Airlines boost self-service technology spending

Airline are investing heavily in customer-oriented technology, despite the downturn forcing an overall reduction in IT expenditure, according to new research by SITA. This will lead to air travellers soon being able to trace their checked luggage at self-service airport kiosks, in a development that will use computer technology to boost customer service while cutting labour costs.

The spending on IT and telecommunications of the 116 carriers surveyed will drop to 1.7% of revenue this year, the lowest level since the post September 11 slump in 2002. The current downturn marks the first time since then that airline spending on technology posted a year-on-year decline, said SITA.Airlines have traditionally invested vast sums in computers and data systems to handle back-office tasks such as seat reservations and ticket pricing. However the focus began changing a decade ago with the rise of online bookings and a shift towards front-office investment.

Despite the cutbacks, passengers are seeing more self-service features. The SITA survey said that 60% of responding airlines now offer online check-in and 92% expect to offer the popular service within three years.

Mobile-phone services are a new growth area, with 38% of participating airlines saying they already offer notifications of flight status and delays via text messaging. Airlines are starting to use messaging to transmit encoded boarding passes directly to hand-held mobile devices, eliminating paper altogether.

SITA Chairman Paul Coby said: “We need to provide the technology to have the services people want.”

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One example of this, he said, is the baggage-tracing kiosk, to be rolled out later this year. Last month SITA demonstrated the unit, which will allow passengers to scan the bar codes on their luggage tags to learn the exact location of their bags. SITA says the device should allow travellers to report missing bags in less than two minutes. Today, it takes on average 45 minutes to report lost bags to an agent, according to SITA.

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