British Airways offers wireless check-in and seat selection

British Airways passengers can now check in and select seating using their mobile phones.
British Airways has been working with IBM to develop the application and is the first UK airline to allow frequent flyers to use WAP phones to check-in for flights out of the UK.
British Airways said it is the first airline to allow passengers to select their seat via a graphical seat map on their handset. The graphical seat map was based upon the seat map used in British Airways’ airport check-in kiosks. as well as look up flight availability and view up-to-the-minute flight arrivals and departures information for any British Airways flight.
The new WAP services is designed to bring several benefits to customers. With the wireless check-in application, passengers can avoid check-in lines at the airport. Customers can check seat availability on flights and can check real-time departures of their flights without being disrupted by a voice call.
Subscribers to the service will be able to check-in in the UK using the graphical seat selection tool on the WAP phone. One the passenger arrives at the airport, he or she collects their boarding pass from a self service kiosk in a matter of seconds, leave their luggage at the fast bag drop and go straight to the boarding gate, saving valuable time by avoiding check-in desk lines.
British Airways said the wireless transaction is made secure by using HTTPS to encrypt the data between the WAP gateway and the WAP server. The customer data is anonymous because identification is made through Executive Club membership number, and names are never transmitted.
The new British Airways service launch is part of a two-year strategic innovation contract with IBM worth $18 million in which British Airways will launch a range of IBM-developed mobile Internet services.
“This move signals the next phase of the airline’s e-commerce strategy designed to give our customers more choice and control. British Airways is breaking new ground yet again,” said Pat Gaffey, head of e-commerce at British Airways. “By next summer, potentially hundreds of thousands of our customers will be able to benefit from these revolutionary new WAP services. For the first time ever, passengers can manage their travel while on the move.”
The suite of wireless application is based upon an e-commerce platform introduced last February that integrates British Airways’ Web platform with existing computer systems such as reservations, departure control, flight information and the customer database. The addition of WAP services exploited existing data and applications from the Web channel, and added a presentation layer to allow information to be shown on a mobile phone.
IBM, which is a member of the WAP Forum, founded by Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola, and Unwired Planet to define the standard protocols for mobile services via cellular phone, will play an integral role in developing the airline’s e-commerce strategy, adding new Internet based customer service features and expanding capabilities across multiple digital channels including mobile phones, self-service kiosks and interactive television.
“We were able to build and integrate these first WAP applications very quickly and cost-effectively because we had already built an e-commerce platform with British Airways to support multiple contact channels,” said Mike Hulley, Vice President, IBM Global Travel and Transportation Industry. “We look forward to working closely with British Airways over the next two years to help them provide more innovative digital services for their customers.”
British Airways currently is working with IBM to develop an application that would allow passengers to book their flights using WAP phones. Further developments in WAP technology will enable British Airways to deliver enhanced personalization. For example, passengers could ultimately select their food and drink and a newspaper to read on their flight by WAP phone.
From the end of January 2001, all Gold and Silver Card Executive Club members will be eligible to use new subscription-based WAP check-in services, with Blue Card members following in the summer.
British Airways is tapping a potentially large market of mobile phone users. According to Forrester research, the number of regular mobile internet users in the UK is forecast to rise from 844,000 in 2000 to 4.35 million in 2001 and 7.7 million in 2002.
IBM has also helped other major airlines launch travel services on various mobile devices such as. IBM has helped Delta provide wireless access to flight and gate information and it has worked with Swissair to develop check-in via WAP phones.