Self-serve airport idea could take off in future

In this most miserable year ever for airline passengers -- a year of record flight delays and baggage mishandling -- hope is on the horizon. One solution: an airport where the only people are the passengers. That possibility and technology...

Passengers can then go directly to security screening and to the boarding gates as the bags are separately transported to an LAX handling facility. There the luggage is inspected by TSA security screeners and then placed on board the passengers' flights.

The service also is available at the Los Angeles Convention Center for convention visitors and at the Port of Los Angeles for cruise ship passengers. There's one catch: Passengers must be flying within the United States.

Many of the ideas discussed at the conference, such as a common check-in area for all airlines, seemed remote. But the Schiphol plan appears close to liftoff, airport officials said.

At the Amsterdam airport, a machine would scan a passenger's passport and then show the flight information on a display screen. The traveler would be able to select a seat and print out a luggage tag, which the passenger would attach before placing it in a chute next to the self-service kiosk.

The bag tag is likely to contain a tiny radio transponder resembling a postage stamp that could be read several feet away, enabling the luggage to be tracked more accurately. The airline would immediately know, for instance, whether a bag made it on a particular flight.

Schiphol officials expect that by 2015, about 90% of its passengers would use the self-service machines, which would enable the airport to handle a projected 50% increase in travelers while reducing the typical time in line by 10%.

It would also alleviate concerns about a workforce shortage; Schiphol officials expect many airport workers to retire over the next five years.

Self-service also makes sense for passengers, who are becoming less dependent on humans for common transactions such as buying groceries or checking out books at the library, said Paul Fijen, manager of passenger service for Dutch carrier KLM, which is working closely with Schiphol on the new check-in process.

"I strongly believe it is more of a value for a customer to be in control from purchasing the ticket to arriving at the destination than to see 10 [ticket] agents who are tired and stressed," Fijen said.

Checking into the future

As air travel misery increases, airport and airline officials grapple with ways to speed passengers to their planes and avoid losing their luggage, including:

* Self-service kiosks that allow passengers to print boarding passes and check in baggage.

* Paper-thin radio-frequency identification tags, similar to transponders used by drivers on toll roads, to be placed on baggage for more accurate tracking.

* Off-site check-in and baggage service so passengers need only to wait in line for the security screening at the airport.

* Use of cellphones as a boarding pass.


Source: Times reporting

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