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Billund Airport: Pioneering self-service

Posted: 18 February 2013 | Anders Nielsen, Vice President, Project and Development, Billund Airport | No comments yet

When it comes to air travel, efficient passenger flow through the airport is crucial for both a positive passenger experience, and efficient use of airport resources. Self-service check-in for seats solved part of the issue, but the efficiencies are lost if you have to stand in a queue to check-in your baggage once you get to the airport. At Billund Airport we tackled this issue with an innovative home-printed bag tag solution, which allows travellers to print and attach their baggage tags before they get to the airport.

Billund Airport is the second largest airport in Denmark. While it was initially constructed to serve the near-by headquarters of the LEGO Company, one of the world’s largest toy companies, today our aim is to become one of the leading airports in Northern Europe in terms of service for passengers and airline companies.

As proof of our commitment to that aim, in September 2012 Billund Airport became the world’s first airport to launch a home-print bag tag solution, allowing charter passengers to print their baggage tags at home together with their boarding card. The new system means pass – engers avoid having to queue when checking in their baggage, making life easier for passengers and airport check-in personnel.

When it comes to air travel, efficient passenger flow through the airport is crucial for both a positive passenger experience, and efficient use of airport resources. Self-service check-in for seats solved part of the issue, but the efficiencies are lost if you have to stand in a queue to check-in your baggage once you get to the airport. At Billund Airport we tackled this issue with an innovative home-printed bag tag solution, which allows travellers to print and attach their baggage tags before they get to the airport.

Billund Airport is the second largest airport in Denmark. While it was initially constructed to serve the near-by headquarters of the LEGO Company, one of the world’s largest toy companies, today our aim is to become one of the leading airports in Northern Europe in terms of service for passengers and airline companies.

As proof of our commitment to that aim, in September 2012 Billund Airport became the world’s first airport to launch a home-print bag tag solution, allowing charter passengers to print their baggage tags at home together with their boarding card. The new system means pass – engers avoid having to queue when checking in their baggage, making life easier for passengers and airport check-in personnel.

The feedback we’ve received from travellers so far has been very positive as passengers save time at check-in. In the first month since launch, around 17 per cent of our charter passengers have used the system. We want to get that figure up to 35-40 per cent in the near future and hopefully close to 100 per cent in the long-term.

As Billund is a smaller regional airport with 2.7 million passengers per year, most of the business processes are completed in house, in particular handling, and Billund can therefore take full benefit in optimising all the systems relevant to the passenger process.

How it works

It’s all about convenience and saving time. When passengers print out both their boarding pass and baggage tags at home, they can avoid waiting in queues at the airport.

During the online check-in process, pass – engers are asked if they have any bags to check-in and whether they want to print the bag tags. They can print tags for up to nine bags. The bag tag numbers are added to the boarding pass so bags can be tracked if missing. They then fold the A4 sized printed paper to a bag tag and fit it into a reusable plastic bag tag holder provided by the airport.

We have a dedicated express bag drop counter for passengers who have printed their boarding passes and bag tags, and all they have to do is present their boarding passes and drop off their pre-tagged luggage.

Strong technology and industry partnerships key to innovation

Development of the new service took place in close collaboration with the airport’s IT services provider, Unisys, and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The solution is in line with IATA’s ‘Bags ready-to-go’ project1, part of its Fast Travel Initiative, to enable passengers to deliver their bags tagged and ready for acceptance by an airline check-in agent or at a self-service bag drop.

Unisys worked with the airport over a three-month period to develop and design a bag tag that, like a boarding pass, passengers could print at home or the office before going to the airport. It was trialled on charter passengers in collaboration with Thomas Cook Airlines during May 2012. In September 2012 it was made available to all charter passengers hosted in the airport’s local check-in system from Unisys.

A key goal in IATA’s New Simplifying the Business Program is to be “hassle free”, which recognises that the biggest bugbear for pass – engers today is the hassle associated with airport processes and controls. IATA’s goal is to move as many steps as possible away from the airport.

For baggage check-in, IATA’s ideal future scenario is for passengers to be able to drop their baggage off even before they reach the airport. It identified that one of the interim steps was to have the bag tagging process completed before the passenger reached the airport, through factory in-built, or airline supplied, permanent baggage tags or simply home-printed baggage tags, as such processes could enable a much faster and simpler bag drop experience. At Billund Airport we have already achieved that interim step.

Programme of continuous improvement

The home-printed bag tag is just the latest project under a passenger facilitation programme, established in 2007 to streamline passenger check-in processes at the airport.

Unisys was engaged at this time as the prime contractor and systems integrator for the programme, which has since included implementation of:

● A local Departure Control System

● Fast and common bag drop

● Internet check-in platform

● Self-service check-in kiosks.

