Board your flight by mobile phone
By Andrew Baxter
Published: May 14 2007 03:00 | Last updated: May 14 2007 03:00
Ubiquitous and well entrenched as mobile phones may be, some potential uses have yet to catch on in a big way. Such is the case with mobile check-in at airports.
A passenger survey at the end of last year by the International Air Transport Association (Iata) found only 2 per cent of respondents had checked in via an SMS (text message) on their mobile phones.
But that number looks certain to rise as more airlines introduce mobile check-in - those that already have are as enthusiastic aboutthe service as are theirpassengers. "To have your boarding pass on your mobile should be something that really excites the customer," says Patrice Ouellette, Air Canada's director of customer service platform, e-commerce.
Last June the airline launched mobile check-in for customers on domestic flights without baggage. In the next few weeks, it plans to start pilot testing an "E-Boarding passes" service, in which 2D barcodes would be sent directly to mobile devices of customers checking in at Montreal for domestic flights. The customer would then scan their device at an airport kiosk and proceed to security.
Elsewhere, mobile check-in has established a foothold in countries where mobile users have been keen to try innovative or experimental services. Finland and Japan are two good examples.
In October 2004 Finnair claimed a first in international air travel when it launched SMS check-in for frequent fliers. Customer feedback has been extremely positive, it says, reflecting the fact that the airline takes a proactive approach - it sends a text message and the customer needs only to reply.
In Japan, mobile phones can be used as part of Japan Airlines' "Touch and Go" system, which was developed in-house for use on domestic routes, and introduced in February 2005. The system allows IC (integrated circuit) cardholders to board domestic flights without a physical ticket or boarding pass.
The number of Touch and Go users has been steadily increasing since the system was introduced, says Ko Yoshida, JAL's vice-president for domestic marketingplanning, and has already run into millions. Users tend to be individual business travellers.
At rival airline ANA, check-in via computer or mobile phone has been possible for two years for domestic flights, and if the phone has an RF (radio frequency) chip it can used to pick up a boarding pass from a self-service kiosk at the airport.
Last August, the airline introduced an enhancement known as Skip, allowing passengers who have paid for their tickets and reserved their seats - using their computer, mobile phone or at a travel agent - to skip check-in. Skip is used by 10,000-15,000 customers a day.
Individual airlines have taken the initiative on these developments and are pushing for an industry standard that would help widen the usage of mobile check-in.
Iata says this is a major activity for its barcoded boarding pass (BCBP) team this year - currently North America, the European Union and Japan each have a preferred 2D barcode to use on mobile phones for ticketing and other applications, and the challenge will be to agree one global standard.
There are other obstacles, too. The biggest challenge, says Finnair, is the airport authorities' requirements for paper boarding passes at the airport service points.
"In Finland, the airport authorities and customs have accepted our text message confirmation as proof of travel," says the airline. "At most of the airports in the world that is not the case." Air Canada, meanwhile, is working with Canadian authorities on its Montreal "E-Boarding passes" pilot.
Finnair notes other provisos. Mobile devices must contain the required features by default, removing the need for customers to install software. Secondly, multimedia message service (MMS) provide a method to deliver a 2D barcode to a customer but says roaming pricing, in particular, can be "a real killer."
This is the latest in a series on innovations for air travellers.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007