USA Today's Roger Yu reports that Continental has begun testing a self-boarding procedure in Houston's Intercontinental Airport. The process is similar to boarding a subway, as passengers simply swipe their boarding passes at the gate, pass through a turnstile kiosk, and proceed onto the jetway.
Continental isn't commenting on the experiment, but the TSA told USA Today "[self-boarding] does not impact the security of the traveling public." Passengers are screened well in advance of the gate, and, of course, must possess a boarding pass to enter the terminal at all. There would likely be one airline agent supervising the kiosks to assist with any questions or problems.
USA Today notes that the practice has been common in Europe for years.
But while self-boarding may seem like a cost-cutting measure, it's really more a matter of efficiency. According to USA Today, Lufthansa says the self-boarding model only speeds up the boarding process a little. In fact, the primary goal of self-boarding, in Lufthansa's case, was to free up gate agents for other tasks, such as processing upgrades, and that the number of agents assigned to self-boarding gates is no different than for regular gates.
When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. Instead of handing your pass to a gate agent so he or she can scan it, why not just scan it yourself? It's not like the gate agent is doing anything tricky, and that time could be used for more important tasks related to turning the aircraft around or assisting customers with specific issues.
So is this a sign of things to come? All signs point toward "probably." Airlines would need to phase out boarding passes with magnetic strips in favor of a barcode that contains more passenger information. Airlines have already agreed to do this by the end of the year. Carriers will also need to invest in kiosks, which will take a certain amount of time, but with infrastructure established in Europe and readily available for implementation here, that shouldn't take too long.
So, readers, what do you think about the self-boarding model?