Shortly after McCarran international Airport’s Terminal 3 opened in June 2012, David Bourgon found himself in the odd position of trying to discourage good airline service.
As manager of airport IT services, Bourgon has paid close attention to how well passengers adapted to the new self-tagging machines, which allow people with baggage to weigh it, print out a bar coded tag, attach it and pay any fee without the help of an airline counter agent. When somebody appeared stumped by the process, Bourgon frequently saw an agent take over and finish the job.
“We’re really trying to work with all of our airlines to teach (the agents) not to do the function for (the passengers),” Bourgon told one session of the three-day Future Travel Experience convention, which ends Friday at Mandalay Bay. Instead, passengers should just be guided along so they can handle in on their own the next time, he said.
This illustrates one of the factors that industry experts predict will cause the future of travel for the next several years to look much like it does today. Proven technology has existed for several years to let passengers check their own baggage, scan boarding passes by themselves at the gate and be identified through different biometric measures. Yet customer acceptance, security regulations and airline systems all have a ways to go to catch up.
“What we have been trying to do for the past 10 or 15 years is to lay the foundations for tomorrow,” said Samuel Ingalls, McCarran’s assistant director for information systems. “What we will see is an evolution, not a revolution.”
The Terminal 3 experience demonstrates how the adaptation may move at a gradual, even glacial pace. Self-tagging has been in place overseas for better than a decade, but is still novel in the United States. According to Ingalls, the Transportation Security Administration regulations governing self-tagging went into effect in early 2012, just a few months before the terminal opened.
For more than a year, only Air Canada and rival WestJet used the machines, joined by British Airways last month. An unidentified domestic carrier is expected to sign on shortly, said Ingalls. This still leaves 18 airlines with baggage facilities in Terminal 3 that have stuck with traditional methods.
The next step, allowing passengers to place a bag on a conveyor belt themselves, is still not allowed by the TSA.
All of Terminal 3’s 14 gates have self-boarding machines, but only JetBlue uses them on some of its 11 flights a day, with another airline expected to start in the next few weeks. By contrast, 66 flight a day use the terminal.
Ingalls noted that airlines have to go through the often laborious task of writing applications into complex computer systems before they can tap into new technologies. Then they have to adapt their employee practices to fit a new work flow. With self-boarding, government rules require an airline employee to match a person’s ID to a boarding pass, further crimping its utility.
Some places have found ways to make the future work. At Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, one employee patrols a bank of several self-check baggage stations, meeting the security requirement to match a passenger with each suitcase.
Dutch carrier KLM has launched a test on flights from Aruba to the Netherlands using a camera in a kiosk. The camera takes an image of a passenger’s face, then matches it to another photo loaded into a chip that is attached to the passport, said Manual Van Lijf, the airline’s manager of innovation.
But the use of biometrics is limited, he added, by the lack of agreement of what to use: a face, a fingerprint, the iris or something else. Further, many countries don’t have the technology to make it work.
Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at 702-387-5290 or at email@example.com.