Emma Kelly report on Qantas’ next generation check-in system.
It looks like 2011 will be a busy year for Qantas with plans to roll-out its Next Generation Check-in across its domestic network.
The innovation is promising to dramatically reduce check-in times and eliminate queues for passengers, allowing them to move through the check-in area with speed and ease, according to the Australian national carrier. “This is a truly ground-breaking Qantas innovation,” according to Qantas Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce.
The airline declines to comment on how much it has invested in the programme, saying only it is: “a significant amount of money to enhance the experience for our customers.” It has worked with a number of key technology suppliers on the programme, including IBM, Unisys, Fujitsu and Amadeus.
Next Generation Check-in involves the use of wireless radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. It features a new Qantas Frequent Flyer Card, which is embedded with “intelligent Q” smart-chip technology. By placing the new Frequent Flyer Card on the airline’s new Q Card Readers at self check-in kiosks, passengers are checked in within seconds, with the Frequent Flyer Card acting as a boarding pass.
When the Qantas Card is touched against the Q Card Reader, the authenticity of the Q Card is verified and once this is done, the information on the card – namely the passenger’s frequent flyer number – is retrieved. The passenger’s flight details are then retrieved from the airline’s departure control system and the passenger is automatically checked-in. At that point the Q Card reader will display a green light to indicate the transaction is successful. A confirmation SMS is sent to the passenger’s registered mobile number confirming check-in and the assigned seat number. Customer service agents circulate throughout the terminal to assist passengers.
The Q Card can also be used at the boarding gate to board the aircraft where a paper boarding docket is printed with seat information.
Automatic bag drop facilities make the process even simpler, according to the airline. Frequent flyers are also being issued with smart chip-enabled Q Bag Tags which are linked to the details on the new frequent flyer cards and become permanent bag tags, eliminating the need for paper bag tags. The Bag Drop’s scanning technology weighs and checks in your baggage. If the baggage is overweight the passenger will receive an overweight baggage receipt, with excess baggage to be paid for at the kiosk or sales desk. The sensors in the Bag Drop detect the Q Bag Tag, with the flight details encoded onto the Q chip embedded in the tag, allowing it to be delivered to the correct destination, says Qantas. “The Q Bag Tag features world first enhanced baggage technology and Qantas is the first airline in the world to introduce this technology,” says the airline.
Data is encoded on the tag at the service desk or bag drop area and is stored on the tag for each flight until the customer reaches their destination. The airline’s RFID-enabled baggage handling systems determine where to send the bag based on the flight details programmed onto the tag. The tag also allows bags loaded on the aircraft to be located faster should they need to be removed, says the airline.
The Q Bag Tags have been designed by Australian industrial designer Marc Newson who is the airline’s creative director, responsible for Qantas’ Airbus A380 interior product and Qantas First lounges amongst other things. The Q Bag Tags will be issued free of charge to the airline’s platinum, gold or silver frequent flyer members, with the cards available for purchase – at a cost not yet revealed by the airline – from early 2011 by Qantas Club members, bronze frequent flyers and non-frequent flyer passengers.
Security issues have been addressed at every stage of the new process, Qantas says. The process was designed to meet all current security requirements and government regulations, says Qantas. This includes a three-way match of valid booking, boarding pass and bag tag information before a bag is accepted at an auto bag drop facility. The bag drop also features intrusion detection systems which raise alarms when the virtual wall of light surrounding the baggage acceptance area is broken: “whether by a small child’s hand or a rogue bag attempted to be thrown onto the conveyor,” says Qantas. The system then requires manual intervention by a Qantas customer service agent to continue, says the airline. In addition, the new Qantas Card features an in-built security mechanism preventing it from being copied by a third party. In addition, it is a condition of the use of the new Qantas cards that you declare any dangerous goods you are carrying before you check-in, either online or through a customer service agent at the airport.
Next Generation Check-in was first introduced at the domestic terminal of Perth Airport in Western Australia, with a trial launched in July 2010. A group of 100,000 Qantas Frequent Flyers who regularly travel through Perth were invited to take part. “Perth is a very important market for Qantas and the recent A$75 million (US$74m) upgrade of our domestic terminal made it the perfect choice to launch this trial phase of the project,” Joyce said at the time of the trial launch. Perth passengers also benefit from a new priority security lane featuring improved preparation areas and new walk-through equipment to support faster processing through the screening area, says the airline.
Implementation at Perth was followed in November by its introduction at Sydney’s T3 domestic terminal. Perth features 33 kiosks, including three in the Qantas Club, while Sydney has 52, including four in the Qantas Club and domestic business lounge.
The rest of the network is set to follow this year, with Melbourne scheduled to go live before these words are read, Brisbane to follow in the southern autumn, and Adelaide and Canberra to be added from around mid-year. The whole programme is scheduled be completed in the second half of 2011.
Qantas anticipated that platinum, gold and silver frequent flyers would receive their Next-Generation Check-in launch kits, comprising their new Qantas card and Q Bag Tag by early 2011. These kits are being prioritised based on travel frequency through Next Generation airports, says the airline.
So far, passengers have reacted well to the new system, says Qantas. “We have had an extremely positive reaction from our customers as they experience the new technology,” says the airline, particularly due to the faster processing. “For our frequent flyers who use their Qantas Card at a Q Reader, check-in can now be completed in five seconds – a significant reduction in check-in time. Next-Generation Check-in technology is also delivering speed and ease for baggage check-in, with the new Auto Bag Drop process effectively eliminating queuing for and significantly reducing the amount of time required to check in a bag,” says the airline.
The first two airports to experience Next-Generation Check-in have also responded well to the technology, says Qantas, despite the fact the infrastructure, technology and process changes have been significant. “Both Perth and Sydney Airport teams have embraced delivering the new experience and are seeing benefits in terms of customer flow through the terminal, reduced queuing and the increased opportunity to deliver a more proactive, personalised service to our customers,” says the airline.
Next-Generation Check-in is part of the airline’s Airports of the Future initiative, which is designed to speed up and simplify the check-in process. “Our research with our domestic customers has told us that airport check-in today is nothing less that ‘a point of pain’,” says Joyce. He adds: “Check-in takes too long, it causes too much stress. Our customers know what they want – speed and ease.”
While the initial focus in the programme has been on delivering a domestic product, Qantas says it is: “constantly reviewing opportunities to extend the technology and value of new products to other markets.”
It also says while other airlines have introduced elements of the process, for example, mobile check-in, self-tagging kiosks and self bag drop, it believes it is the only carrier to have taken: “a complete end-to-end view of delivering speed and ease to customers, removing key points of pain, in particular with respect to queuing for bag drop”.