How self-service kiosks are changing air travel

It’s been 20 years since self-service kiosks arrived in airport departure halls. Now the latest versions are using biometrics and robotics to enhance the passenger experience.

Having first appeared as a trial for Air Alaska in 1997, self-service kiosks have evolved into much more than just a means for self-service check-in.

Now airside as well as landside, they can be used for bag tagging, lost baggage tracking, flight transfers, and border control. They are also a way to pay for flights, upgrades, meals, and even media downloads for the flight.

But SITA, which provides IT and telecommunications services to the air transport industry, says there’s much more to come from its kiosk technology.

Facial scanning

Soon passengers will be able to use kiosks that capture their biometrics via a facial scan at the first touch point in the journey.

Once checked against the passenger’s travel documents, a secure single token is created. Whether it’s at self bag drop, at border control or aircraft boarding, facial scanning removes the need to show a passport or boarding card.

The system also integrates with government systems and databases, allowing integrated immigration and border checks. Air New Zealand passengers were the first to use the SITA technology in a trial at Brisbane Airport in March.

Robotic kiosks

As well as the first walkthrough airport experience, SITA is working on kiosks that can be deployed where and when they are needed most.

This is particularly important during periods of disruption when additional kiosks may be needed airside to check in large numbers of rebooked passengers.

That’s resulted in the creation of KATE, an intelligent, robotic check-in kiosk that will give airports and airlines much greater flexibility. Multiple robotic kiosks can be automatically or manually deployed simultaneously and in formation to help passengers.

Rico Barandun, portfolio director at SITA, said IT has changed air travel out of all recognition: “The humble kiosk has been a key part of that change, and it is now evolving further. So next time you see a handful of kiosks moving by themselves around the airport, don’t be surprised.”