Alaska Airlines optimizes check-in process to save millions

Published on: 2015-02-05

As Fast Company notes in a recent article,

Moving customers from frustration to relief--in a fraction of the time--has been at the root of Alaska Airlines' Airport of the Future project. The carrier has spent more than a decade designing a better way to get customers through airport check-in, debuting the first iteration in its Anchorage terminal in 2004. Last October, the $3.3 billion carrier began rolling out its redesign in Seattle, where Alaska and its sister airline, Horizon, have almost 50% market share. The project, to be completed in May, has already reduced wait times and increased agent productivity. "People come to the airport expecting to stand in line," says Ed White, Alaska's VP of corporate real estate, who ran the project. "It's an indictment of our industry."

The Seattle design begins with a deep lobby where 50 kiosks are pushed to the front and concentrated in banks. "You need to cluster kiosks in the 'decision zones' where passengers decide what to do within 15 seconds," says airline technology expert Kevin Peterson. Alaska placed "lobby coordinators" out front, à la Disneyland, to help educate travelers. The 56 bag-drop stations are further back and arranged so that passengers can see security.

The results? During my two hours of observation in Seattle, an Alaska agent processed 46 passengers, while her counterpart at United managed just 22. United's agents lose precious time hauling bags and walking the length of the ticket counter to reach customers. Alaska agents stand at a station with belts on each side, assisting one passenger while a second traveler places luggage on the free belt. With just a slight turn, the agent can assist the next customer. "We considered having three belts," White says. "But then the agent has to take a step. That's wasted time."

Our take:

Whenever trying to explain what a "kiosk" is to people, we immediately go with the self-service check in terminal example.  People, regardless of age, gender or socioeconomic status, immediately know what they are, and why they're great.  Alaska Airlines has definitely taken the concept of better customer satisfaction through self-service to an extreme, but it's clearly working for them.  They expect their new terminal designs to "easily" last a decade, they cost about $25-$30 million to complete, and will produce cost savings well in excess of that over the life of the design.  To boot, they're faster and less stressful to customers (making them a big success all-around), easier on employees, and catch the attention of cool publications like Fast Company.  Aside from JetBlue, when was the last time you heard a business magazine lavish praise on an airline?

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