Self-boarding coming to the United States


For a few years now airline passengers in Europe have been able to perform almost their entire travel experience, from ticket purchase to boarding, without the need to interact with airline employees. Online purchase and check-in are not particularly special but a number of airlines and airports in Europe have also had the ability to actually present a boarding pass to an automated system at the gate rather than to an agent. That functionality is now going to make the leap across the Atlantic and will be active in Houston starting next week.

The hardware was installed by Continental Airlines at one gate in the Houston hub recently and is expected to go into production use next week. Passengers will be able to present their boarding card or mobile device with the 2-D barcode on it and scan it themselves to gain entry to the jetway. In the current configuration there will be two turnstiles in addition to the regular boarding lane that will be operated by an agent. In addition to the gates there are digital screens being installed overhead to assist the passengers with the process.

1Jun-SBG-Install3 2Jun-SBG-Trng

The hardware is the SpeedBoarding® Gate IER SBG Dual, from the French manufacturer IER. These are a more modern version of the hardware that is in use by Lufthansa in Frankfurt, among others.

No word yet on whether the gates will honor the EliteAccess or other boarding priority schemes.

A special thanks to the guy who knows who he is for providing the photos.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

9 Comments

  1. Given the difficulty I see the average person having with self-check out scanners in stores, the check-in kiosks in airports, and other self-serve technology, I can’t help but wonder if this will just slow down boarding. It will be interesting to see how the test works.

  2. The real question: will it enforce Elite Access or would those pax (who most likely will figure this thing out quickly whether they want to use it or not) still get to use a person?

  3. The question of whether EliteAccess will fit in is a good one.

    Another question is whether the self-service functionality will be used for boarding of international flights, where typically the boarding agent verifies that each passenger has a passport. Obviously gate E4 is also used for domestic flights, but I wonder if self-service will be an option for int’l departures (like the CDG flight in the pics).

    How does LH handle the passport check at its self-service boarding gates in FRA?

  4. Well, the good news is that the system is installed in parallel to the regular boarding lane. It may slow things down a bit if you’re stuck behind someone who cannot figure the system out but there are two lines and there should be some ability to move through reasonably well.

  5. Oh, and regarding passport checks, for LH it doesn’t. Then again, for LH if you’re boarding an international, non-Schengen flight you’re already cleared by Immigration out of Germany so you probably have the appropriate documentation with you. Were a visa validation required I’m not sure what they’d do but on my flight FRA-JFK the agents didn’t seem too worried.

  6. Visa checks are still done by Lufthansa. If you travel to a country that might require a Visa or at least traveller information you need to fill out API (Advanced Passenger Information) data during check in, be that online, at a kiosk or at the traditional check in desk, and this information is validated electronically. For some destinations that require additional check there are special desks checking the travel documents again before the actual gate. E.g. for US flights there’s the non-LH folks checking the passport again on the way toward the US-bound gates in MUC or usually a few meters in front of the gate in FRA. TLV bound flights get even more checks.

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