IATA’s Fast Travel program continues to move forward, but hurdles to speedy implementation remain, reports Charles Tyler
Overcoming hurdles

The Fast Travel program—part of IATA’s Simplifying the Business (StB) initiative—provides self-service options in six areas of a passenger’s journey prior to boarding the aircraft. In doing so, it creates more choice for the passenger and a better travel experience.

Of the six projects within the IATA Fast Travel Program, the three considered to be most important are self-check-in, self-flight rebooking, and self-bag tagging.

The latter is a continuing issue in the European Union.

All in all, Fast Travel is steadily moving ahead and is on target to meet IATA’s vision of having 80% of global passengers being offered a complete range of self-service applications by 2020

Baggage tags have to have two green stripes on them for intra-European or international flights originating from an EU airport. In this way, customs officials can easily see that a bag started its journey within the European Union.

“In March 2015, we trialed a new scheme and discussions are ongoing with the EU for approval,” says Paul Behan, IATA’s Head of Passenger Experience.

He explains that the new system has monochrome bag tags: those originating from EU airports have the main body of the tag black, with the details reversed out in white, while flights from other airports have the details printed in black on white.

The United States had already largely resolved the problem. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has approved all forms of tagging (whether home-printed, e-tags or others), making self-tagging a reality across North America.

But an airline agent still has to accept the bags for a visual inspection and check that the tags are correct before activating the bag.

Regulatory hurdles

While the EU announcement is a positive step, specific stumbling blocks to some Fast Travel initiatives remain.

A case in point is Indian regulation concerning electronic boarding passes, says Behan. “Indian regulations require the airport agent to put a red stamp on a paper boarding pass, so airlines have to produce a paper version at the airport for any passengers with an e-boarding pass,” he says.

“We are working with the Indian authorities to see how this can be changed. Airlines are promoting a provision to the regulations so that when the electronic barcode is scanned it validates it at the airline level, which provides better information than you get under today’s system.”

Beyond regulations, resource allocation continues to restrict development. “The main issue in implementing Fast Travel is the time it takes for airports to install the equipment, which can make the time to market long in some cases,” says Stephanie Smitt Lindberg, Vice President, Customer Journey, SAS.

SAS has found, however, that airports have become increasingly willing to install self-service equipment. “We have noticed an attitude shift at airports recently,” Lindberg says. “We previously had to buy our own equipment, such as turnstiles, and install this at the airports. Nowadays, the airports are installing the infrastructure so that all airlines can share it.”

Good education

Aside from airports, Lindberg points out that in some countries there is a resistance from passengers to adopt the self-service approach. But equally, she says, some staff still need to be educated on the benefits of self-service.

“Our shift towards more self-service has driven efficiency, and I expect we will see job descriptions changing and staff will be able to assist with other things than taking boarding passes,” says Lindberg. “For example, they may be required to service passengers that need special help along the way.”

Bret Ranoa, Senior Director, Airport Customer Service, at Hawaiian Airlines, which was the first North American carrier to achieve IATA Platinum status for Fast Travel, agrees. “Historically, the airline business has had the same customer service model since the 1980s—very transactional,” he says. “Our focus on the customer service experience is to now to have agents roaming, greeting, and assisting guests in the lobby. We also believe that our commitment to Fast Travel will bring a consistent, reliable, and efficient check-in guest experience.”

Ranoa also thinks that education of passengers is key to getting more to discover the benefits of self-service, and admits the United States has lagged behind in some respects in this area. “Here in the US, we are late-adopters to self-boarding, and it takes time to help educate guests on the new process,” he says. “We have trialed self-boarding in Honolulu with mixed results, whereas in Japan, I watched a Japanese airline self-board a Boeing 777 in minutes—largely because its customers understood the process perfectly.

“We are in the process of changing not only the functionality but also the look and feel of our airport lobby spaces, in direct response to technology advancements and self-service,” says Ranoa. “We believe self-service will allow Hawaiian Airlines to alleviate some of the stress and provide the guests with a process that is easy and intuitive.

“Of course, we understand that we still have to assist our guests in knowing what to expect, and we try to make our self-service applications very intuitive and easy to use. We are consistently looking at ways to interact with guests earlier in the process, so that they are comfortable with the experience. Communication is key for the guests, and we understand that.”

International limits

One vast market that is progressing well with the implementation of self-service is China. IATA’s Behan says that for domestic passengers, the implementation of self-service applications has been very progressive, and that self-tagging of bags is already being offered.

However, challenges remain for international flights to and from China, where there are still limitations on what passengers can do for themselves. IATA is working with the Chinese authorities to implement clear standards and procedures.

All in all, Fast Travel is steadily moving ahead and is on target to meet IATA’s vision of having 80% of global passengers being offered a complete range of self-service applications by 2020.

“IATA’s Fast Travel program allows the entire industry to follow the standards and best practises that allow travelers to reap benefits from technology, regardless of what airline they are flying or where they are in the world,” says Hawaiian’s Ranoa.

“We believe that self-service gives our guests the ability to choose a form factor in which they are comfortable,” he says. “Some of our guests enjoy the one-on-one experience with our ticketing agents, but over 70% prefer to use technology, which allows them to move seamlessly through the airport and on to the boarding gate.”