Annually, airlines serve nearly millions of passengers travelling to thousands of destinations across the globe.
The airline industry has gone through a number of changes in recent decades. From flying the first jet engine in civil operation in 1960 to the first smoke free flights between North America and Europe in 1990, airline service has evolved since the first planes took flight.
In recent decades, a leading North American airline has built on a history of innovation with the introduction of a number of self-service technologies for the check-in process, which aim to give passengers the freedom to choose their own check-in process and to reduce wait times at airports.
Recently, the airline wanted to further simplify the passenger check-in process with a new self-service baggage drop at an international airport in North America. But before making a change, it needed to understand any impact the new service would have on the passenger experience and assure airport authorities the new service complied with the government’s transportation-security regulations. To do this, the airline turned to Rockwell Automation for software to help model and optimize the passenger activity flow for this new service.
The airline designed a concept for the self-service baggage drop that leveraged existing infrastructure yet also required new technology.
Passengers would use the airline’s existing self-service kiosks to check in for their flight, print boarding passes and print baggage tags. Team members assigned to roam the check-in areas would then use remote scanners to activate the tags. Finally, passengers would place their luggage on an automated baggage-handling system to weigh and scan the baggage, confirm it meets weight and size requirements, and deliver it to handlers via a conveyor system.
Before the airline could deploy the system, however, it still needed to prove the design concept and identify any refinements necessary to ensure the best customer experience possible, with minimal queues or wait times. Otherwise, passengers might avoid the new service altogether.
The selected international airport is a full-service airport, annually serving more than 3.6 million passengers. Identifying any issues for this new service up front would be critical to reducing wait times and ensuring passengers could check in as quickly as possible, particularly during peak travel times or as flight schedules change. It also provided an opportunity to free up staff to provide assistance elsewhere when needed.
Some key questions that needed to be answered through modeling and simulation included identifying the appropriate number of baggage-handling machines, understanding passengers’ total time in the new system compared to the traditional system and identifying potential areas for bottlenecks.
Working with Canada-based business and technology consultant Trellisys Technologies Inc., a member of the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork™ program, the airline decided to use the Rockwell Software® Arena® software for modeling and simulation. The discrete event-simulation software models new or existing systems to better understand how they work, and has been used in applications ranging from optimizing manufacturing lines in beverage-production plants to better understanding process flows in hospitals.
The airline's team had previously used the software to model and optimize baggage flows with the airport operations team.
The team created a model of the concept design in the software, and then created different scenarios in which they could examine different wait times, such as during peak travel times. Knowing that passengers are less likely to use self-service machines if they’re unavailable or have queues, the team adjusted the number of self-service machines based on different scenario outcomes.
The software produced automated data regarding total wait times for each scenario, but the team also used the software to hand stamp passengers at different points in the process. This allowed them to understand the differences in wait times between various points in the overall process – from arriving at the kiosk to printing their tag and having it scanned to final acceptance of their luggage at the weigh station. The team could then evaluate variations in process times across multiple scenarios, and compare each scenario’s total time against a traditional check-in time.
The software also visualized the different scenarios through animation. This provided a clear picture for bottlenecks, and was useful for gaining support of other teams.
“The Arena software is very beneficial for non-analytical people because it allows them to see each of the processes play out or view different what-if scenarios,” the team's lead said. “Being able to show people an issue through animation lends more credibility to both the overall project and the solutions that we develop for any disputes.”
After fine-tuning the new service through modeling and simulation, the airline rolled out the new service as a pilot program. The airline monitored passengers using the new service and tracked their total time in the system, from check-in to baggage drop. Their findings validated the assumptions they made in the software modeling, which led to a full implementation of the service.
Within two months of fully implementing the system, self-service check-ins at the airport increased 15 percent compared to counter-service check-ins.
“This new service has reduced queues and shortened wait times, making the check-in process more efficient for all passengers,” the team's lead said. “It’s also allowed us to be more flexible with our staff during the check-in process. We’re now able to more nimbly deploy them, such as helping passengers with special needs, which only further helps improve the overall customer experience.”
Additionally, the airline was able to share Arena software data and simulations with the local government to demonstrate the new system’s compliance with government transportation regulations.
The airline now has plans to expand the service following its first successful deployment. The airline already offers baggage tag printing in self-service kiosks at 16 domestic and international airports, and is in the process of rolling out the complete self-service baggage drop option at select airports.
The airline conducted an additional validation of the service at the airport after it was fully implemented, and will combine those findings with passenger data from other airports to tweak the service to the unique needs of each new airport.
The results mentioned above are specific to this use of Rockwell Automation products and services in conjunction with other products. Specific results may vary for other customers.
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