American Airlines recently completed a radical makeover of its lobby at Los Angeles International Airport, a project that eliminated the counters that separate ticket agents from long lines of passengers.
In place of counters, American Airlines installed banks of self-serve kiosks, a total of 36 machines, where passengers can check in, get boarding passes and pay for on-board extras.
Although American Airlines’ filed for bankruptcy in November and has called for 13,000 layoffs, airline officials say the lobby makeover was not a way to cut back on staffing.
“While we're always looking for ways to operate more efficiently, we do not anticipate having less agents as a result of the redesign of our ticket counter,” airline spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan said.
But ticket agents are not too happy about the move.
“Agents are concerned about the effort by American Airlines to have customers totally bypass employees through the use of a variety of technologies, like agent-less travel, and contracting out the work of helping customers with kiosks, and other technology,” said Candice Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Communications Workers of American, which is working with ticket agents to unionize.
The shift to more self-serve kiosks is not a new trend, and American Airlines is not the only carrier relying more heavily on kiosks.
Alaska Airlines is scheduled to relocate to Terminal 6 at LAX, where the Seattle-based carrier plans to install a layout design dubbed the “Airport of the Future.” The new layout, expected to be completed by the end of March, will replace some staffed counters with self-serve kiosks.
Meanwhile, the number of all types of self-serve kiosks in the world is expected to jump from 1.6 million in 2011 to nearly 3 million by 2016, according to a new study by Scottsdale, Ariz.-based ABI Research.
The travel industry is among several industries that the study says will increasingly rely on the electronic self-serve kiosks. Other industries using kiosks heavily include entertainment (DVD rentals, movie ticket sales), retail (grocery store checkouts) and finance (bill payments and coin exchange).
The biggest drawback, according to the study, is that some customers are still reluctant to turn to a machine for complicated transactions. And for that reason, American Airlines said it will continue to employ ticket agents at LAX to untangle any ticketing snafus.