Analysis: Kiosk Uptime, Revenue

Self-service kiosks are becoming more and more prevalent at airports and predictions show this trend will continue.

Self-service kiosks are becoming more and more prevalent at airports and predictions show this trend will continue. Here, David Weiss, president and CEO of Dataprobe, a manufacturer of remote site management and monitoring solutions, offers ways to ensure uptime of kiosks as well as revenue return for both airport and airline.

With consumer autonomy on the rise, more and more airlines are taking the opportunity to cut costs and streamline customer service functions through kiosk deployment. Airlines in congested airports such as Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) count on hundreds of kiosks to provide consistent service to millions of passengers each year. This is a daunting task, especially considering a report by the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) that shows airlines are planning on eliminating all paper tickets by 2007 in favor of self-service e-ticket kiosks.

Still, there are fundamental concerns airlines must address to effectively integrate kiosks into their operations. Kiosks and their operating networks are subject to the same system failures as any computer, and the implications can be devastating to a company and its profitability.

Driving Down Costs, Driving Up Profitability

According to a 2004 survey conducted by Summit Research Associates, the reasons to deploy retail kiosks are manifold. The survey enabled participants to cite multiple reasons for kiosk deployment that included; to provide information (33%); reduce long lines (28%); improve customer service (27%); reduce costs (23%); and reduce staff (21%). The last two reasons have been the driving force behind deployments in the airline industry. The dramatic cost savings that can be realized from airline check-in units for repetitive tasks such as printing and distributing boarding passes drops from $3.86 with a gate agent to just $0.16 when customers use a kiosk. In an industry where margins are less than paper-thin, if they exist at all, this cost-savings could save an airline.

In tandem with cost reduction in the use of kiosks is the reduction in head count needed to service the same number of passengers. By utilizing the 'free labor' of passengers to serve themselves, airlines are able to reduce the number of terminal agents, baggage personnel and other service providers or redeploy them to other pertinent or more complex tasks.

Multi-Tasking and Flexible Kiosks

Since the advent of the ATM, consumers have become accustomed to utilizing self-service devices. The airline industry is a prime example of how the industry and its customers both adopted and promoted the use of automated solutions. However, just as in the banking industry, ATMs had to provide the flexibility and intelligence of a teller in order to fully meet the customer's needs; thus, the airline industry has had to adapt its way of thinking about kiosk usage.

The first automated systems only performed a single function, such as ticketing. Customers still had to go to see a gate agent to check baggage or solve more complex issues.

Today, airlines are putting more intelligence and power into the passenger's hands by deploying kiosks that can perform multiple tasks, as well as placing kiosks in locations previously under-serviced by the carriers. Airlines are readily enabling passengers to retrieve flight information, print itineraries, reserve seats, make ticket purchases, check baggage, and order special meals — in addition to printing boarding passes.

Delta Air Lines recently announced that its new self-service kiosks will be equipped with passport readers to extend the benefits of automated check-in to international passengers, as well as provide domestic passengers an additional way to identify themselves at the kiosk. This may be a tell-tale sign of what's to come for customs and immigration services. The labor-intensive process of checking passports and visas for passengers of international flights could be streamlined through intelligent kiosk deployments.

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