Beyond Passbook: is BA's automated check-in the next big thing?

By John Walton, September 28 2012
Beyond Passbook: is BA's automated check-in the next big thing?

Apple's integrated electronic boarding pass app Passbook is all the rage among airlines -- but what about business travellers with Android, Windows or BlackBerry smartphones?

British Airways thinks it has the answer: an automated system where the airline checks you in, assigns your seat and issues you with an electronic boarding pass without your lifting a finger or logging onto a website.

The system is being rolled out as a trial for "selected passengers" from certain French airports to the UK, so a few AusBT readers may find themselves accidentally testing the tech.

BA chooses your seat: but which seat?

There's one pitfall in having a computer assign seats for you: there's no guarantee that the seat you nominated as part of your booking process will be the ones you have after the computer steps in.

Yes, I'd like this seat, not something in the middle down the back.
Yes, I'd like this seat, not something in the middle down the back.

Australian Business Traveller asked British Airways how seating allocations would work in the trial, but an airline spokesperson was unable to provide details.

BA tells us that travellers will be able to change their seat -- "it will always be a choice for people to opt for an automated check-in service. If they opt in and subsequently wish to change the seat allocated, they will be able to do so," said the spokesperson -- but couldn't say when, where or how the seat shuffle would take place.

"In the future, it is our vision to allow passengers to store details of their seat preferences - to allow the automated check-in facility to provide best available seat according to personal preferences," the spokesperson promised.

Actually stopping at a check-in desk could be a thing of the past...
Actually stopping at a check-in desk could be a thing of the past...

Overall, it's a good idea...

BA isn't the first airline to trial automated checkin -- Jetstar will check you in automatically it for domestic flights in Australia, NZ and Japan, Lufthansa has been using it since the beginning of the year within Europe's Schengen Area, and several international low-cost carriers allow you to check-in weeks in advance of a flight, sometimes at the booking stage.

But BA's is the first time it's been used internationally by a major full-service airline. It's useful for frequent flyers, who may well be busy in the office the instant check-in opens, and who do have the ability to request seats well in advance.

We also reckon that the convenience of being automatically checked in for a short hop like Sydney-Melbourne outweighs possibly getting stuck in a seat that's not your preferred sort.

That said, we'd like to think that frequent flyers and people on more expensive tickets would be automatically sorted into the best seats.

However, for longer flights we're less keen on  computer-assigned seating -- especially in British Airways' unique forwards-backwards style Club World business class, where there are some great seats but some that involve window passengers vaulting like a gazelle/hippopotamus over a sleeping aisle neighbour.

Ditto in economy, where we like to snag an exit row seat or find a seat with a spare spot next to us wherever possible.

Would you use automated check-in? And if not, why not? Have your say in the comments box below.

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John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

12 Jul 2011

Total posts 75

Personally, I think I'd rather visit a check-in kiosk and get a good seat than end up in 25A (on a 738). But once they've sorted that process out, it'll be ideal!

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 665

Yeah, I'd love to see some automated way to swap seats, via the airline's app or something like receiving a MMS with the available seat map and then texting back the seat you want.

We'll definitely be keeping an eye on how this goes!

Qantas - Platinum One

18 Jan 2011

Total posts 82

I think this is an inevtiable step for airlines to take, particularly for domestic flights - In fact, it often puzzles me when looking at Qantas' Next Gen check-in "poles" at the airport - if it's as simple as swiping your FF card, why bother with that step at all?

Just send the boarding pass in the same PDF as the invoice at the time of booking and be done with it?

Bag drop would still seem to be compatible with this process - you'd just use your FF card or boarding pass to associate your bag with your ticket and off it goes - why are there still kiosks?

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 526

Being a slight control freak I think I prefer to have control of checking in and seat allocation.....

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