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Cruising through check-in: remote airline check-ins demonstrably ease the check-in process for travellers, and can also result in a big payoff for the airport. John A Dungan Director of Global Product Management, ARINC Airport Systems explains.

A familiar scene plays out at cruise terminals around the world. After a relaxing ocean voyage, hundreds of cruise guests return ashore--only to face the daunting task of retrieving many pieces of luggage from the cruise terminal, hauling them onto a bus or taxi, and lugging them through long check-in lines at the airport.

Do cruise vacations really have to end this way? Because the majority of cruise guests go home via airline flights the answer has traditionally been yes. The cruise luggage problem is more than an inconvenience--it has been a serious concern of the industry for many years. This year things will change. Two forward-thinking cruise lines in the US--Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises--plan to show off a unique solution to the baggage problem: a remote airline check-in for guests on board selected cruise ships.

By making use of an on-board check-in service, guests will be able to have their bags whisked away when the ship docks--and checked straight through to their home airports on participating airlines. Guests won't have to touch their bags, and they will even receive airline boarding passes before they leave the ship--so they won't have to wait in a check-in queue at the airport.

This revolutionary service is made possible by ARINC OnVoy, new technology from ARINC Incorporated. The onboard check-in service for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity will be operated by off-airport concierge service BAGS, Inc of Orlando, Florida. BAGS and ARINC have already deployed similar check-in solutions at several major US hotels.

"Our luggage valet service has been tremendously popular with our guests in Vancouver, where it was first tested," said Nick Harrier, Vice President of Air, Sea and Hotel for Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises. "It makes returning home easier than ever. Our guests don't have to locate their luggage, transport it to the airport, or stand in long lines waiting to check-in. Our goal is to provide an improved guest experience and an enhanced security process. We have accomplished both."

A cruise ship is much more than a floating hotel logistically speaking. Cruise guests all tend to arrive and depart at one time. To offer cruise guests a convenient airline check-in on board, a cruise operator needs a much broader electronic window to process the hundreds--even thousands--of check-ins. ARINC's hotel check-in service was designed to operate on the day of travel. To give Royal Caribbean and Celebrity the extended time window they needed--up to several days to process guests--ARINC had to develop secure new database management features to make the OnVoy system practical for cruise ships.

So Far So Good--But What's in This for the Airport?

Remote airline check-ins--whether they take place at hotels in town or on cruise ships--demonstrably ease the check-in process for travellers, and can also result in a big payoff for the airport. Some reasons:

Peak traffic management. When hundreds of travellers arrive at the airport at once, big queues form. The travellers merely see an inconvenience, but the airport has a major staffing problem and the facility may be too small to handle peak traffic. If airports can "shave the peaks," they do not need to staff up to peak levels. For every 100 airline passengers who check in on board a cruise ship, 100 fewer passengers will be queued up at the airport. Peak shaving is thus a productive strategy for airports that need to streamline operations and drive down costs.

Cost avoidance. According to IATA, the world's commercial airlines are operating near their pre-9/11 and pre-SARS growth rates. This means the pressure is back on for today's airports to accommodate that growth. They can gain capacity without expanding facilities by distributing an increasing share of airline check-in activities offsite. In this way, remote check-ins deliver benefits similar to common-use technology: they allow airports to accommodate more airlines, manage their facilities better, and to control their own destiny.

Boosting the local economy. Distributing the check-in function beyond the airport saves time. It allows travellers to do more of what they want to do: hold an afternoon business meeting before leaving for the airport; spend four more hours on the golf course; or even visit the resort entertainment or casino one last time before flying home. That adds up to more time and money spent in the local economy--an especially attractive factor for resort destinations.

As passenger peaks are reduced, workflow improves--not only in the airport lobby, but everywhere: in security lines, baggage handling, parking lots and rental agencies--even for local taxi, bus and rail systems. Benefits of smoother airport operation spill out to the local community.

Remote check-in is now a proven solution and a powerful planning tool that is already helping airports to manage their missions better. Off-site hotel check-in has been so successful that ARINC and Orlando-based BAGS have expanded their offering to hotels in Atlanta, Chicago and Boston. They also expect to launch their service at major US resort hotels, including the Walt Disney Resorts in Florida, during 2005.

