy applies. Though we are still a ways away from widespread adoption, the kiosks are catching on, at least in North America, he says. Europe and particularly Asia, where language issues present a problem, are further behind than North America in terms of adoption.

Business travellers are generally early adopters because the way they deal with technology is a little more sophisticated, he says.

Airlines have an incentive to push the kiosks because they can potentially reduce staff as a result, he says. This will bring down costs at a time when they desperately need to do that.

“”At least the likelihood of labour savings are there — I don’t know if it happens or not.”” But airlines still need staff to roam through the kiosk area to support travellers, Goodwin says.

“”I have to believe that as more and more of these are rolled out, especially through the common-use format, that labour savings are on the docket.””

Currently, 90 per cent of the kiosks in use are proprietary and 10 per cent are common-use, Goodwin says. He believes as proprietary kiosks are phased out, common-use kiosks will take their place. Airports will likely provide airlines with incentives to switch to common-use kiosks, he says.

The kiosks “”save footprint space, and that’s possibly available for more things — more retail shops.””

Currently, the most important thing self check-in kiosks provide is customer convenience and traffic flow, Goodwin says.

The ability for customers to control seat selection is another key feature, Bell says.

“”For the customer, the biggest benefit is they get to pick their own seat. If a machine picks a seat for them, or an agent picks a seat for them, they always wonder if they could have gotten a better seat.””

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