It’s a sight no traveler wants to see: long lines at an airport check-in counter. Realizing that customers yearn for convenience, Northwest Airlines is adding several industry firsts to its already impressive list of customer oriented technology initiatives.
“People don’t like long lines or a lack of information,” said Dirk McMahon, vice president, Northwest Ground Services. “New Northwest initiatives will help bust those lines while giving customers the information and control they need and deserve.”
Among the most exciting initiatives is Internet check-in. Northwest will be the first major network carrier to launch the service that will allow customers to complete their entire check-in process—including printing boarding passes—directly from their PCs. Customers who don’t need to check luggage can go to nwa.com and enter one of the following: a major credit card number, a flight confirmation number, or their WorldPerks number. From there, they can change their seat assignment, upgrade themselves (if fare and space allows), confirm their seat, print out their boarding pass directly from their PC, bypass all check-in lines at the airport, and go directly to the boarding agent. The agent will scan the bar code on the boarding pass, ask the customer for ID, and then it’s on to the plane.
Northwest will begin testing this new technology with a small number of corporate clients in March. Additional corporate clients will be added to the test group later this year and Northwest expects a full rollout to all customers by early 2001.
In addition to Internet check-in, Northwest is offering customers a number of other services designed to keep lines short and customers informed
Customer Rebook Hotline
The Rebook Hotline, an airline industry first, resembles an ice-cream cart. Actually, it is a portable bank of phones that can be wheeled directly to a gate if a flight is cancelled or connections are missed. A customer who picks up the Rebook Hotline automatically becomes the top priority with reservations agents, and has his or her call answered within seconds. Thanks to Northwest’s automated rebooking software, several thousand customers who have used the test device at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport found that they had already been rebooked on the next flight. For customers not already rebooked, reservations agents are able to quickly complete the process over the hotline. “The Rebook Hotline takes away the hassle and uncertainty. Now our customers don’t have to wait in line or worry about what flight they’ll be rebooked on,” said John Parker, vice president of Information Services for Northwest. “They’ll find out their new itinerary within moments.” By March, a total of 15 Customer Rebook Hotline carts will be in service—six each in Minneapolis/St. Paul and Detroit, and three in Memphis.
Portable Agent Workstations
In an effort to eliminate long lines, Northwest ticket agents in Minneapolis/St. Paul and Detroit are testing Portable Agent Workstations (PAWs). The PAW is a hand-held personal computer similar to those used by rental car companies. Customers can bypass waiting in long lines for the next available ticket agent, because the agent will come to the customer. With the PAW, agents can check in customers and give them their boarding passes. More than 3,000 customers have already been checked in using the PAW since testing began in December. Minneapolis/St. Paul and Detroit airports will each have 10 devices in service by the end of April. Northwest is the only major airline to have the hand-held devices.
Already a leader in airport self-service check-in technology—having logged over two million E-Service Center check-ins in 1999—Northwest will increase the number of airports offering E-Service Center kiosks from 20 to 35 by June, just in time for the busy summer travel season. During that same time, the airline will more than double the total number of machines - from 114 to 240.
“Customers who use the E-Service Centers say they’re as easy and convenient as an ATM machine,” said Al Lenza, vice president of Distribution Planning for Northwest.
Later this year, customers will use E-Service Centers to rebook themselves when a flight is cancelled. In addition, the E-Service Centers will advise customers of flight cancellations, offer alternate flight arrangements, make reservations and issue boarding passes for new flights selected by the customer. Customers who qualify will also receive a voucher from the E-Service Centers for Service Recovery packets; the packets include a phone calling card, amenity coupon and a dollars-off certificate to be used on future flights.
“We are pleased to offer our customers the convenience of self-service with E-Service Centers,” said Lenza. “Continuing to enhance the capabilities of our self-service devices makes the customer experience easier and more enjoyable, and that’s our main objective.”