We’re certainly not the first to question the viability of check-in kiosks, as early as 2012 there was talk of the check-in kiosk being under threat from online check-in. This being a response to Singapore Airlines’ removal of 24 units from Changi the year prior.
So why are we raising this point now? In recent years, we have seen air passenger carriers, such as Alaska Airlines and Qantas, pushing the adoption of online check-in, whilst replacing traditional check-in kiosks with bag tagging units. In our own research as part of the upcoming report, The Seamless Passenger Journey in Smart Airports – 2023, we will discuss how that, when available, online check-in is by far the most preferred method for customers and how this is incentivising the deployment of bag tag kiosks in an automated airport landscape that is beginning to recognise the increasing ROI of self bag drop units.
Check-in Kiosk or Bag Tag Kiosk?
Both airlines and airports have a role to play in how these two kiosk functionalities are developing. Some airlines, having the primary role here, are promoting web check-in and removing the ability to complete check-in at kiosks. Whereas airports, having to consider satisfying multiple airlines (some without web check-in facilities), opt to combine check-in and bag tag printing.
To show some examples, in 2023 Alaska Airlines, as part of a $2.5 billion project, replaced check-in kiosks with iPads that have the functionality to print bag tags. In 2022, Qantas announced that it was replacing roughly 140 Australian check-in kiosks with bag-tagging stations, although travelers will have the option to scan a QR code on the bag-tag kiosk and check in online to receive their digital boarding pass. Notably, in the same year, All Nippon Airways, as part of an effort to combat COVID-19 (by going contactless) and also boost adoption of its mobile app, removed 437 kiosks used for domestic flights across 51 airports. Although this wasn’t done in conjunction with the installation of bag tag units, the airline already utilizes self-bag drop units at a number of airports. This includes Narita, Haneda, Chitose and Fukuoka, which are all done as two-step processes. More recently (October 2023), Swiss International Airlines installed bag tag kiosks in Zurich that Edelweiss, Lufthansa, Austrian and Brussels Airlines also make use of, although nothing was removed or replaced in this instance.
In March of this year, Materna was chosen by Dusseldorf Airport to install a number of check-in and bag tag kiosks along with standalone bag tag kiosks and self-bag drop units. In June, Amadeus worked with JFK Terminal Four to implement its $1.5 billion transformation. This includes the installation 86 check-in and bag tag kiosks, along with 42 self bag-drop units. Both of these installations were of brand-new kiosks, meaning nothing was replaced in these installations.
Installations Continue Apace
As we see in the described Düsseldorf and JFK installations, check-in kiosks are still popular touchpoints across the world’s airports. In 2021 SITA installed 100 kiosks, alongside bag drop units, in Kuala Lumpur and in 2022, EASIER provided 110 kiosks to Groupe ADP (adding a further 75 this year). In June, this year, we saw Elenium install several new kiosks and bag drop units in Queenstown, New Zealand. Whilst August had SITA announce that it is supporting the continued demand of this touchpoint by upgrading 400 kiosks with payment and touchless functionalities across the Air-France-KLM group.
If we dig a little, we can see that check-in kiosks are, for now, an irrevocable element of the seamless journey. In regions with low smartphone penetration and/or poor internet connectivity, online check-in is made inaccessible to a lot of travelers. We must also consider demographic and cultural differences. Some groups, for example, may be confused by the online or mobile process and prefer a more traditional means of traversing the airport. In regions like the Middle East, there is very often a preference for a personal service and use of a manual check-in counter is expected.
But why are Some Kiosks Being Replaced?
So, the question remains, what will become of the familiar check-in kiosk? Well, just like other companies, airlines have different customers with differing needs, habits, and preferences… now they have a lot more options too. Some will continue to see the check-in kiosk as a valuable tool for passenger processing, while others will see it as less of an asset. If Alaska Airlines or Qantas can better understand the patterns and trends of their customers, they can then manipulate their operations to make the most of finite resources. As the majority of both airlines’ customers check in online, the companies leant into this. Using their knowledge of customers propensities, and with the limited space available at airports in mind, these airlines have moved check-in offsite and have improved the efficiency of the bag-drop process to increase the speed at which passengers are handled.
What does the Future Hold?
For some time we’ve all heard rumours told that Mobile will revolutionise airport passenger processing, but the check-in kiosk, at least for now, is not yet ready to be abandoned. Kiosks are more often being installed holistically with bag drops and other touchpoints in consideration, rather than just as a standalone element of the passenger journey to automate. Going forward, the role of the check-in kiosk will change into a primary enrolment point for seamless biometric journeys, bag tag printing, and will also increasingly feature the means to accept and process payments.
This sits in a wider discussion centred on the preference of one-step vs two-step bag drop processes, combined check-in/bag drop stations and the adoption of mobile/portable devices in airports, that will be continued in depth in our aforementioned report when it publishes in the new year.