Lufthansa Launches Limited Wireless Check-In

German airline Deutsche Lufthansa AG last week launched a mobile check-in service at 70 airports for frequent-flyer passengers who have bought electronic tickets and are equipped with cell phones that support the Wireless Access Protocol (WAP).

Lufthansa is the latest in a string of airlines that are rolling out some form of wireless check-in capabilities in an attempt to streamline the boarding process that travelers face. For example, American Airlines Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas, this month said it plans by year's end to roll out a mobile check-in service aimed at speeding up the boarding of flights at three major U.S. airports.

Indianapolis-based American Trans Air Inc. and St. Paul, Minn.-based Northwest Airlines Corp. are also offering similar services. And Zurich-based Swissair AG made wireless check-in capabilities available to a limited number of its passengers last December, although one of its executives this month said the airline doesn't plan to expand the service at this point.

The service that Lufthansa began offering last Monday will also be limited in scope at first. A spokesman for the Frankfurt, Germany-based airline said the WAP service can only be used at the 70 airports at which Lufthansa offers electronic tickets. That includes 14 airports in North America, with the rest located in Europe.

In addition, passengers who want to use the wireless check-in service must be members of Lufthansa's frequent-flyer program. The airline said users can choose their seats in any class of service via their cell phones and then check in electronically up to 18 hours ahead of their scheduled flight times. Lufthansa has offered wireless flight information since March and developed the check-in technology internally.

Meanwhile, Dan Black, director of e-commerce systems at United Air Lines Inc.'s United NetWorks division, said the Chicago-based airline is also exploring remote systems that would offer passengers a completely paperless check-in process. But, he added, "how we are going to do that, we don't know."

Potential methods include delivery of a bar-coded boarding pass to the screen of a traveler's WAP phone or the use of smart cards or frequent-flyer cards with magnetic strips, Black said. United NetWorks is part of a new e-commerce subsidiary, called United NewVentures, that United created last month.

Black said the wireless capabilities being deployed by Lufthansa and other airlines "should help customers speed up the check-in process." But it's difficult to devise a paperless check-in system for international flights because of the requirements to match passenger boarding information with baggage data, he added. "We'll get closer to true contact-less check-in within a country before we get to it internationally," Black said.

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