Self-Service Brings a Smile

23 August 2007 (Last Updated August 23rd, 2007 18:30)

KLM was one of the early adopters of check-in kiosks. Now its common use self-service model has become globally adopted. Cees De Vos, director of KLM Systems Services, tells Nigel Ash the secret of its success.

IATA calculates that a 40% market penetration of common use self-service (CUSS) will save the airline industry $1bn a year, with an average saving of $2.50 per check-in. The improved staff productivity and reduction in counter requirements will feed through to airports via better management of the concourse, boosting the process flow for airlines and passengers.

Cees de Vos, director of KLM Systems Services is looking forward to the day when the conventional check-in desk exists only to solve the problems of passengers who cannot obtain their boarding cards from the internet, their mobile telephones or the self-service check-in kiosks at airports.

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport has been the test bed for KLM's self-service check-in (SSCI) kiosks, which de Vos is responsible for marketing to third parties as CUSS.

In 2003 he predicted that self-service check-in at Schiphol would hit 70% by March this year. "To be honest," he admits with a laugh, "we only hit 69.8%. I believe that by 2012 it will be around 85% to 90%. We think that internet check-in will probably take 60% of the total, with between 20% and 35% CUSS check-in at the airport and most of the rest by telephone or PDAs."

INCREASING SELF-SERVICE FLOW

Since KLM went live with SSCI in 2002, the software has gone through two releases a year. "The biggest problem we have," says de Vos, "is in identifying the passenger – matching the passenger and their itinerary when the names on a passport or a credit card are spelt differently." Different national typefaces with accents and diphthongs were sometimes hard to scan, and might in any event be transliterated on one of the items. There were also anomalies such as a wife travelling on her maiden name but maybe holding a credit card with her married name.

"Self-service check-in does not work unless you have people around to support the travelling public."

When KLM began using SSCIs the failure rate for this kind of problem was one in four check-ins. "We are now down to one in seven cases where we cannot match the identification with itinerary," says de Vos. "We are still improving and we are planning to grow towards one in nine."

However, SSCI systems still need staff behind them. "Self-service check-in does not work unless you have people around to support the travelling public," he explains. "You need an average of one of these people for every four or five kiosks. They try to solve the problem at the machine, and if that doesn't work we take the passenger to the conventional check-in counter."

He also warns that SCCI kiosk infrastructures only succeed if there are enough of them. "We started at Schiphol with eight, and it didn’t work because people didn't want to use them. You have to create volume and demand by having enough machines. We now have 60."

SELF-SERVICE INTEGRATION

CUSS even works in unlikely markets. De Vos recalls when he was talking with Mumbai Airport about setting up kiosks in support of KLM's partner, Northwest Airlines, local administrators warned him against it: "They said the Indian public was not ready for it, but more than 50% of passengers now use the system and it has been a great success."

However, de Vos warns that the rest of the boarding process has to be as smooth and trouble free as the check-in. "The real challenge for the future is to make sure that we haven't merely replaced the check-in queue with a hold-up at the baggage drop off. We are working on applications that support a swift and easy way to get rid of your suitcases."

Ironically, the rest of Air France KLM is not fully integrated. De Vos says that the internet check-in platform is common but that KLM was still working to integrate its SSCI with Air France's Gaetan departure control system. However, the two halves of the airline have jointly developed the new self-service transfer kiosks that went live at Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle in December 2006.