Check-in & Validation, Features // // 3 Comments

Could automatic check-in herald the end of the boarding pass?


Air France KLM already offers automatic check-in on its short and medium-haul network and will expand this to the long-haul network by October this year.

Air France KLM already offers automatic check-in on its short and medium-haul network and will expand this to the long-haul network by October this year.

The modern-day check-in process is vastly different to the check-in process of old. The unbundling of each component – ranging from seat selection to baggage drop off – and the introduction of automatic check-in facilities has led to questions about the need for a check-in process at all.

“The check-in process is a thing of the past and in a couple of years it won’t exist any more,” explained Matthias Koch, Director Marketing – R&D Ground Services, Air France KLM.

While Koch outlined his belief that the integral aspects of the check-in process will remain, the term ‘check-in’ and the concept of a bundled process will be phased out.

He said: “We have to work out what is actually defined by ‘check-in’ today. Even the word itself doesn’t have the same meaning that it had in the past.”

Air France KLM is one of the airlines to have already introduced an automatic check-in service – removing the need for the passenger to play an active role in the process. Any passenger who books their flight via the carrier’s website can opt-in to the service and choose to be automatically checked-in for their flight and receive their boarding pass via email or SMS 30 hours prior to departure. At present, the opt-in rate stands at around 50%.

“This was first rolled out in April 2010 on our short and medium-haul network and now we have started the first pilots to roll it out on the long-haul flights. Automatic check-in should be implemented across the long-haul network by fall this year,” Koch said.

Koch: “We don’t need a boarding pass. What we need is a token which can be used to board.” (Credit: Guillaume Grandin)

Koch: “We don’t need a boarding pass. What we need is a token which can be used to board.” (Credit: Guillaume Grandin)

Mobile boarding and NFC

Elsewhere, SAS Scandinavian Airlines also offers an automatic check-in option for its passengers. 22 hours prior to departure, passengers who have included a mobile phone number in their booking reference will receive an SMS asking if they wish to check-in. If they reply ‘Yes’, they are checked-in and can then advance to seat selection.

At present, 13% of SAS passengers use mobile check-in and Pernilla Thelenius, the airline’s Manager Product Information & Communication, Product Strategy and Development, said: “We expect that SAS mobile check-in will continue to increase, as will the usage of SAS mobile boarding passes.”

No more boarding pass?

SAS passengers can check-in for their flight from 22 hours prior to departure simply by replying ‘Yes’ to an automated SMS from the airline.

SAS passengers can check-in for their flight from 22 hours prior to departure simply by replying ‘Yes’ to an automated SMS from the airline.

As check-in becomes increasingly automated, the role of the boarding pass in the future travel process has also been placed under the spotlight. Thelenius explained that “paper boarding passes will be replaced by mobile boarding passes and NFC (Near Field Communication)” to allow for smoother flow at the airport and the offering of self-service at various touch-points. Highlighting the advancements in this area, the airline recently announced plans to introduce an NFC-based Smart Pass for frequent flyers.

Koch, meanwhile, outlined his belief that a ‘token’ can replace the traditional concept of the boarding pass. “We don’t need a boarding pass,” he said. “What we need is a token which can be used to board. At the moment the boarding pass is a piece of paper but in the future it could be biometric-based, it could be the passport, or it could be something else.”

Referring to IATA’s Checkpoint of the Future, he continued: “This concept will mean that the passengers will need to identify themselves before they pass through the checkpoint. We should consider this as an opportunity because it could mean that the passenger will only have to be identified once, rather than two or three times. If passengers could use this token to identify themselves initially, a separate boarding pass wouldn’t be needed.”

The future role of the check-in process and boarding pass is among the key topics that will be discussed at Future Travel Experience 2011. Manuel van Liif, Manager R&D and Innovation, Air France KLM, will address delegates on the topic: ‘After no more check-in the next step will be no more boarding pass. How can this be achieved?’.

Future Travel Experience Europe 2015

Interested in learning more about improving your passenger experience? At FTE Europe 2015, which will take place in London from 2-4 February 2015, senior speakers from the likes of Heathrow Airport, Ryanair, Swedavia, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Munich Airport, Virgin Atlantic, Expedia, London City Airport, IATA, Air France-KLM, London Stansted Airport, Lufthansa, Bechtel, Gatwick Airport and United Airlines will share their latest passenger-focused plans and visions in the 'On the Ground' conference.

The event will also include a dedicated 'Up in the Air' conference stream, IATA workshop, an extensive exhibition, tours of Heathrow T2, London Stansted and London City Airport, and a 'Best of British' Gala Evening at Altitude 360 @ Altitude London, London's premier sky venue which offers jetliner views of the city.

» View the full FTE Europe 2015 'On the Ground' agenda

» Register to attend FTE Europe 2015

3 comments from our readers

  1. Sceptical corporate traveller says:

    And yes, I do use on line check-in, mobile boarding pass etc etc. and think they are great

    All very well, but……. airlines have to remove the bit of the process where the nice lady wants to look at the bit of paper as you enter the actual aircraft – just to be sure you really are on the right one and to provide “service” by telling you where your seat is in the aircraft ….. and the bit where other cabin staff want to look at the bits of paper when there is a dispute about who is sitting in the correct seat (or not!)

    What the change in “check in” (and I agree it’s now the wrong name) process has produced is a guarantee that in the future the process (and the tokens used to validate it) will be diverse in nature and location of use. In effect the process has been rendered more adaptable, but in some ways more complicated.

  2. Anthony Smith-Chaigneau says:

    Please Step Aside I Am A FREQUENT FLYER (available on Amazon) was written by myself and a friend. It highlights all the issues, discrepancies and lack of foresight by the Airline Industry especially in Ground handling of passengers. Here is one reason paper will not go. Batteries on phones can run out and bar-code readers can go wrong. On one recent flight I had a home printed boarding pass and the machine would not read it. This is in Luton Airport just to get into security and departure (its done at security in CDG Paris) and it failed. All the details on the ticket were OK but the computer said No! I was sent back to Checkin to get a new ticket and they were closed. I had to go to ticketing where they hand wrote me aboarding pass and I wascthen allowed to pass. It had less info and was illegible in the main. We are millions of light years away from faultless people, machines and processes.

  3. Dean says:

    Also an advocate of automating the check-in and boarding process, though this needs to be thought through carefully in terms of its security implications. It is possible for people to board incorrect aircraft (i.e. where terminal walkways lead to multiple aircraft parking bays), and it is inevitable that people will take any seat in the aircraft cabin if they feel it better to the one that they were assigned.

    I agree with previous comment regarding the view that this process is becoming more adaptable/convenient for some, however, in the whole there are now more potential types of boarding passes than ever – printed boarding passes from home, airport check-in boarding passes, interline/partner-carrier boarding passes, electronic PDFs, near field communication boarding passes. From a human information processing point-of-view, this can result in boarding gate agents having their concentration pulled in a number of directions = higher risk of boarding-related error.

    The risk profile of automated check-in and boarding must take these matters into account, permitting cabin crew and boarding gate teams to scrutinise passenger boarding documents/tokens (whether on hard-copy or electronic media) as required, ultimately making their jobs easier, not harder.

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