Air Canada, IBM to market wearable ticketing kiosks

Air Canada and IBM last Friday announced that they are jointly selling wearable, wireless, mobile kiosks developed for the airline as part of an outsourcing agreement.

A 30-day pilot program using two ticketing agents wearing the devices at Lester B. Pearson International Airport in Toronto, the St. Laurent, Quebec-based airline's hub, was such a success with customers that the airline has revised its deployment plans, said Alice Keung, Air Canada's CIO and vice president of IT. Keung said the airline will put wearable kiosks in some airports where stationary kiosks were to be installed, but she acknowledged that the deployment plans aren't yet complete.

Keung also hopes that Air Canada will be as successful an IT vendor as it has been with the stationary kiosks. "What we have found is that with our current kiosk example, many other carriers have been approaching ourselves and IBM to get on the platform," she said.

Air Canada said it uses the mobile devices to avert "line-busting" during busy travel periods and to speed up checking in of passengers whose flights are getting close to the departure time. Agents wearing the devices also can more efficiently check in large groups of passengers and those with disabilities.

Marty Salfen, IBM's director for the Air Canada program, said travelers were chasing down ticketing agents with the wearable kiosks to get checked in.

The device can be worn as a belt or like a knapsack and has all the same functions as the standing kiosks Air Canada has been using at eight Canadian airports since 1998, Keung said. The stationary kiosks were also developed by IBM and have been sold to other airlines, including Chicago-based United Airlines Inc. Passengers can check in at a kiosk using a credit card or frequent-flier card for identification.

The wearable kiosks are connected to the Air Canada network over the 802.11b protocol, though both Salfen and Keung said there were additional layers of security and authentication added to the protocol to make it secure.

While both companies have co-marketed the stationary kiosks, this announcement is the first product to be sold as part of the seven-year, US$908 million outsourcing deal the two companies signed in July. Under the agreement, IBM will manage all of Air Canada's global IT operations. However, some development of new technology still takes place within the airline, Keung said.

The agreement also stipulates that Air Canada will be the first to use any new technologies that are developed and will be able to share in the profits of products sold to other airlines.

Air Canada pays nothing above the $908 million to invest in the new technology development, Keung said, but the proviso is that the airline must get a return on that investment through the marketing of new technology. The same rule generally applies for new technology developed in-house, she said.

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