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Friday, December 17, 2004

The Zen of Airport Kiosks

Michael Schrage writes in Technology Review that at a systems level, the rise of the ATK says far less about ruthless “reductions in force” and more about airlines’ desires to mass-produce just-in-time convenience. Excerpts with edits and my views added:

In the newly installed British Airways automated ticketing kiosk at Heathrow, there is no waiting - with a credit card,name and flight to Munich popped up on-screen. Four or five more touch-screen taps one can sprint to security, clutching my boarding pass and receipt. The Star Wars actress and novelist Carrie Fisher once observed that “instant gratification takes too long.” For business travelers trapped in airport queues, Fisher’s aphorism is no joke. What makes airport ticketing kiosks such godsends is that they are engineered around the two strongest desires of business travelers arriving at the airport: to be mindless and to feel no pain.

Mindlessness is a mantra for every Executive Platinum flier. You don’t want to actually think. You just want to do it and be done with it. Immediately. Continental Airlines’ mean time for automated check-in is 66 seconds. You only have carry-on bags? Barely 30 seconds.As a promoter of mindlessness, the ticketing kiosk’s superi­ority to the ATM is obvious. With an ATM, you think about how much money you need and how much you actually have. In contrast, an ATK (airline ticketing kiosk) presents you with choices you either have already made (your itinerary) or don’t need to think about (are you carrying any firearms onto your flight?).

Simply swiping a credit card or frequent-flier card into the appropriate slot creates touch-screen requests requiring little effort to answer. There are, sadly, irksome exceptions. American Airlines, for instance, asks you to enter the name of your destination, something American’s computers should surely know. Just display what you have on file, damn it, instead of making me enter LGA or ORD.Which leads us to a critical distinction between mindlessness and painlessness. The Zen state of ATK interaction occurs when mindlessness and painlessness are one: the flier need neither think nor feel to get his or her ticket. An avoidable choice is an on-screen request for information that the flier knows the airline knows, but which the airline is too lazy or incompetent to bake into its ATK. Avoidable choices—having to tell the machine my frequent-flier number or my destination—require both thought and feeling (irritation). Happily, Southwest’s no-frills ATK interactions permit the traveler to enter a perfect state of satori.

Where perfect mindlessness and painlessness are not pos­sible, good ATK design allows a choice between the two. The cleverest example of this is the ATK seat map. A large number of airlines, including Alaska, American, and Continental, show you a color-coded chart and invite you to change your assignment by touching a seat. One doesn’t mindlessly choose a different seat, of course, but the ability to procure another seat is made painless. Even the most unctuous ticketing agents can’t do that. Human agents are awful at creating mindlessness and painlessness, and increasingly uncompetitive at offering travelers choices. Superior service, not automated ticketing, is the crux of the ATK’s value.Future :personalised servies ar ATK's : Will there be ATKs that discriminate between frequent fliers and the masses? Or ATKs that accept only platinum cards? Or charge an extra $5 per ticket to service the cash rich but convenience starved?
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"All views expressed are my personal views are not related in any way to my employer"