SINGAPORE: Eight million passengers have travelled through Changi Airport’s Terminal 4 since it started operations a year ago.
For most of these passengers, the check-in and boarding process was more convenient and seamless - especially if the airlines they were travelling on had adopted the automated services offered by the airport.
Terminal 4 was developed as Changi Airport’s first passenger terminal to have a fully automated departure process - from check-in and bag drop at the departure hall, to immigration clearance and boarding.
The goal is to allow fast and seamless travel for passengers - and it is seeing results.
Changi Airport Group (CAG) has told Channel NewAsia that airlines that use the automated check-in and bag drop, process 20 to 30 per cent more passengers per hour.
For Cathay Pacific, automated boarding has helped to halve boarding time from 30 to 15 minutes.
And by allowing passengers to perform self check-ins it said that its employees can now focus on providing a better passenger experience.
"The time our passengers spend queuing has significantly shortened," said Cathay Pacific’s duty manager for airport operations Julie Ann Mabini.
"Passengers are now able to do check-in and bag drop themselves, and so we're now able to attend to those passengers who really require assistance, like the elderly, passengers requiring wheelchairs, and families with infants."
Low-cost carrier AirAsia told Channel NewsAsia that automation has also improved operational efficiency, leading to cost savings.
“It’s very much in line with our obsession with keeping flying affordable, not to mention allowing seamless travel,” it said in response to queries.
NOT ALL AIRLINES USING AUTOMATED SERVICES
But only half of the airlines that fly out of Terminal 4 have adopted these automated services.
Of the 12 airlines, only AirAsia (which operates four airlines), Cathay Pacific and Cebu Pacific Air provide automated check-in and bag drop. According to CAG, Korean Air will also be implementing these services by mid-2019.
The rest, Vietnam Airlines, as well as low-cost carriers Regent Airways, Spring Airlines, VietJet Air and West Air do not offer automation.
An aviation expert Channel NewsAsia spoke to said that while such services are designed to improve operational and cost efficiency, they benefit mostly airlines that operate larger numbers of flights out of the terminal.
Assistant Professor Terence Fan from the Singapore Management University said airlines would typically deploy two or three staff members to do check-in for a flight that is expecting a hundred passengers, if they are using manual processes.
But even those that have switched to automated systems would still need two or three staff on the ground - in case passengers face problems with the check-in kiosks, as well as to perform tasks such as checking baggage through to the final destination and approving seat upgrades.
“So the savings - depending on the volume of passengers that flows through, and the number of flights the airline expects in a day - may therefore be less, if you're talking about airlines with fewer flights and fewer passengers expected for each flight.
"So with fewer savings, maybe there's less urgency for airlines to then transition to the automated kiosks," said Asst Prof Fan.
REQUIRES CAPABILITIES AND COORDINATION WITH VARIOUS PARTIES
Asst Prof Fan added that not all airlines have the means or the back-end capabilities to roll out automated systems, and it sometimes only makes sense to make the switch if they also fly to other airports that offer such automated facilities.
Cathay Pacific, for instance, has self-check-in and bag-tagging in 30 airports.
It said implementing automated check-in and bag drop services requires the airline to work with various parties, including the local airport services team, the ground handling agent, airport authorities and airport operators.
“It’s not just a matter of putting the hardware in,” said a spokesperson.
“We also have to consider the check-in flows, customer experience, training our handling agents, and changing the mindset of our people from being a check-in agent to being a service ambassador.
“Our IT teams also work very hard to ensure all the setup and integration with the airport’s systems, as well as our own requirements, are in place.
"This ranges from getting the basic infrastructure and bandwidth right, to the basics of bag-tag and boarding pass printing, right through to ensuring we have the right language to support our broad customer base.”
AirAsia has automated check-in services in airports in six countries, and it has also rolled out facial recognition at the automated boarding gates at Johor's Senai International Airport, which allows passengers to board their flight without needing to present any travel documents.
MORE ENHANCEMENTS AT CHANGI AIRPORT BY END-2018
CAG’s senior vice-president of passenger experience Albert Lim said the airport has improved its automated check-in process over the past year.
For instance, the bag tags now feature less text and more visuals, as well as colours to help guide passengers and make bag-tagging more intuitive.
And passengers can expect other improvements by the end of the year - this time to the immigration clearance process.
“We are making another enhancement to enable more languages to be displayed at the automated immigration gates,” said Mr Lim.
“When a passport is scanned, the system will detect the passenger’s nationality and display messages in the language of the nationality. This will help foreign passengers feel more at ease when going through the automatic immigration clearance, as well as speed up their clearance process.”
Mandarin, Bahasa Indonesia and Thai will be the first languages to be rolled out. More languages may be incorporated based on passenger feedback, Mr Lim added.