JetBlue executive asks: Why do we have paper boarding passes and airport kiosks?


Is this era of airport kiosks coming to an end? Photo: Morgan Johnston/JetBlue, via Flickr.

Is this era of airport kiosks coming to an end? Photo: Morgan Johnston/JetBlue, via Flickr.

Will the airport kiosk be obsolete within the next five years?

This is a question posed by Jetblue Airways Chief Information Officer Eash Sundaram in an interview with CIO.com, as he predicts that the hulking pieces of late 90s-era technology will be gone soon. "Why do we even need a kiosk?" he asked his interviewer. 

"Our goal is to limit transactions during the travel experience; we want to make travel seamless," he said. "We think we’ll soon get to a point where we you won’t have an individual boarding pass for each trip. We think your phone will become a permanent boarding pass.”

In addition, Sundaram believes, as I do, that the modern consumer has no interest in interacting with a human unless absolutely necessary. "We believe that the customer experience should be transitional, not transactional," he told the CIO.com interviewer. "Most customers want to experience services without touching a thing, whether they are at a movie theatre, a bank, or an airport."

But back to the kiosk for a moment. While the kiosks solved a lot of problems for airlines in the early 2000s, the industry is trying to turn away from them. One reason is they take up a lot of expensive real estate. 

As I wrote last week in this space, Allegiant Air has instituted a $5 fee for any type of airport check-in. Eventually, CEO Maurice Gallagher said, this could mean the airline will need to rent space for fewer kiosks. 

"We are trying to less our footprint at airports," Gallagher said. "Some of the most expensive real estate in the entire country, maybe even the world, is inside a traditional airport, particularly in big cities. Square foot prices are just off the charts. To the extent you can push activities to the consumer and away from the airport, those are pluses. You want the consumer to come to you first at the gate, and we'll deal with them at that point."