Monday, June 8, 2009

Simplifying Air Travel

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - The cascade of glum financial news continued at the world's biggest civil aviation conference, on today's second and closing day.

Airline and airport executives, execs at industry vendors such as Airbus and Boeing and several hundred presslings - that's us journalists - heard insiders such as JetBlue Airways CEO David Barger say the New York carrier will take delivery of only three new planes this year, down from the 36 it thought it was ordering until recently. Blame the global economy for that.

But while the numbers are still bad in the travel business and well beyond it, innovations that will change the way we travel continue to be developed, recession or no.

One of the pet projects of the International Air Transport Association - holding its big annual general meeting here in Malaysia's capital -is called simplfying the business. This initiative led to the near-total disappearance of paper tickets in recent years, in favor of electronic tickets. That saved the airlines a bundle of money, and deeply cut back the use of paper - for them, anyway. Travelers, of course, still use paper when we print out our e-tickets.

Now, particpating airlines are promoting the use of airport kiosks to read two-dimensional check-in bar codes sent to travelers' mobile phones and even kiosks to self-tag your checked bags rather than have an airline employee do it. A prototype of this futuristic form of air travel has gone live at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, where it is in the early stages of testing by the public. Look for much more of this in years to come as automated and tightly integrated systems are rolled out in the world's busiest airports.

The thing these innovations have got in commom is that they encourage and enable travelers to Do It Yourself. That saves the airlines money - they don't have to pay employees to perform these tasks - and if the new systems work as advertised, they will save you a lot of time when you travel, cutting the precious minutes you have to spend in line.

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