Passenger self-service versus the check-in desk – which is the way forward?


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Lufthansa’s newly upgraded RFID-capable check-in terminals, which enable customers to check-in with a machine-readable passport or ID card Europe-wide is one example of the trend towards moving the self-service boundaries forward.
The carrier is maintaining its strategy to offer streamlined methods of check-in, while at the same time recognizing its broad customer base, explained Aage Dünhaupt, Lufthansa’s director of international communications.

Ryanair is phasing out the use of airport check-in desks from its 146 airports by 1 October. Passengers will have to use online check-in and bag drop only.
Ryanair is phasing out the use of airport check-in desks from its 146 airports by 1 October. Passengers will have to use online check-in and bag drop only.

According to Dünhaupt, while the carrier has played an integral role in developing self-service innovations, the need to have a dedicated check-in desk is still important for network carriers. “We are the first airline in Europe to offer a ticket buying function and check-in combined through our own mobile web portal. On the one hand we are looking at bringing the complexity down for passengers who want to check-in quickly by using our mobile portal and for the other passengers, we are still offering a dedicated area,” said Dünhaupt.

At many airports, Lufthansa enables first or business class passengers to check-in at a separate priority check-in counter. At the same time, the airline agent is being increasingly seen at the front of the terminal, rather than behind a desk. “We still have agents next to our new self-service kiosks to provide passenger assistance, saving the waiting line at a normal check-in counter,” said Dünhaupt.

Cost saving potential

While the business models of network and low-cost carriers can be easily distinguished, their check-in strategies are converging where self-service technologies can offer passengers a faster means of checking-in compared with a manned agent. Jamie Cassidy, British Airways’ general manager, product management, said: “While people use the kiosk as a traditional check-in desk, low-cost and legacy carriers will have a similar check-in strategy but for different reasons. Ryanair are selling on price whereas legacy airlines are selling on service and added value. For British Airways, at check-in it’s more about getting people through a process as quickly as possible. At London Heathrow Terminal 5 we have a target of 80% self-service check-in, with check-in desks in the old format for first class passengers and check-in desks where self-service does not work and where ticket intervention is needed.”

Ryanair is phasing out the use of airport check-in desks from its 146 airports by 1 October. Passengers will have to use online check-in and bag drop only.
Ryanair is phasing out the use of airport check-in desks from its 146 airports by 1 October. Passengers will have to use online check-in and bag drop only.

Dünhaupt added: “Everyone is under pressure to reduce the costs in the whole process of getting from A to B – the ground product needs to be more efficient but at a reduced cost – there is still potential to do that on the ground.”

Inevitably, the cost saving potential is far greater for airlines encouraging passengers to check-in themselves – either from home, or at a self-service kiosk. It is a further sign that the industry will continue the trend in response to passenger demand for a breeze-through experience. “You can reduce check-in activity for passengers who still want to fly without hand luggage. Some want everything on their mobile – for them it’s more important to have the fast access,” said Dünhaupt.

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  1. Anthony Smith-Chaigneau

    I was in Munich when the airport shut down because of a snowstorm. It was chaos as not a single ‘self-service machine’ could re-route, accomodate, feed, and re-organise the thousands of passengers that were stranded. It is a joke to talk about adding more machines and less staff in a place where most people need people for reassurance when things go wrong (and they often do). In our book Please Step Aside – I AM A FREQUENT FLYER we have covered a lot of these incidents. Highlighting the fraility of the whole eco-system of airports.