Lufthansa advances automated check-in

In an effort to eliminate the pain involved in getting to the plane, Deutsche Lufthansa AG plans to automate the check-in process, with self-service baggage and e-ticket kiosks that the carrier says are the most advanced in the airline industry.

Joachim Frantzen, project manager for Lufthansa's self-service automation program, said that in May, the carrier will start installing check-in kiosks that will provide more functionality than the systems it started using in the late 1990s. The new kiosks will let a passenger with an e-ticket automatically check bags to a destination served by another carrier - called "interlining," in airline parlance - and include software rules that can determine baggage allowance and weights based on class of service and a passenger's frequent-flier status.

Lufthansa's goal, Frantzen added, is "one-stop" check-in, with the primary market for the new systems being "the business travelers, who want to get from the airport to the plane as quickly as possible."

Lufthansa plans to have the new kiosks operating this May in Munich. It will gradually add kiosks at other German airports throughout the year and will expand to airports in Newark, New Jersey, and Dulles, Virginia, as soon as it receives clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration.

By year's end, Lufthansa also plans to run a pilot program to automatically check passports, using systems that can read the bar codes or magnetic stripes on passports from the U.S. and many European countries. Alaska Airlines in Seattle and Northwest Airlines Inc. in Minneapolis have already deployed self-service baggage check-in, but only for domestic destinations.

Jackie Astleford, director of e-commerce at Northwest, said the carrier plans to "offer self-service kiosks with a passport reader in Japan this year," adding that Netherlands-based KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Northwest's European alliance partner, already operates automatic passport readers at the airport in Schiphol, The Netherlands. Northwest also plans to offer wireless check-in over iMode mobile phones in Japan in the first half of this year.

To provide baggage security, Lufthansa's automated baggage check-in system will include a scanner and scale that check the weight of the bags and the bar code on the baggage tag (applied by the passenger after it's issued by the kiosk) after the bags move down conveyor belts, making a match with check-in weight. Bags that don't make a match will be shunted aside.

"Self-service check-in is a no-brainer," said David Schehr, an analyst at Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut.

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