"We have been gratified by the quick public acceptance of remote check-in services at our launch hotel locations," states Mike Picco, ARINC Airport Systems Vice President. "That success is due in large part to the hard work and professionalism of BAGS, Inc and their on-site staff. We now look forward to introducing a new dimension in passenger convenience with the OnVoy service being launched by Royal Caribbean and Celebrity."

The innovative deployment of a multiple-airline check-in service aboard cruise ships reflects a growing industry trend: the geographical spread of the check-in function to remote locations well beyond the airport terminal, all driven by enabling technology.

Forces at Work

Two forces of technology have re-defined the relationship between passengers, airlines and airports. The first--the Internet--has already brought the age of electronic ticketing and Web-enabled check-ins. Thanks to the Internet, many airline passengers are already familiar with using their home or office computers to check in and print a boarding pass--two convenient locations far removed from the traditional ticket counter. Because the Internet is inexpensive to use, and accessible virtually anywhere, it has become the enabling technology behind today's move toward off-site and remote check-in services.

The second force is the adoption of common-use airport technology. Common-use systems first made it feasible for airlines to share costly capital equipment, and for airports to deploy shared check-in counters and kiosks, increasing capacity and heading off conflicts over floor space. Now, the sharing of Common Use Self Service (CUSS) kiosks allows airports to distribute the check-in function even further--to locations like rail connections, car rentals and parking facilities. But even with the proven performance of common-use technology and the convenience of Internet connectivity, creating a practical check-in for passengers on cruise ships presented ARINC with a whole new set of challenges.

Creating a Solution

Representatives of ARINC, BAGS, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity met to design an optimal check-in solution. Their vision was to allow cruise guests to place their airline baggage outside their cabin doors on the night before the cruise ended--and not have to touch their bags again until they arrived at their home airport. Soon the team realized they would need several breakthroughs--both in service and in technology--to create this new experience for guests.

The proven hotel lobby technology was designed for airline passengers departing the same day. But Royal Caribbean and Celebrity wanted to start their guest check-in process sooner--days before the actual departing flights. The technical solution--OnVoy--had to accommodate this requirement, as well as meet the varied check-in procedures of many different airlines. In addition, the new OnVoy service would have to accommodate the many different baggage tagging procedures and technologies in current use--which vary from airline to airline.

The engineers of ARINC brought considerable experience to the challenge. The company supports the common-use passenger systems used by more than 260 airlines at more than 65 airports around the world. Networking and interacting daily with dozens of airlines gave our engineers the background and skills to automate all the airline transactions associated with check-in.

The company is also in the forefront of baggage tagging and monitoring technologies. The company recently introduced a universal bar-code translation solution, JADE, that is usable by all major airlines. Satisfying the many requirements of different airlines for control over the printing of bag tags was an essential requirement of the new OnVoy service.

The breakthrough was achieved by maintaining automation while separating the two functions of enrolling and tagging each passenger's bags. This capability will allow the cruise lines to offer their convenient new OnVoy check-in service from the first day of a voyage until the last.

The contribution of BAGS, Inc to the success of the cruise luggage project has also been significant as it took the lead in working with the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and assisted the participating airlines in obtaining the clearances necessary to implement the on-board check-in service. Working with trained cruise line personnel, BAGS' staff match the baggage with passengers' enrolment records.

Where will it go next?

This new service is just a hint of things to come. The Internet has already enabled migration of the check-in function to the home or office (with a self-printed boarding pass delivered over the Internet), or to the passenger's PDA or wireless laptop used at any convenient 'hot spot'. Airports are busily locating kiosks at their rail stations, car rentals and parking lots. In the immediate future we will see kiosks sprouting in hotels and convention centres--followed by full-service check-ins with secure baggage handling. Check-ins will appear at many more convenient locations--a glimpse of the future is provided by the service aboard Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises ships. Wherever a group of people gathers to go to an airport, the technology for check-in will be there to serve them.
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Title Annotation:Terminal Equipment; ARINC OnVoy
Comment:Cruising through check-in: remote airline check-ins demonstrably ease the check-in process for travellers, and can also result in a big payoff for the airport.
Author:Dungan, John A.
Publication:Airports International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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