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More travelers say they’d use kiosks and other self-serve technology

Automation in the travel industry has soared in the last couple of years, but travelers seem to want even more.

About 70% of travelers say they are ready to use self-serve devices to board planes, check bags, change flights, rent cars and book hotel rooms, according to a recent survey of nearly 2,500 airline passengers worldwide.

That percentage is a sharp increase from 2009, when 58% of travelers surveyed said they were willing to use self-serve technology.

The results come from surveys taken at airports around the globe — including Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and London’s Heathrow Airport — by SITA/Air Transport World Passenger, a Swiss company that specializes in technology and communications for the airline industry.

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The survey signaled bad news for travel agents: Of the passengers surveyed, 74% booked their flights online.

But it offered good news for airlines that earn revenue by booking hotels and car rentals through their websites: Of those surveyed, 38% said they used airline websites to book hotels, up from 21% last year.

In addition, 35% said they used an airline website to reserve a rental car, up from 19% last year.

“The survey demonstrates that passengers are increasingly comfortable with using a variety of options, whether online, kiosk or mobile check-in,” said Cathy Stam, a spokeswoman for SITA.

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• Airlines roll out new flights to Mexico

When Mexico’s oldest airline ceased operations in August, it opened the door for other Mexican and U.S. airlines to fill the demand for flights to and from the U.S.

Several major U.S. carriers didn’t waste time stepping into the Mexican market.

Continental Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines announced several new flights to Mexico this month to fill the gap left when Mexicana Airlines filed for bankruptcy and shut down in August.

For example, Continental announced plans to fly a daily nonstop between Los Angeles International Airport and the airport at Leon, in Guanajuato state, beginning Nov. 1. Continental now serves 30 Mexican destinations, more than any other U.S. carrier.

And last week, United added a second daily flight from Los Angeles to Mexico City.

Delta plans to add new nonstop Saturday flights from Memphis to Mexico City starting in January.

It’s no secret why airlines are rushing to serve Mexico: International tourism there jumped nearly 20% in the first eight months of the year from the same period in 2009. More than 60% of all international tourists to Mexico are from the U.S., according to the Mexico Tourism Board.

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• On Southwest, not all bags fly free

Over the last year or so, Southwest Airlines has used television commercials and print ads to hammer rival airlines that charge fees to check bags, promoting itself as the low-cost airline where “bags fly free.”

What the ads don’t say is that Southwest still collects plenty from bag fees.

The latest series of Southwest commercials, dubbed “Good Cop, Bag Cop,” show Southwest baggage handlers investigating baggage fees charged by other airlines.

In one commercial, a Southwest bag handler announces: “Charging bag fees is a crime. We wouldn’t do it.”

In fact, Southwest does charge fees — just not for the first and second bag, with weight and size limits.

The airline charges $50 per piece for the third through ninth bag and $110 for every bag after that. If your bags go over the weight or size limits, you must pay an additional $50. Such fees are in line with those charged by other airlines.

Baggage fees have added up for Southwest. In the first six months of the year, the airline collected nearly $15 million, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

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Still, that pales in comparison with the industry leader in baggage fees, Delta Air Lines, which collected $474 million in the same period.

hugo.martin@latimes.com


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