The airport check-in experience has remained relatively unchanged for decades. Sure, there are more ways to acquire a boarding pass now than in the past but the passenger flow – especially when baggage is involved – has seen almost no creativity. For JetBlue’s CIO and Executive Vice President Eash Sundaram this stagnation is something of a challenge, one which he is helping the carrier to meet head-on at its Boston hub. Each interaction between passengers and the airline, via technology or direct contact, is being evaluated and many will be changed. JetBlue expects the passenger experience to change dramatically in the very near future.
The carrier is looking at options which will leverage technology to shift the interaction patterns at the airport. “When we think of the airports of the future and JetBlue it has to be transitional in nature, not transactional,” Sundaram explains. Rather than each step of the pre-flight process being a discrete transaction – queue for check-in, for bag drop, for security, etc. – Sundaram hopes JetBlue will facilitate a smoother flow through the airport. Less queuing and better flow should reduce the amount of time a passenger spends outside security, for example. And that is often the most stressful part of the travel experience with time cut-offs constantly nagging at travelers.
This doesn’t mean that we’re going to take all the counters out, all the kiosks out and going completely humanless. What we’re doing for our crewmembers is equipping them with mobile devices with more information on them so they don’t need to stand behind the counter and address customer needs. They can go to the customer and take care of them real-time.
Part of this is technology; JetBlue must have the proper tools available for the crew in the departures lobby to be able to manage the passenger flows without requiring traditional queuing, for example. An equally important part, however, comes with redefining what the passenger experience should involve.
First up for JetBlue with this new approach is the hub operations at Boston’s Logan International Airport. The carrier now has full control over Terminal C and has already started construction on the necessary changes to implement this plan. It will come in phases as the construction completes – the airline needs to continue operating while the shift is being implemented – but later next year it expects to have redefined the airport experience much in the same way it changed in-flight when the carrier launched 14 years ago, with a focus on the passenger experience.
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While this may work for 330 days of the year, it won’t be pretty the remainder of the time. The days leading up to the winter and spring vacations that all of the elementary thru high school kids get each year in New England is always a zoo at Logan, especially for the winter one which almost always happens the day of, or the first day after, a major snowstorm. Thanksgiving and Christmas will also be a disaster – it takes over 45 minutes to get through the process now on a regular busy weekend. Of course, folks won’t be checking baggage any longer with the other changes that JetBlue is initiating, so that will speed things up except at security and boarding
Those problem days are an issue no matter what the lobby layout is. And I like the idea of trying something new.
What exactly, concretely, are they going to change? The roaming customer service agent makes me think the guy spent too much time in Hyatt’s Andaz properties. Not having to check in at all isn’t exactly going to change my travel experience at the airport (and UA/CO have had that for at least the return flight for a long time). My phone has been my permanent boarding pass for many years now.
They are shifting the bag drop and other counter locations around and pushing towards an environment where far more passengers arrive at the airport with a BP in hand. The company was hoping that number would be far higher than it is today but it has not made it there yet. With some tweaks to systems behind the scenes it expects to have far more passengers simply arriving and heading through security. The roaming agents will be helping those passengers to get where they need to be while avoiding any counter queuing.
But how many of those who show up at the airport without a BP are frequent (B6) flyers? Giving someone who flies them once a year a permanent boarding pass card really seems… inefficient. Chances are by the time they get ready to fly the next time they’ll have misplaced that card. And the frequent travelers have by now hopefully figured out OLCI. Going straight to security from the door is pretty much my routine experience on United (have never flown B6), and with Pre-check it’s almost painless to get to the gate.
Here’s an idea for all airlines to make the experience smoother: have more agents work the checkin counters and bag checks. Also, make those kiosks faster. Make them find my trip reliably (UA’s often doesn’t based on credit card and destination 3-letters), and don’t ask me over and over again if I want to buy miles.
I agree that there are better things than a “permanent boarding pass” to focus on. Given the large number of other things the company is doing I’m choosing to mostly ignore that part of things and consider it to be more of a general focus than a specific product.
While it may be your typical routine to go straight from the curb through security that is not the case for most passengers. And just putting more agents at counters doesn’t change the experience. It is treating the symptoms rather than the problem. JetBlue appears to be working it a bit differently.
Oh, here’s something I noticed on AS recently that I hadn’t seen before: I had a connecting flight, and instead of printing out two or more BPs they printed all the segments on the same piece of paper. THAT is an easy change that I liked. Do any other airlines do the same? (I have flown UA for so long, I haven’t really had a chance to keep up with the rest of the industry in my quest to finish MM).
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