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ORD Added To 'Bypass Human Contact' List

Source: Archived Content

Date: Oct 23, 2000

United has added self check-in kiosks at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport which allows passengers who use electronic tickets to do the following:

  • Check themselves in for the flight.  The computer has been programmed to ask questions like, "Has your bag been with you at all times?"
  • Self-check their luggage.  They will receive a bag tag which then a "customer service representative provides assistance in the kiosk area to ensure proper check-in of bags."
  • Select their seat assignments.  They can also change their seats if they desire.
  • And surprise, surprise: request an UPGRADE by adding themselves to the upgrade list! 
  • They receive their actual boarding pass, like a subway token, directly from the machine.

These machines have already been installed and are in use in San Diego and Aspen.  The United manager of Airport Services Planning told Newsreal that "United still is exploring the full potential of self check-in, which ultimately could allow customers to change flights or obtain assistance during irregular operations."

Are these automatic check-in machines a good idea?  Their developers at United seem to think so, saying that they will reduce long lines and stress.  'In our NEWS' however, offers you the following thoughts:

  • Who is to say that long lines won't eventually develop at the machines themselves?  Anyone who has traveled to say, Paris, and tried to purchase a Metro ticket at one of their crowded machines ought to know exactly what I'm talking about.  Add to that: You have three machines installed and one breaks down, the lines and wait time will then increase and the passengers will become even more annoyed.
  • How will the machines be programmed to detect alcohol breath, slurred speech, or very suspicious behavior?  In other words, how will they be capable of basic human intuition?  Ask any cop about the effectiveness of human intuition.  Anyone, displaying any suspicious behavior or not, can answer a few simple questions displayed on a screen. Having a live person looking them straight in the eye, interacting with them in a actual conversation, etc..., increases the chance to spot potential trouble earlier on, before the passenger self-checks straight on to the plane and into our safety environment.
  • Machines can lead to corporate laziness.  This may not happen to United Airlines, but look around to see it's effects:
    • Corporate phone systems: Fewer company operators hired because of Voice Mail and all that automated nonsense, causing constant telephone tag, long navigations through computer menus, even longer waits on hold, and overall inefficiency.  Not to mention that more and more employees ignoring their phones and "letting the machine get it."
    • Overall poorer customer service: The more automated you become, the fewer frontline employees you need to pay.  One of the many problems with this is when unforeseen usability problems occur and there aren't enough people around to quickly remedy the customer's problem.  A good example is how the silly dot-com companies respond to online ordering around Christmas time.

In the early stages, I'm sure these machines will be a real timesaver.  It will be interesting to see what happens once more and more passengers learn how to use them.  Whatever the case, these computerized ticketing agents will do one thing very effectively: make our jobs even more valuable than ever.  Nothing, I mean, nothing can replace human contact with the customer.  If you haven't read Onboard Redesign yet, especially the last few paragraphs of the article, check it out to see what I mean.

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