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October 20, 2014

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New McCarran check-in kiosks on line

Now that McCarran International Airport's technologically delayed SpeedCheck computerized check-in kiosks are operational, airport officials are looking next at installing them at local hotel-casinos, allowing passengers to shed their bags before coming to the airport.

McCarran officially unveiled the nation's first computerized boarding pass dispensing system serving multiple airlines Thursday afternoon, though they have been on line for more than a month.

The $2 million system, developed by McCarran, ARINC Inc., Annapolis, Md., and IBM, White Plains, N.Y., enables passengers to check in for their flights and receive boarding passes by inserting a credit card or frequent-flier card as identification into a card-reading slot at a computerized kiosk.

The difference between these kiosks and those belonging to several airlines is that the McCarran SpeedCheck units are the first to place several airlines on one system. Airports in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Tokyo, are experimenting with common-use kiosks to dispense boarding passes, but they only have one or two airlines on their systems. The McCarran system has 12 airlines that generate 85 percent of the passenger traffic at the airport.

"We hope to do for travel what the ATM has done for banking," said Randy Walker, director of the Clark County Department of Aviation at a ceremony attended by about 100 airport, airline and technology company employees as well as some curious passengers.

Walker said the system currently links 25 kiosks at the airport and six at the Las Vegas Convention Center. McCarran announced plans to implement common-use kiosks last year and had hoped to have them on line by June. But the technological problems of bringing different airline check-in systems into a single system proved to be more challenging than airport officials anticipated.

"When we set them up in a back room and ran them, we ran into a few glitches and because we were working with several airlines, it took a little longer to solve the problems than we expected," Walker said.

He added that because McCarran was pioneering the common-use system, there were no resources for solving unforeseen problems.

He said a couple of airlines perfected their systems within the McCarran hardware by midsummer, but airport officials decided to wait until several airlines were ready before staging a big publicity event.

The airport had kiosks set up in the airport terminal since June, but didn't activate any of them until August, putting five airlines on the system in a "soft opening." Five more were ready by the end of September and two more came on a couple of weeks later.

Today, passengers of Southwest, America West, United, Delta, Song, Northwest, Continental, US Airways, Alaska, Aloha, Midwest and AirTran who don't have luggage to check can use the kiosks to obtain boarding passes. Of the top five airlines serving McCarran, only American is not on board with the common-use system. The Dallas-based airline is expected to join the system eventually, but in the meantime uses its own proprietary kiosks.

The next step for McCarran: modifying the system so that it can also print baggage tags for passengers checking in suitcases. When that occurs, airport officials will move to set up kiosks at ticket counters and at local hotel-casinos so that visitors checking out of their hotels can immediately check in on their flights.

Walker said McCarran has worked with the local Transportation Services Authority security officials to allow the remote check-in of bags, a policy discontinued by security officials after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A Henderson-based company known as Certified Airline Passenger Services was forced out of business after the terrorist attacks because policies ultimately enacted by the TSA temporarily prohibited remote baggage check-in.

The owners of CAPS, which was certified by the Federal Aviation Administration and had built a business of transporting bags to the airport from hotels for $6 per passenger, said they were cleared to reopen their remote baggage check-in business within three months of the terrorist attacks. But the company needed between $1.5 million and $2 million to restart operations after shutting down and couldn't come up with the capital to pull it off.

"We've worked through all those details with the TSA," Walker said. "Now, it's a matter of taking care of some software issues."

He explained that the problem now is in developing a common type of bag tag and a means of printing it for 12 airlines, which have different types of tagging systems.

Walker said passengers using a hotel-based system would print bag tags and boarding passes, turn suitcases over to a company that would transport bags to the airport and send them through a behind-the-house luggage screening process.

"When I travel, I've thought I would love a system like that," Walker said. "Our airport is busiest between 9 at night and midnight and you have to check out of your hotel room by noon. Think of how much more you could do if you didn't have to worry about your suitcase and you already have your boarding pass."

Walker said the airport has a goal of seeing 10 percent of the passenger traffic using the SpeedCheck system. He said on Thursday, prior to the grand opening event, just over 2,000 people had used the system -- less than 2 percent of the approximately 96,000 people who use the airport on an average day.

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