Lufthansa

Lufthansa introduced automatic check-in last month for passengers flying within the Schengen area. Image via Lufthansa

APEX Insight: IATA forecasted in 2014 that $500 million could be had in industry-wide savings each year if the process of checking in for a flight was automated. Time for a reality check?

Lufthansa has announced that flyers traveling within the Schengen region will no longer need to check in for their flight. Under the new system, which took effect on January 26, Germany’s largest airline will automatically confirm reservations 23 hours in advance for customers with Miles and More accounts or Lufthansa iD profiles.

“Automatic check-in is part of our service strategy to take away any possible hassle from our guests,” explains Björn Becker, senior director of Product Management, Ground and Digital Services at Lufthansa Group. “Check-in is a process that can be automated and that has no additional value to the passenger, especially as many guests have seat reservations or preferences in their profile.”

After receiving their digital boarding pass, travelers who may wish to change seats, activate electronic luggage tags or download eJournals can still make desired adjustments. Travelers may also opt out of auto check-in if they’d prefer to do it manually.

Several European carriers – including Air France, Brussels Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Swiss International Air Lines and TAP Portugal – offer a similar service within Schengen, but because of varied travel document requirements for border crossing abroad, it is difficult for airlines to roll out a comprehensive program. “It’s something we are working on,” says Becker.

Asian airlines such as All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines also provide auto check-in with some eligibility restrictions, while in October last year, American carrier Delta Air Lines made the option available to travelers using its Fly Delta App, making it the only US airline to offer the service. JetBlue did pilot a program in 2014, but it has since been discontinued.

Alaska Airlines pioneered online check-in in 1999, offering travelers the option to print boarding passes from home or use airport kiosks that were then known as Instant Travel Machines. But now, with technological advances in managing passenger preferences and data, some wonder if it’s time to do away with the pre-flight ritual. “Would be nice to see the entire check-in process be removed sooner than later. A relic from days long gone, both air travel and other,” said airline and travel enthusiast Bruce Bere on Twitter.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is eager to see automatic check-in become a standard in the industry, too – a target that’s supported by findings from its 2014 Global Passenger Survey, which found that the popularity of auto check-in was on the rise, while the preference for online check-in had gone down. IATA did not poll travelers on the topic in its most recent survey. Future Travel Experience reported in 2014 that IATA forecasts $500 million could be had in industry-wide savings each year if check-in were automated.

38 percent of travelers prefer automatic check-in. – IATA Global Passenger Survey, 2014

But critics suggest that those savings may come at the cost of lost ancillary revenue opportunities. Southwest Airlines currently offers an EarlyBird CheckIn option, where for an extra $15, travelers can check in for their flight ahead of others. In 2015, low-cost carrier Ryanair dropped an unpopular airport check-in fee, which charged travelers up to £70 for failing to check-in online in time. Some airlines use online check-in as an opportunity to push upgrades or offer partnership add-ons such as hotel booking or car rental deals.

Others point out that online check-in plays a makeshift role in helping airlines manage overbooked flights. But Becker suggests that the new system could be just as effective in that regard. “We think that the issuing of a boarding pass reminds the guest that he/she has a flight and [they can] cancel it if it is not needed,” he says. “For that we will also further simplify the check-out process so it will be a one- or two-click user experience.”

Lufthansa’s Digital Innovation Hub, meanwhile, has created an even more comprehensive solution. Launched in 2016, AirlineCheckins.com is a free service that automates check-in for registered travelers with more than 200 airlines worldwide – a first-of-its-kind service that may very well be worth checking out.

Katie is a writer for APEX Media, based in Paris, France.