The programme has helped the airport expand its capacity – it’s now able to handle more pass – engers than ever before. Passenger processing has been streamlined with more than 85 per cent of passengers using self-service check-in, up from less than five per cent in 2007. It has also allowed the airport to offer easy-to-use check-in services for more airlines, including charter and low-cost airlines, making Billund an attractive alternative to other airports.

Likewise, all boarding passes are scanned at security. We therefore have valuable information on whether the passenger is in the departure area, making the no-show problem at boarding much easier to handle.

The benefits

During the process of developing self-service products for our guests and airlines, it has been very important for us to see each product as stand-alone and as important part of the entire self-service chain. Given that Billund Airport controls all of its passenger processes, we see it as one step in a hassle-free journey.

Many partners, airlines and other interested airports have asked us the benefits of the project and how much money it saves. We choose to see each product and each project as a benefit for the whole passenger process in the airport. That includes less queue time for the passenger and a higher level of service. Both parameters help to increase the sale to our passengers in our shops and restaurants.

However, if I look on the hard facts of passenger handling during the last five years, the benefits also speak for themselves. In 2008, 2.5 million passengers travelled through the airport. To deal with those passengers, passenger handling used around 199,000 working hours.

In 2012, 2.7 million passengers passed through the airport, and despite the rise, the number of passenger handling working hours had decreased to 185,000. The average queue time for passengers at the check-in/bag drop desks has been reduced by 50 per cent. The longterm benefits are hence, very clear.

Self-service: the key for the future

With the vast majority (more than 85 per cent) of Billund Airport’s passengers already checking-in online or at a self-service kiosk, the home-print bag tag was a logical step as it allowed baggage to be checked in via a similar process.

The rise of this self-service culture is not just about moving processes online, it has actually changed the way we expect to be able to find and consume information, products and services. For example, the way we research our illnesses online, comparing product features and prices and ultimately making purchases, the way we receive documentation such as boarding passes, and the way we complete processes ourselves that previously required a specialist to do on our behalf, such as bank transfers or booking a flight.

These self-service processes have con – tinuously extended deeper into the air travel cycle – from online flight reservations in the 1990s through to today’s passenger and baggage check-in kiosks.

This self-service approach offers great convenience to air travellers, allowing them to book and buy at any time of day and avoid long check-in queues at the airport. Similarly, they help airlines and airports reduce costs and speed passenger flow.

One of the latest surveys (2) indicates that passengers want to be in control of the processes. They can achieve a more hassle-free journey because the uncertainty of time at queuing up has been almost eliminated.

Will self-service replace the human element?

In a service-oriented industry such as air travel, can you really afford to convert all processes into self-service online, mobile or kiosk activity? Does doing this lose the human connection with the customer?

In my view, the growth of self-service frees up resources to allow both airlines and airports to develop new services dedicated to the customer and improving their experience – particularly via real-time interaction. The human element is about being personalised – it does not necessarily have to be in person.

IATA’s Simplifying the Business Program3 identifies real-time and contextualised comm – unication between airlines and their customers as a key goal for 2020 for its potential to transform the passenger travel experience.

This involves being able to contact customers – even after they have started their journey – with proactive messages (such as to advise a disruption or offer a special service) as well as allowing the passenger to request relevant real-time information when needed.

Of course, for customers to have easy access to real-time airline data, particularly at airports, requires connectivity such as Wi-Fi, which incidentally, is free in Billund Airport.

Mobile technologies can also enable new face-to-face services such as roving check-in agents using tablet computers to run mobile check-in applications, meaning they’d be able to pull passengers who are running late out of the check-in queue to check them in on the spot, or being able to meet passengers at the airport’s bus stop to check them in before they enter the airport.

Such solutions require cooperation across the whole value chain, including airports. But ultimately real-time interaction will enable the personalised relationship that all parties need.

The key is to listen to passengers and find out what is important to them in a service. We knew baggage queues were an issue at the airport, so we came up with a solution that used relatively simple technology combined with passengers’ willingness to self-service, and removed the need to queue up. The possibilities are endless.

References

1. http://www.iata.org/pressroom/facts_figures/fact _sheets/pages/fast-travel.aspx

2. 2012 Passenger Self Service Survey, SITA and ATW, November 2012

3. IATA presents the New Simplifying the Business (StB) Program: http://www.iata.org/whatwedo/stb/ Documents/new-stb-program-final3-Oct%202012.pdf

Biography

As Vice President for Project & Development at Billund Airport, Anders Nielsen has been responsible for the development of the airport over the last 15 years.

Anders graduated as an architect from the School of Architecture in 1977 and has practised since then. He was employed by Billund Airport in 1988 and has since been responsible for many project developments, including a new main railway station near Copenhagen and a new ferry terminal in Elsinore. His responsibility today also stretches out to business development, strategy planning, sustainable development and IT solutions.

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