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Airline Industry

Self-serve check-in expanded by airlines

Jun 07, 2009

More airlines are allowing passengers to check in for their flights using their cellphones and other mobile devices so they can avoid long lines and save time.

Singapore Airlines passengers can now check in for any flight from anywhere in the world using their mobile phones. They can even change or select a seat.

Later the airline plans to allow passengers to book tickets and view schedules, features that Southwest Airlines recently added to its mobile tool.

It's the latest in a push by airlines to cut costs by eliminating check-in counters, although there still will be humans -- albeit fewer -- at the airport to help with unusual travel arrangements, check baggage or aid customers who aren't tech-savvy.

"The idea is to process passengers off site, alleviating congestion at the airport counter or in a hotel lobby," said Tania Ladic, vice president of industry marketing for NCR Corp.'s travel and transportation segment. Her firm is also pushing self-service check-in at hotels and rental car companies.

NCR, the company known for making ATMs and many of the airport self-serve kiosks, estimates that it takes less than a minute to check in using the kiosk while it takes an average of four to six minutes going through an agent at the counter. The counter lines tend to be longer as a result.

What's next? Airlines may send bar code images directly to passengers' cellphones so they don't have to get paper boarding passes at the counter or self-serve kiosks. The method is being tested at several airports, including Atlanta and Newark, N.J.

E.T. can't phone home while flying

Wireless Internet is onboard and taking off, but U.S. airlines won't let you use it to call someone during a flight. Worried that too much chitchatting could disturb other passengers, U.S. carriers are banning videoconferencing or using Voice Over Internet Protocol during flight. It's similar to a U.S. ban on cellphone use.

But Emirates, the Middle East carrier that flies nonstop from Los Angeles to Dubai, has offered cellphone service on its overseas flights for more than a year and says it hasn't been a problem.

The airline has installed equipment on planes that acts like small cellphone towers, linked to a satellite. Cellphone users incur service providers' roaming charges.

"We've had more than a quarter of a million passengers use their cellphones during flight and we have not had a single complaint," said Patrick Brannelly, Emirates' vice president for passenger communications and visual services.

The airline found that most Emirates passengers don't talk more than two minutes on the phone -- often to tell family about their flight's arrival time or something they forgot to say before they left. Also, there has been "zero voice" usage during nighttime sleeping hours, although some people use their cellphones for text-messaging.

Got $144,500 to circle the globe?

A Newport Beach company, Safari Air, is taking reservations for a 21-day around-the-world trip in a 10-passenger Gulfstream IV private jet that includes a two-week safari through Africa.

The 25,450-mile flight departs Orange County's John Wayne Airport on Oct. 17 and will circle the world, stopping in Quebec City; Edinburgh, Scotland; Cairo; Agra, India; Hong Kong; Guam and Honolulu.

Priced at $144,500 per person, "it's an unparalleled value for our unique clients," Safari Air Chief Executive Ken Jillson said.

The fare includes stays at five-star hotels and first-class in-flight service of fine wines, gourmet food, afternoon tea and MacBook laptops with Bose headsets to watch movies. No Internet access though, and still no takers.


Virgin America, the upstart carrier based in Burlingame, Calif., has become the first airline to offer in-flight Internet service on every flight. . . . Southwest Airlines has begun letting small cats and dogs fly with their owners for $75 each way. . . . On online travel service, travelers can check a location and gauge the distance of a hotel from an address or a popular attraction such as a beach, zoo, shopping mall or ballpark.

Self-serve check-in expanded by airlines
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