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Some airlines see self-service technology as a way to help an already reduced staff manage all their other responsibilities. And of course Spirit Airlines sees it as another way to charge a fee.

U.S. airlines are embracing new technologies at airports to improve the travel experience.

Industry specialists say they’re adopting these innovations in an effort to cut operating costs and possibly create future revenue streams.

Examples include Alaska Airlines’ introduction of self-bag tagging services in Seattle and San Diego, and Delta Air Lines’ testing of a self-service boarding system at select U.S. airports.

“By allowing those travelers who feel comfortable to tag their own bags or scan their own boarding passes, airlines can avoid hiring and training additional employees in the near term,” said Henry Harteveldt, an airline and travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group. “Long-term, airlines view self-service as a way to eventually reduce airport employee head count, as travelers become accustomed to a more ‘DIY’ experience.”

Alaska Air, which launched self-bag tagging at Seattle-Tacoma International in May, plans to roll it out to more airports in the near future, including Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport where it started daily nonstop service to Seattle last month.

The service allows travelers to print and attach luggage tags from a self-service kiosk in the airport lobby and then show identification before dropping off bags with an Alaska Air agent for security screening and loading onto an aircraft.

“Self-bag tagging is a time saver for passengers,” Alaska Air spokeswoman Marianne Lindsey said. “We’re committed to making the whole travel experience less cumbersome and more hassle-free,”

The Fort Lauderdale airport is also making technological improvements to enhance travelers’ on-site experience.

These include the installation of “common-use” self-service kiosks in terminals for airlines to share for passenger services such as flight check-in, which will reduce the need for dedicated airline kiosks, airport spokesman Greg Meyer said. This will help keep the ticket counter area uncluttered for travelers.

Shared-use workstations that enable multiple airlines to operate from the same gate are now available in some terminals, allowing for better utilization of the airport’s facilities and more flexibility to board and disembark passengers.

A new virtual ramp control system that officials call “the first of its kind in the U.S.,” is slated to come online in October, which will help the airport more effectively manage aircraft traffic on the ramp, especially during periods of heavy construction, diversions or weather delays.

Today airline self-service kiosks offer options beyond flight check-in, including the ability to purchase upgrades and in-flight amenities, re-book flights and file missing bag claims, according to global air transport IT provider SITA.

Spirit Airlines — the top carrier at the Fort Lauderdale airport — has already tapped self-service technology as a potential revenue earner. Starting Oct. 31, Spirit plans to charge $2 for a kiosk-printed boarding pass.

Delta, the top carrier at Palm Beach International Airport in May for passenger boardings, has tested self-boarding at the Atlanta and Las Vegas airports, according to a Star Tribune report.

Self-boarding systems allow fliers to scan their own boarding passes to gain entry to an aircraft.

But Delta has no plans to expand the test just yet, spokesman Morgan Durrant said.

Miami International Airport’s leading carrier, American Airlines, experimented with self-boarding at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport last year, but is no longer pursuing the technology at this time, a spokesman said Wednesday.

More than a dozen European and Asian airlines use self-boarding systems, including Lufthansa and Korean Air, according to the International Air Transport Association.

(c)2012 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). Distributed by MCT Information Services

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