Alaska Air launches limited wireless check-in capabilities

Computer World –

Alaska Air Group Inc.'s two airlines yesterday said they're starting to offer wireless check-in capabilities to passengers equipped with devices such as Palm Inc. handheld computers and Web-enabled cell phones, initially with a limited rollout at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

The move appears to make Alaska Airlines Inc. and Horizon Air Industries Inc. the first domestic carriers to provide wireless check-in services that can be used directly by passengers. Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines Inc. last fall said it was launching a mobile check-in service at three U.S. airports, but that involves the airline's gate agents using handheld devices to issue bar-coded boarding passes to travelers waiting to board flights.

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines said its new service will let travelers check in for flights themselves after downloading free software from the carrier's Web site. Horizon Air, a smaller regional airline that serves 40 cities in the western U.S. and Canada, announced that it also plans to implement the wireless technology.

"We want to make it as easy as possible to get from the front door of the airport to the door of the airplane," said an Alaska Airlines spokesman. He added that the wireless check-in capabilities, which were developed along with San Jose-based technology vendor Everypath Inc., will eliminate the need to obtain paper boarding passes.

Once a passenger checks in via a cell phone or another wireless device, he or she can go directly to the appropriate gate, show a photo identification and board the plane, the spokesman said. Travelers who still want to obtain an actual boarding pass can do so by typing in an ID number at an automated ticket kiosk, he said.

Alaska and Seattle-based Horizon already offer passengers the ability to check flight schedules and their frequent flyer information from wireless devices, and they've supported automated check-in and printing of boarding passes from home and office PCs since September 1999. Wireless check-in is initially being offered to "a select group of flyers" in Seattle, but the airlines said it will be expanded to other airports and more customers within weeks.

Alaska Air's launch comes two months after German airline Deutsche Lufthansa AG rolled out a wireless check-in service at 70 airports for frequent flyers who have bought electronic tickets and are using cell phones that support the Wireless Access Protocol. Zurich-based Swissair AG made wireless check-in capabilities available to a limited number of its passengers in late 1999, although one of its executives said last fall that the airline wasn't moving to expand the service.

And Alaska and Horizon aren't likely to be the only U.S. carriers with wireless check-in capabilities for long. Travel technology vendor Sabre Holdings Corp. in Fort Worth, plans to begin beta-testing a promised wireless check-in system this quarterr, with a rollout expected to follow by midyear. Sabre hasn't said which airline will be involved in the test process.

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