Online Check-In And Advanced Airport Kiosks

Online check-in isn't just a modest improvement in the way we travel; for some fliers, "it's nothing less than brilliant" of not having to queue up at the airport, you can now check in from your personal computer, print out a boarding pass and breeze past the waiting throng to the gate (stopping first, of course, to remove your shoes at security).

Even better, you can now take advantage of this convenience even if you are checking luggage, which you just drop off when you enter the terminal; most airline sites will be happy to take your bag fee ahead of time too.

Airport kiosks have been updated too, once used primarily for domestic flights and simple transactions, now at many terminals you can check in for international flights with these robot-like devices with the swipe of a passport. Some airlines, including Lufthansa, are testing a new type of kiosk that will print out meal vouchers and other documents for travelers delayed at major connecting hubs.

Mobile Boarding Passes

Perhaps it was inevitable that your iPhone or Blackberry would double as a boarding pass some day and that day is arriving sooner than you think. A number of airlines in the U.S., including American, Continental and Delta, are testing variations of this technology at airports around the US to begin with. Singapore Airlines says passengers can now check in for any flight from any location using their mobile phones, and even use it to perform tasks like changing a seat assignment. Several European airlines are getting into the act too. Not only can you check in online but you don't have to print out your boarding pass, just get it sent to your mobile, and flash the bar code as you waltz past security and gate agents to take your place on the plane ahead of the masses who haven't caught on to this gambit.

Self-Service Boarding Gates

Airlines may seem like flying buses these days but subway travel is more what comes to mind at some airport gates. Lufthansa now has "self-boarding" turnstiles at some of its gates at Frankfurt and Munich airports. What's the big deal? Apparently these gates greatly speed up the boarding process, which, as any experienced traveler knows, can be one of the most aggravating parts of the trip. SAS Scandinavian Airlines is also experimenting with self-boarding at its main hub in Copenhagen.

Express Baggage Check-in / Automated Luggage Tracking

Under a program developed by the airlines' international trade group called "Bags-Ready-To-Go," passengers can print out their own bag tags at the same time they get their boarding pass from either their computer or an airport kiosk then they can drop off their luggage at a counter or designated bag-drop location. As long as customers keep to the limits on weight and number of bags, it should be the proverbial breeze-at the very least, it'll spare you the long wait at a manned check-in counter.

Roving Airport Agents

Perhaps it's just a coincidence that the airlines have brought in their super-agents just as Congress was poised to hit them with a new passenger bill of rights. Whatever the motive, it's a recognition that there are some things that kiosks and cell phones can't do well - like showing empathy for a customer who's been stranded. Delta has brought back the "Red Coats" program, a '60s-era concierge type service that was disbanded four years ago. Hundreds of these crimson-jacketed agents are now roaming concourses in New York, Atlanta and at more than a dozen other major airports. The new agents are being drawn from within Delta's ranks but are paid more than other airport agents. Unlike their predecessors, they will carry hand-held electronic devices that can print boarding passes, and issue vouchers and passes to airport clubs.


Inflight Internet Access

Being able to access email and surf the net at 30,000 feet is, for some fliers, an enormous benefit for others, it's yet another intrusion into what was formerly the last place you could be free of interruptions from work calls or email. But the first camp seems to be winning out. Airlines are racing to wire their planes with internet capability, and airlines that are now offering this include American, Delta, US Airways, Alaska, Air Tran, and Virgin America . Emirates Airlines is allowing cell phones on a limited number of routes, and airlines including Air France and TAP Air Portugal are testing it as well.

Express Customs Clearance

A new "pilot program" from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection allows pre-approved, so called "low-risk travelers" expedited clearance when they arrive in the U.S. Once you clear the background check which includes an in-person interview with a Customs officer you can bypass long lines at the checkpoint when you get back from a trip abroad, using automated kiosks that will scan your biometric ID, such as a fingerprint. Once you've answered the standard declaration questions on the kiosk's touch-screen, you grab a receipt which allows you to exit the inspection area without further formalities. When you clear the kiosk, you can go straight to the baggage claim or head home. The service isn't free - there's a $100 sign-up fee - but it's available at 18 large airports in cities such as New York, Washington, D.C., L.A., Chicago, Atlanta, Houston and Miami.

Airport Take-Out And Dining

Jet Blue's new food court at its JFK terminal is more than just that - it's a high tech automat. The airline has touch-screen menus from all the restaurants in the terminal. Just choose what to eat, swipe your credit card and in minutes your food is delivered to you. Other airlines and airports are re-examining their food offerings as well, especially since a real meal these days is almost impossible to find aboard a domestic flight in coach class.

Stay updated with unique
travel ideas!