Technology

Fingerprint entry to DELTA’s Sky Club

Delta Air Lines is expanding the places where flyers can use itheir fingerprints as their ID.

Starting this week, Delta Sky Club members who are already signed up for the airline’s CLEAR biometric program – and those who get signed up now – can use their fingerprints instead of a paper or mobile boarding pass to gain entry to any of the 50 any of the U.S. Delta Sky Club locations – making it even easier and faster to get to all those snacks and free drinks.

Now, qualified CLEAR members can just put two fingers on the designated fingerprint reader and they’re in.

Delta Sky Club members who already have CLEAR and are using it to at the security checkpoints can start using their fingprints at the club rooms now.

Delta Sky Club members without a CLEAR membership who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, can sign up for the program for free at CLEAR enrollment kiosk located in 14 Delta Sky Club locations across the country.

For those who have had trouble using the scanners in the past, it looks like they’ve been improved.

Delta is big on biometrics and has been expanding its facial recognition programs as well.

New tech makes airports friendlier for blind travelers

Courtesy AIRA

My ‘At the Airport’ column on USA TODAY this month is about Aira, a new service that makes airports more accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. Here’s a slightly edited version of that column. 

Airports around the country are beginning to offer travelers an augmented reality service that uses Google glass-style technology or a smartphone app to offer greater mobility and independence to blind passengers and those with low vision.

And, for now, airports offering the service are doing so for free.

How it works: off-site eyes

San Diego-based Aira offers a paid subscription service that provides blind and low vision customers smart glasses and smartphone software that connectsto remote live agents who use the cameras on the glasses or the smartphone to see what’s around the user and offer guidance.

Subscribers (Aira calls them ‘explorers’) can call on a remote agent to have them help with anything from tasks in the home, grocery shopping or traveling around the world.

“I’ve had help identifying receipts and papers on my desk, identifying the colors of things in my wardrobe and reading labels on spices if I’ve been smelling too many spices and my nose is tired, ” said Christine Ha, an Aira advisory board member.

Ha has also used the Aira service at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental which, along with Houston Hobby, Memphis International, Minneapolis-St. Paul International, Seattle-Tacoma International, Spokane International and (soon) others, picks up the per-minute costs associated with using the Aira app or subscription service in the terminals.

“Many, but not all, airport employees are well trained to help people with vision impairments,” said Ha “But I like to be independent and find that Aira agents can pull up airport maps and serve as a virtual concierge, talking in my ear and describing what’s around,” including shops and restaurants, restrooms, gate hold areas and art.

The Aira service was not specifically designed for use in airports, but users been telling the company how their experience at airports has been transformed.

“We learned that at airports, visually impaired travelers often have to call ahead for assistance and might be met at the curb by someone who puts them in a wheelchair and just delivers them to their gate,” said Kevin Phelan, Aira’s Aviation Lead and head of Sales. “This service allows users to be independent and enjoy the airport like everyone else. So, we’ve been meeting with airports to let them know this service exists.”

Airports adopt Aira

Airports offering the Aira service for free see it as a customer service.

The Houston Airport System, which operates Hobby Airport and George Bush Intercontinental, chose to participate as part of its goal “To be a role-model of accessibility for all travelers and to make the airport experience as memorable as possible,” said Tim Joniec, the airports’ Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator.

At Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, spokesman Patrick Hogan said providing the Aira service for free at the airport was a “no brainer,” because “It’s a great way to ensure people with little or no vision can enjoy the same airport experiences that sighted people do.”

Memphis International Airport, the first to adopt Aira, is pleased other airports are following its lead in offering the service to passengers. “This shows a collective commitment in the airport industry to ensure greater accessibility and convenience for all passengers,” said MEM spokesman Glen Thomas.

While some airports have found out about AIRA by word of mouth, others are learning about this and other useful services through a matchmaker-type program for airports and start-ups.

“We recognize airport leaders are very busy and don’t have the wherewithal to scout the startup community for solutions,” said Chris Runde, director of the Airport Innovation Accelerator at the American Association of Airport Executives, “We try to bridge the gap by finding out what airports need and then finding what’s out in the marketplace.”

In addition to helping the Aira team understand how airports work and making introductions for them in the airport community, AAAE’s accelerator program is also making airport connections for several other groups, including Elerts, which offers See Something Say Something mobile apps that can help improve airport safety, and Sleepbox, a micro-hotel company that just signed a contract to place 16 units at Dulles International Airport.

 

KLM embraces Twitter & WeChat for flight info, updates

Last year, social media-savvy KLM Royal Dutch Airlines was the first airline outside the US  to start offering customers flight info service via Facebook’s Messenger and now 10 percent of all bookings on KLM are confirmed this way and 15 percent of all online boarding passes KLM issues are delivered via Messenger.

KLM counts that as success so now the carrier says it is the first to roll out delivery of flight info – including booking confirmation, check-in notification, boarding passes and flight status updates – via Twitter and WeChat, the social media tool popular in China.

“The world is becoming more digital. And as a company with 98 years of history, we feel we should continue to be pioneers in innovation and embrace new technology as we did with Facebook,” Pieter Elbers, KLM President and CEO told StuckatTheAirport.com.

