by James Hutchinson

Jetstar targets lean, self-service flying

May 23, 20114 mins
Technology Industry

Jetstar has progressed with plans to sideline the traditional flight check-in counter, overhauling the boarding process to include automated check-ins and new self-service kiosks.

The low cost airline has extended the SMS check-in service available since 2009 to include the boarding process, allowing flyers to opt for an automated check-in at time of booking. The new capability, rolled out across all airports, would send the boardin pass 24 hours ahead of the flight by either email or an SMS message, as well as baggage tags for printing and attachment themselves.

On boarding, those using the check-in process would be able to scan their mobile phone for the boarding text included in the email or SMS message. Jetstar CIO, Stephen Tame, told CIO Australia the company had dismissed the 2D ‘Mcode’ barcode standard used by competitors including parent airline Qantas, as it required a WAP-enabled phone with a data plan.

The decision to use an SMS standard allowed the airline to target some 99.9 per cent of mobile phone users, and potentially increase the rate of automatic check-ins at terminals with typically low self-service rates, such as the Hamilton Islands.

The SMS technology, developed by Melbourne-based Sissit Group in cohort with IBM, incorporates textual optical character recognition technology Tame said wasn’t capable two years ago.

“The units themselves are taking real-time video of the phone as the phone is put into the unit, it’s then taking frames out of that real-time video and then from those frames, it’s analysing it through a set of algorithms, OCR of the text on the mobile phone’s screen,” he said.

The technology, powered by either standard 240-volt power or an eight-hour marine battery, incorporates a 64-bit dual core processor running at full rate during scanning.

“You could have done this ten years ago if you had a mainframe at every airport, but you can’t,” Tame said.

Success rates averaged 93 per cent of mobile phones scanned during recent trials of the system, at a period of around three seconds for each scan. The airline has worked with Sissit Group on improved algorithms that would decrease the scan time to an average two seconds per mobile and a targeted success rate of 95 per cent.

Jetstar staff at terminal gates have also been equipped with netbooks which communicate with the SMS scanner via Bluetooth, and then back to the airline’s core systems via 3G at all times. The booking manager and self-tagging systems were developed by another Melbourne-based firm, Vedaleon, which counts six staff among its members which were largely previously employed by Ansett.

The number of those using self-service check-ins during the trial had increased overall by ten per cent, in addition to the 75 per cent of Jetstar customers who already use self-service check-ins.

“The full implementation of our self service initiatives is anticipated to boost uptake of self-service options closer to 100 per cent across our network,” Jetstar chief executive, Bruce Buchanan, said in a statement.

The technology overhaul, which has taken place since the beginning of the year, has been part of the low-cost airline’s ploy to reduce customer reliance on traditional check-in counters. To further encourage use of self-service counters, the company has flagged it would begin to charge those using the counters from 1 November this year, though Tame said the company was yet to set a specific levy.

“We’ve given the passengers all the choice they need,” he said. “The suggestion would be at such stage that we have the solution in place and mature… we’ll then have a look at the cost of having a counter service would be.”

Tame himself only counts five staff remembers as direct reports, having almost completely outsourced his entire IT portfolio to a stable of 12 Indian and Australian-based integrators.

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