There will be four very different forms of ‘smart’ check-in procedures in domestic air travel by the end of this year.
The first of them, the Virgin Blue ‘Check-Mate’ system, was launched today, initially on flights between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
It will be followed by a second trial and introduction of a Jetstar procedure with no snappy name as yet, starting next month on the Sydney-Avalon route, with Qantas introducing Perth as the first port for its ‘Airport of the Future Initiative’ processes, which really is too many words but involves some elements in common with the Virgin Blue process as well as a chip enabled super-tag system for frequent flyers that looks very similar to the one used by Air New Zealand.
Lurking somewhere in the shadows is Tiger’s new work-in-progress web check in procedure, which is apparently more innovative than it has let on so far, since it will bring in ‘Zero minutes’ check-in times, which will have everyone else scrambling to achieve the same result.
In short, this is the year four different airline brands are working toward the same goal of allowing anyone who has checked-in using their newest processes to board their flight right up to the moment the door is sealed. After which your fare is toast if you aren’t on board.
Virgin Blue’s Check-Mate is entirely smart phone oriented, for those phones smart enough to use it and which are web enabled. No-one could answer the question today whether it will also work with an iPad but sooner or later, it will have to.
With Virgin Blue you can book your flight on the smart phone, or a PC. If booking on your smart phone, the process immediately generates a square 2D barcode image which contains all the relevant details. This code can also be sent to your smart phone if you wish while using its regular web check-in to select a seat.
Once the check in process has been completed the passenger without checked baggage can go straight to the gate, where the only paper involved in the process is generated as a seat and flight number stub by a bar code reader pending the perfection of a Virgin Blue process to modify the eyeballs and retinas of staff to decipher 2D images at a glance.
However if you are checking luggage the technological breakthrough ends when you are sent to the manual baggage check in desk where an old fashioned large paper boarding pass is printed together with a receipt that is really useful if you have to fill out a lost luggage claim.
Check-Mate comes with a full set of service options including changing bookings, and even advice on dress requirements, which include approval to wear thongs and singlets. (No, really, this is the truth, go to mobile.virginblue.com.au and you can see the menu for Check-Mate customers for yourselves. )
There is also a special app you can download for a Blackberry, but the system works fine on an iPhone or Blackberry without the helper download. Because Check-Mate relies on WAP or the wireless application protocol there will be a telephone service provider charge involved when it is used.
The Jetstar system, which had a less than glorious first trial run late last year, begins its second iteration on the Avalon-Sydney route next month, and sources are confident it will prove itself robust and ready for quick deployment network wide.
Instead of generating a 2D barcode the as yet unnamed Jet Txt process produces a text message suitable for dumb as well as smart phones. If it has a screen and can display text, it works.
Bookings are made on a regular computer 24 hours minimum before the Jetstar flight is scheduled to leave. In the booking process you are asked if you want to pre-enrol for the text service, which is sent, with a minimum of 24 hours notice, to your mobile.
At the airport you place the mobile with the text message displayed in a tray in the self check in kiosk or in a special reader which scans it and prints a boarding pass.
If you are making the trip at short notice you will need to check-in at the airport in the normal way.
By this time next year these different approaches to a common goal of lower cost real time automated check-in processes should allow some conclusions to be drawn about which works best for various types of travellers.
In the meantime, make sure your mobile batteries are well charged
before you reach the gate.