He said while Twitter is an important communication tool, WeChat is crucial for KLM to embrace as, after the US, China is KLM’s second largest market outside Europe.

Robotic check-in kiosks & other new tech for airports

My May “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY is all about some of the cool new technology – and creative uses of emerging technologies – that may soon make your trip through the airport less painful and, possibly, more rewarding.

The ideas were featured at the Air Transport IT Summit I attended in Brussels recently, which was convened by SITA, a global air transport IT provider owned by airlines and other air transport companies.

Here are some of the ideas that caught my eye:

No more check-in lines? KATE may help

Last year, SITA Lab, SITA’s technology research arm, introduced a self-propelling baggage robot, named Leo, who may someday greet you at the airport curb, check you in for your flight, issue your bag tags and then take your bags away for processing.

This year, SITA Lab unveiled Leo’s cousin KATE, an intelligent check-in kiosk that can move autonomously, and in teams to busy or congested areas in airports.

KATE the kiosk can monitor a variety of data sources, including flight and passenger flow information, sense where and where additional check-in kiosks are needed and, using geo-location and obstacle avoidance technology, move through the airport without bumping into things or people.

The robotic kiosks are also designed to automatically return to their docking stations when they are low on power or if they need to be a fresh supply of boarding passes or bag tags.

Kate is cute (although she did run over my toes) and these roving kiosks could not only help airports and airlines better serve passengers when rebooking is necessary due to flight cancellations or weather delays, but they might also be useful on duty in offsite locations, such as train stations and convention halls and, possibly, cruise ports.

New ways to pay airlines – and get paid by airlines          

Airlines that use the common-use SITA check-in kiosks and bag-drop stations now standard at many airports currently don’t currently have a secure way to accept passenger payments at those terminals for extras such as baggage fees upgrades and other ancillary items.

At the Air Transport IT Summit, SITA announced that is has solved the ‘multi-merchant’ problem with a new payment system that uses point-to-point encryption (P2PE) technology that can accept various forms of payment, including MasterCard, Visa and Payment Card Industry (PCI)-compliant chip cards.

Look for a roll-out of this in SITA’s common-use kiosks and bag drops stations at airports in the next few months.

On the flipside, for those occasions when airlines must (or want to) compensate passengers for flight delays, cancellation or overbookings, a company called TravaCoin has partnered with SITA to test a voucher system that airlines can use to quickly issue credit to passengers that can (or can only) be spent on new flights, upgrades, hotel stays, services inside the airport or perhaps donated to local charities and non-profits.

TravaCoin CEO and founder, Brian Whelan told USA TODAY he envisions the digital currency being of special interest to airlines based in or flying through European Union countries that are currently required by EU Regulation 261 to pay passengers up to 600 euros (currently about $668) per inconvenience.

“At the moment airlines are holding out and making it awkward,” said Whelan. “They’re losing the money eventually, but also losing customer loyalty. This is a way for airlines, even airlines not covered by the regulations, to be proactive by issuing currency that can be spent in the TravaCoin community. The goodwill and the money go hand in hand.”

So do the benefits that airlines, especially, might gain from adopting TravaCoin currency for compensating passengers.

“There is a ‘breakages’ notion,” said Whelan, “If you give people vouchers, one way the merchant benefits is if the customer never spends the voucher.”

TravaCoin’s surveys have found that while many passengers who say they’d accept the vouchers would ‘top up’ and spend some of their own cash on top of the voucher value, about 20 percent would likely not spend their vouchers at all.

The goodwill aspect of TravaCoin appeals to Brian Cobb, vice-president, Customer Experience at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, which has successfully used new technology to improve customer service with reduced checkpoint wait times and cleaner restrooms in public areas of the airport.

“Love the idea. Especially with the consumer choice in how to spend, including donating back to the community,” said Cobb. “While it is likely sometime in coming, airports may need to leverage customer service recovery tools much in the way airlines do today. It’s a solid method to support recovering the brand perception and exceeding customer expectations.”

 

JetBlue testing facial recognition technology for boarding in Boston

Facial recognition experiments are all the rage these days with airlines.

One of the four new self-service bag drop machines Delta Air Lines  rolled out recently at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is testing facial recognition technology that can match customers with their passport photos.

At Helsinki Airport, Finnair just concluded a several week test of face recognition technology for check-in.

And today JetBlue announced it is working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and SITA (a global provider of IT and border security solutions) to test a new system that uses biometrics and facial recognition technology to verify customers at the gate.

The program will start in June on flights from Boston’s Logan International Airport to Aruba’s Queen Beatrix International Airport and anyone can participate without prior registration.

Here’s how it will work:

  • Passengers step up to the camera for a quick photo.
  • The camera station connects to CBP instantly match the image to passport, visa or immigration photos in the CBP database;
  • Flight details are verified.
  • The customer is notified on a screen above the camera when they are cleared to proceed to the jet bridge.

“We hope to learn how we can further reduce friction points in the airport experience, with the boarding process being one of the hardest to solve,” said Joanna Geraghty, executive vice president customer experience, JetBlue. “Self-boarding eliminates boarding pass scanning and manual passport checks. Just look into the camera and you’re on your way.”