Indian airports are traditionally slower to embrace Information Technology led solutions and hence Hindustan Times report in April 2016 about Jet Airways & Air India planning to automate check-in at T2 at Mumbai Airport was a pleasant surprise. (Link: No More queues: Jet Airways, AI to automate check-in process)
Last week market leader SITA and Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) announced the introduction of self bag-drop which made Mumbai the first airport in the country to embrace this technology. The airport which inaugurated its new Terminal 2 (T2) in January 2014 saw Full service carriers Jet Airways and Air India move their domestic operations to the integrated terminal. Mumbai is the most congested airport in the country and second largest aviation market behind Delhi.
At an airport like Mumbai, where the passenger numbers keep increasing even when flights are not increasing, the space in the terminal will always be a challenge. Any airport operator prefers adding retail options which gives incremental revenue as compared to adding check-in counters.
MIAL has deployed SITA Scan&Fly units at T2 as well as T1 which is used by Low Cost Carriers for Domestic operations.
Breaking away from the past
Indian airports have been slower in enabling Information Technology for use. Airlines have in the past rebelled against use of CUTE (Common User Terminal Experience) since it led to additional expenditure, most of which was passed on to the passenger and now reflects under CUTE fees for most airports.
National carrier Air India became the first carrier to use CUSS – Common User Self Service kiosk for check-in as well as baggage acceptance at T2 – Mumbai. This service was initially limited to select flights between Mumbai & Delhi as well as Mumbai & Bengaluru.
Globally airports have moved to a point where manual intervention is not needed at all, from printing baggage tags at home to having permanent baggage tags for passengers, all that a passenger needs to do is to deposit the bag at the machine from where she/he also gets the boarding card and baggage tag.
The move to self bag-drop is thus a move in the right direction for airports in India. Currently the one deployed at Mumbai is for passengers who have already checked-in for their flights.
Technology – How Self Service baggage check-ins work
The technology deployed by each company is different and proprietary thus limiting information on how it is done. However it works with APIs (Application Programming Interface) which helps it connect with IATA web services or CUSS. The easy and quick integration of the hardware with Departure Control System (DCS) of the airline is possible since the solutions are introduced at very congested airports and most of these airports have robust integrations in place with airline DCS.
The systems have capabilities to charge for excess baggage and accept payment, scan travel documents (passport) and update details for verification.
The auto bag drop can be a two step or a one step process. While the former involves printing the bag tag at check-in, scanning it and depositing the bag; the later involves check-in being done prior to arriving at the airport and only depositing the bag at the counter. The hardware device includes a small conveyer belt which connects to main baggage system of the airport, Touch Screen, Boarding Pass Reader, Bag Tag Reader, Printer.
As with most intelligent systems, the automated system can let one know the average time taken per user to complete the whole process. While initially the process will take longer, as more and more people get used to it, Typically the airport operator will be able to see baggage deposited per hour, per airline, per machine, per destination as well as average time per user, baggage per user as part of the reporting tools which helps improve the customer experience in the long run as well as either incentive airlines using the facilities more or using this data to help other airlines make the transition faster.
Challenges in India
For a country where automated parking is manned, expecting a traveler to show confidence in the automated baggage check-in is a challenge. The umpteen self check-in kiosks at Bengaluru and Delhi are not utilized to the fullest and passengers are willing to stand in the queue for check-in even with hand baggage.
While the move to self bag-drop even with a staff member deployed will be cheaper for the airline, it is unclear as to how MIAL is funding this project. If MIAL will charge the airline based on baggage accepted or as a flat rate or will bear the cost completely and not pass it on to the airline.
With long queues even for Baggage drop Post web check-in, the web check-in option was not as popular in India as other countries. The self bag-drop post web check-in will help
GVK, the operator of Mumbai and Bengaluru airports has caught up with technology very fast. Having been criticized for building a greenfield airport in the IT capital of the country with lack of charging points to having an award winning mobile app for the same airport and introducing advanced technologies in Mumbai, the company has indeed shifted focus after seeing customer satisfaction levels go high and Delhi and Hyderabad airports, operated by competitor GMR being ranked at the top at different awards across the world.
As air travel continues to grow at break neck speed in India, innovations like these will help improve customer satisfaction.