How I’d like to Fly

I arrive at the airport. At curbside, I drop my (to be checked) bags onto the conveyor belt. Takes 10 seconds.

As I walk through the front door of the terminal, my smart phone rings and confirms the number and weight of my bags. It also gives me specific instructions how to get to my flight, such as:

  • turn right, pass by the pretzel stand, go another 20 steps to the left to the elevator as the escalator is currently broken; go to floor 5. etc.

I don’t check in. Instead, I directly go to security.

Instead of getting at the end of the security line, I swipe my frequent flyer card at a reader there. It tells me which security line to go to (taking things into account such as how much time there is till final call, whether I’m first, business or economy etc.)

I go to the gate and swipe my frequent flyer card to get on the plane. No boarding passes needed.

Time saved: priceless.

How it works:

  • I book my flight at the airline’s site. It asks me whether I own a smart phone and invites me to download the airline’s branded app, which becomes their primary customer satisfaction tool.
  • My suitcase contains an RFID chip with my frequent flyer number. A simple database lookup tells the baggage handling system where it needs to go. (Why again do airlines put paper tags on all bags today?)
  • I don’t need to check in because my smartphone app knows I’m in the airport.
  • I don’t need a boarding pass because I show my frequent flyer card. It’s been “upgraded” to the security of a credit card. Sometimes I might have to show government identification, too, but I need to do that today, too.
  • I don’t need to worry whether I’ll catch my flight while standing forever in a long security line. Just like sometimes airline employees cut their passengers into the front of the line for close flights, the system does this automatically.
  • I don’t lose or break etc. my boarding pass, so I don’t need to check in and get paper or print out paper. That paper does not containing anything anyway that isn’t in the database record easily found from my frequent flyer number.

This past weekend, while ending up in the wrong (endless) line trying to return from vacation, and not getting where I needed to go (“first agricultural scanning, then check-in, then carry your back all across the airport, then security” in case you wanted to know), I realized that the airport check-in system likely hasn’t changed in 30 or more years. Why oh why? What I’m asking for is not exactly rocket science, is it?

Will we have it or better by 2020? Unfortunately, I have my doubts.