Can technology replace passenger transactions with an airline?

For the better part of the past decade airlines have focused on using technology to make common tasks easier for the passenger. At least that was the theory. Why wait in line to speak with an agent about seat selection or flight status when that same information can be made readily available online, for example. Similarly, the process of checking in for a flight can be shifted from an airport action to one the passenger can complete at home or on a mobile device. And while few would argue that more avenues available to complete the same transaction is a bad thing, there are several starting to question the need for many of the traditional actions associated with flying. WHY, for instance, are passengers required to check in?

Watch my interview with Eash Sundaram at the FTE conference in the video above

For JetBlue this type question sits at the forefront of Eash Sundaram’s desk every day. As the airline’s CIO and Executive Vice President Sundaram has a large range of responsibilities. At the heart of all of them, however, he sees the opportunity to change the passenger experience through technology. This is far more than just moving all the actions from a ticket counter to the web to a mobile device. Each customer interaction is evaluated and, where possible, the company hopes to simply remove events from the flow rather than offering more ways to perform them. As Sundaram explained during the recent Future Travel Experience conference:

Think of a transaction from your customer which adds no value to the customer. Automate it. Don’t make the customer do it. That’s our new philosophy. Things like auto-checkin, we are taking a step out of the process. It really doesn’t add value to us or to the customer so why do it? Things like printing a boarding pass, things like printing a baggage tag. I know people think “Okay, we can put a kiosk there and put a baggage tag printer and the customer can do it.” But why do that? Just give [each customer] a permanent baggage tag. A lot of innovation is going to come in this space in the next few months in terms of how we are addressing the needs of the customer pre-travel.

The idea of permanent bag tags is not a new one. Several vendors attending the Future Travel Experience conference indicated they expected to enter trials with real airlines and real passengers soon. This seems to mesh with Sundaram’s vision on that front. And it is similar to Sundaram’s idea about a permanent JetBlue boarding pass which was broached at the same event.

Is this simply shifting the “problem” to another venue or actually creating a situation which changes the passenger experience in a meaningful way? We’ll see soon enough; Sundaram and JetBlue seem quite insistent on that.



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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.

One Comment

  1. If you have a permanent baggage tag, do you want to hang around for a receipt for your bag or would you be happy just putting it on a counter and leaving? I’d like them to acknowledge receiving my bag with a receipt which presently takes about the same time/interaction as printing out the baggage tag, etc.

    Are the interactions you are talking about removing any different then a passenger with carry on only on United?

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