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Yes, Americans do make video calls in their everyday lives. But they make them using machines they own. Do airline passengers want to resolve issues by using one of five kiosks in an airport terminal? Perhaps some do, but we're betting many will find the phone just as useful. This seems like it would have a been a novel announcement in 2009.

Delta Air Lines will handle some customer service calls via video chat under a pilot program announced Tuesday.

It’s happening at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which is quickly becoming the carrier’s laboratory for new ideas. This spring and summer, Delta has been testing technology that allows some travelers to enter the airline’s SkyClub and board flights using their fingerprints, rather than paper or mobile boarding passes. Soon, the airline said some passengers in Washington also will be able to check bags using fingerprints.

Delta’s video call pilot is small, and, while the airline said it will be the first U.S. carrier accepting video calls, the idea is not novel. Other travel-related companies, including Hertz, introduced video calls several years ago. Many banks were also among the first to embrace video chat.

And while Delta said it wants to implement a technology passengers are already using — usually platforms such as Skype or FaceTime — the airline’s program will not allow customers use their own iPads or mobile phones. Instead, it is installing five kiosks with “interactive digital screens,” and customers can reach support staff by picking up a receiver. One is at a lower height to accommodate disabled passengers.

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The idea is similar to one many airlines starting using years ago, when they installed special phones at airports that dial directly to a carrier’s reservations center. During busy times, airlines often do not have enough employees at airports to help all customers in a timely manner. By installing phones and video chat kiosks, airlines can alleviate some of the pressure on airport employees, especially during periods of poor weather.

In this case, Delta said customers should be able to do everything they can on the phone, including changing a flight and “sharing feedback.” Since it’s a test, Delta said it will review feedback to learn whether it creates a “better engagement opportunity for the customer.”

Delta also accepts customer service inquiries on Facebook and Twitter, as well as email.

Using kiosks for video chat is slightly retro, since the technology to support it has been available for years, said Joshua March, co-founder and CEO at Conversocial, a firm that helps companies, including Hertz, Alaska Airlines and Hyatt Hotels, manage customer service on social media. But he said the kiosks will help Delta provide personalized service to passengers who don’t feel comfortable contacting an airline through social media, or other more modern channels.

“The modern younger traveler has their own devices,” he said. “They are on social media. That’s clearly the future. But you aren’t only supporting the future. You have to support people who are lagging behind a little bit if you want provide the best customer service to your customers.”

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Tags: airline passenger experience, customer service, delta air lines

Photo credit: Delta Air Lines has installed video call kiosks at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Customers will use them to interact with customer service workers. Delta Air Lines

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