A New Model for Airline Ticketing

Oct. 10, 2017
Virtual Ticket Agent technology can hinder stress for travelers when unexpected delays occur in your terminal.

Imagine this common scenario. You’re taking your luggage out of an Uber, when you get a text that your flight has been canceled due to bad weather. You rush into the airport to reschedule and see hordes of fellow passengers swarming the few agents at the check-in desk. It will be an hour or more until you get to the front of the line, and you doubt any of the day’s few remaining flights will be available for rebooking.

If you’ve traveled recently, you know that extreme weather patterns and other ticketing issues have significantly degraded the airline experience. Despite decades of investment in IT modernization, airline travel plans can easily break down with cascading effects: across airlines, airports, even entire countries. Adding more agents is costly and often isn’t feasible due to the many unpredictable, fast-breaking factors that can impact travel. Is there a better, faster, and cheaper way to reschedule passengers and get them on their way?

Virtual Agent Support Addresses Airline Weather Woes — and More

A new technology, known as a Virtual Ticket Agent (VTA), is built to solve these problems.

Imagine the ease-of-use and self-service capabilities of a ticketing kiosk paired with the expertise and troubleshooting support of a live customer service agent. Passengers can complete routine transactions, such as buying tickets, checking in, selecting seats, and paying for baggage fees autonomously, but click to connect with a remote agent via video link if they have questions or problems. The VTA also senses when there is a problem, triggering agent support. The agent is connected via a video screen that is placed right above the touchscreen to enable eye-to-eye contact with passengers.

A VTA can help customers with these common needs and problems:

  • Navigating touchscreen functionality to complete desired actions, preventing customer frustration and ensuring in-person agents can stay focused on their intended tasks
  • Providing critical supporting information, such as flight delays and cancellations, maps, and more, for on-the-spot decision making
  • Supporting walkup customers who need to book a flight onsite
  • Rebooking flights in the event of weather delays, airline mechanical misfunctions, and other issues
  • Providing language support to international travelers, to provide them with the same customer experience as other passengers
  • Using a built-in camera to review and validate key documents, such as passports
  • Enabling seamless traveler authentication with facial recognition programs, such as the new initiatives pioneered by the Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol 

VTAs Make Sense in an Era of Escalating Customer Service Demands

VTAs make business sense in an industry that must balance meeting high customer needs and demands with the opportunities and challenges of running a complex, high-tech transportation and logistics business. While airlines can’t solve all problems, they can provide customers with the information and tools they need to optimize their plans and show compassion when things go awry.

Numerous industry studies have demonstrated that providing customers with a “frictionless” experience that reduces their effort and delivering exceptional problem-solving support are key to winning and keeping customers. Airlines had a 75 out of a 100 score as of March 2017, prior to several high-profile media and regional weather issues, indicating there is significant room for improvement.

Business Benefits of the VTA Program

A VTA helps airlines:

  • Increase customer satisfaction and happiness with humane, targeted support
  • Support a wide range of customer needs in the language of their choice
  • Provide better “line-busting” and use of on-site customer agents
  • Meet both expected and unexpected spikes in customer demands
  • Escalate exceptional service cost-effectively 

The Airline VTA Technology is Already Here — and Ready to Use

A VTA is completely customizable. Originally developed for train stations, the kiosks have been adapted for the aviation industry. Features can be added such as biometrics, document scanning, and multi-currency support.

What’s Next?

For VTAs, the skies are the proverbial limit, no pun intended. While information is the key to any customer service interaction, why stop there? The technology is available to create something far bigger than just a help desk. These machines could replace the way people currently board a plane. All you would have to do is walk up and scan your boarding pass, rather than stand in line and fumble around with paper tickets and handheld scanners.

This solution signals the arrival of the next generation of airport customer service – machines that are intelligent but do not outsmart the passenger, intuitive and easy to use, and just a click away from real human interaction.

With a VTA, the airline customer experience soars – even when planes or travel plans are grounded.  

Dickson Kendrick is NextBus’s Airport Business Development Lead with 10-plus years of experience in the airport industry, including seven years with HMSHost. Dickson oversees all the business efforts related to aviation customers for Cubic Transportation Systems and NextBus. Located in Maryland, Dickson is a true fan of the UMD Terps, Washington Redskins and Capitals.