Yesterday I listened in on another Air Transport World webinar discussing the technology we interact with as travelers at the airport. The specific focus was to outline how common use stations, such as the kiosks we use to check in and the terminals airline agents use for the same functions, can speed travel, reduce airline & airport costs and offer additional synergies benefiting everyone involved. Entitled “One Platform, Many Advantages,” the four main speakers reviewed the technology and explored future potentials and current gaps in a seamless passenger flow. It will be available for anyone to listen to shortly by visiting this link. In the meantime, I’ll summarize some of the key points.
First up is the jargon for which I was unfamiliar until yesterday, but fully recognize having used them at airports. They are CUPPS, CUTE and CUSS (no, not that kind).
CUPPS: Common Use Passenger Processing Systems
CUTE: Common Use Terminal Equipment
CUSS: Common Use Self Service
In my understanding, CUPPS covers both CUTE, those terminals used by multiple airlines at the same airport, and CUSS, those kiosks used by you and me to check-in for a variety of airlines. In any case, it’s all referring to a single station being able to access more than just a single airline’s system.
The CUTE terminals have been around for 15-20 years where multiple airlines can use the same check-in locations and still access the airline’s proprietary system to process check-in for passengers. This is very common at the international terminals of just about every airport where dedicated stations for an airline operating one or two flights just doesn’t make sense. One hour Cathay Pacific could be using check-in desks 10-19 and two hours later Emirates would be using the same positions to check-in their passengers.
Last week I saw a number of CUSS kiosks in the International Terminal at San Francisco Airport where you could check-in for any number of airlines at a single unit. John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California is another airport using CUSS stations for multiple airlines, where in this case the airlines are flying all domestic trips. Instead of “where’s my airline’s check-in desk” when you walk into an airport, it’ll become “where’s the nearest kiosk?”
Basically, the technology is pointing to a nearly airline agent-free traveler experience with everything done by “self;” check-in, bag tagging, document scanning, flight rebooking, boarding and bag recovery. Here it is pictorially:
It was pointed out that gaps remain where human interaction remains necessary like at security and immigration & customs, and of course not everyone has bought into many of the newest abilities like self-bag tagging or self-boarding gates. It’s right around the corner, though, isn’t it? Also, our mobile devices will become a critical part of this future with 3D bar codes scanned from our phones needed to use some of these devices.
The first encounter I usually have flying domestically with an airline agent is when my boarding pass is scanned at the gate when I get on the plane. The picture painted here is that as soon as the automated baggage & boarding gates come out, a flight attendant will be the first actual airline employee of contact. It’s all but likely going forward, so front-line staffing for airlines at airports will do nothing but continue to drop.
One of the slides quoted a survey where 73 percent of respondents “said they would be more likely to choose a travel provider that offered them greater control over managing their entire travel experience through self-service.” Count me as one of them. Here’s the results from another similar poll in 2011:
Another chart I found interesting is as follows. It shows the opportunities airport vendors have to attract passengers during their down time traversing airport terminals:
I look forward to more self-service kiosks handling some of the agent-driven activities today, but will still always want a human available. Their numbers will drop exponentially as this technology gains acceptance, but it’s the likely future of our airport experience. What do you think? Too “Jetsons” for you, or does this fully self-serving automation appeal to you, too?