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15 April 2024

Self-service key feature of air travel in future

By Jihad Boueri

Travellers are keen to use self-service facilities – from online booking to remote check-in – more frequently to ensure a smoother, stress-free travel experience, says a new report. Globally there has been a 20 per cent increase in the adoption of self-service check-in facilities, according to the Sita-ATW Passenger Self-Service Survey. Airports and airlines across the UAE are already simplifying their check-in procedures. Common use self-service kiosks, which are already available at Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, enable airports to increase capacity during peak times.

Online booking continues to grow in popularity, even in mature markets. And while price remains the primary consideration when making a reservation, convenience is as much a driving factor. The number of passengers spending more money on booking ancillary services – such as hotels and car hire – through airline websites is expected to double in the next year. Airline websites will become the channel of choice for pre-flight and post-flight customer services, with over 50 per cent of passengers interviewed now using those sites to modify reservations or update frequent flyer information.

Low-cost travel, and the fact that some airlines now charge for checking in extra baggage, could be seen as reasons why passengers are checking in less baggage. However, those who do travel with bags are less likely to use self-check-in channels. If airlines, airports and ground handlers want to get the most from their investment in self-service technology and benefit further from the savings generated by the adoption of self-service channels, it is critical that they address the baggage dilemma.

With security issues being crucial, passengers are ready to give confidential data – particularly if it helps them to pass through the airport faster. The industry is grappling with the need to achieve increasingly stringent international security standards with less impact on passengers, rather than more.

The survey found that 57.8 per cent of respondents had a positive attitude towards registering with automated border control and security programmes – compared to 48.7 per cent in 2007. Sita research shows that 80 per cent of airlines are planning to offer mobile check-in capability by 2012. Mobile services are set to become a channel of choice for passenger services, complementing existing self-service options such as kiosks and web check-in.

Imagine taking a flight where, as a passenger, you receive timely messages such as details of boarding status or gate changes. You will be given control of your entire travel experience, performing any particular request and operation by yourself, whenever necessary, from a kiosk, the web or your mobile phone. This would include booking, making changes to your travel plans, checking in, automated border control, boarding and dealing with any disruptions such as reporting a lost baggage claim.

Imagine also that your mobile phone holds all your travel documents, including your bar-coded boarding pass, your frequent flyer membership information and your e-passport and e-visas. Also imagine being able to use your mobile phone to perform payment transactions throughout your travel experience, to help you find and ease your way through the airport environment, to receive personalised services and marketing information, in relation to pre-set preferences. And, last but not least, imagine being able to use your mobile phone, both on ground and in-flight, to stay connected and as a primary conduit for entertainment.

The airport of the future is already partially here. Airlines in this region such as Royal Jordanian, Qatar Airways and Saudi Arabian Airlines have already adopted in-flight connectivity using Sita subsidiary OnAir's service and keeping their passengers connected throughout their journey.

Future travel could see passengers using an electronic folder, which would store all travel-related documents – including passport details, visas, boarding pass, baggage receipts, frequent flyer information and preferences – enabling a truly paperless experience at every stage of the journey.

The future of self-service will, without doubt, be multi-channel with passengers preferring a mix of kiosk, web and mobile services. Inevitably one size cannot be made to fit all passengers and all travel situations. However, there is no doubt that the vast majority of passengers appreciate the ease and convenience of self-service and, once they try it, they tend to remain convinced of its value.

The author is Regional Director, Middle East and Turkey, Sita. The views expressed are his own


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