Until a few months ago, Neha Bist, who travels frequently on morning peak-hour flights, would leave her Bandra home at least two hours in advance to budget for long check-in queues. But things have changed drastically since with the introduction of more efficient alternatives.
The 25-year-old PR professional now either checks in on the airline’s website, or prints a boarding pass by keying in her booking details into a self check-in booth at the terminal. “These options work for me because I rarely have any check-in baggage,” said Bist, who travels six to eight times a month.
According to data from the airport operator, Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL), the average time spent by passengers in check-in queues has come down from 15 minutes to seven after the introduction of self check-in booths two years ago, when 39 Common Use Self-Service (CUSS) kiosks at domestic terminals and 35 at the international airport were installed. The airport will get 40 more booths by the end of this year.
The number of city fliers using the online check-in facility has also shot up — from 10% of the passenger load two years ago, to 35% last year, or roughly 50 lakh passengers, MIAL data reveals.
These glitch-free check-in options also allow passengers to pick seats, book a meal onboard, and gives them time to explore the airport’s retail spread.
For instance, Prabhadevi-based entrepreneur Supriya Devgun, who is 5.9 feet tall, had no option but to reach the airport hours ahead to get a seat with more leg space. Now, with several privileged miles under her name, she checks in by calling the airline call centre, and spends the time saved at the airline lounge.
“The call centre check-in service also helps me skip the ordeal of getting up at odd hours because I usually take early morning flights,” said Devgun, director of Evolution Golf, a company promoting golf in India.
Most business fliers prefer self check-ins because it gives them the option to collect boarding cards even for the return journey. “Most of my business trips are day visits. Therefore, it makes sense to collect the boarding cards for the departure and arrival at the same time,” said Prahlad Munshi, a senior executive with an Indian multinational company.
These options are also a win-win for the airlines, helping them cut staff costs, as well as improve the punctuality record. In July last year, airlines began to shut check-in counters 45 minutes before take-off, against the earlier 30, after the aviation regulator’s drive to punish errant flights. Those not ready for take-off 15 minutes before departure were sent to the end of the take-off queue.
“Many flights were getting punished because passengers had reached the airport late, which resulted in long check-in queues,” said a senior terminal official with a private airline. MIAL data shows that, on an average, two passengers miss their flights every month owing to long queues at the airport.
International airlines, too, have begun investing in CUSS booths at the airport. Four self check-in kiosks set up by European carrier Lufthansa Airlines became operational on February 17. “Introducing this smart way to travel proves our commitment to continuously invest in new products and services for the benefit of our Indian customers,” said Axel Hilgers, South Asia director of Lufthansa.
The trend of cutting down passenger load at conventional check-in counters is healthy, say aviation experts. “It not just makes travel smoother for fliers, airlines can also avoid fat expenditure incurred on renting airport space for traditional check-in counters, and manpower to run them,” said Vishwas Udgirkar, senior director, Deloitte (India), an aviation consultancy firm. “Airlines can use this revenue for providing other facilities to passengers,” he added.