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United Airlines tests mobile passport scanning to reduce check-in turbulence

United Airlines customers checking in for international flights can use the carrier?s mobile application to scan their passports, the latest example of how mobile is meeting flyers? demands for self-service convenience.

Still in beta, the feature permits customers to confirm their attendance within 24 hours before departure, and extends the check-in system to more touch points at virtually all airports from any location including car rental agencies, train stations parking garages, convention centers and other off-site places. As passengers seek to control more of their travel experience, they are looking to mobile for more self-service and mobile-based offerings to reduce stress during their journey.

?We feel we are able to offer our customer yet another way to streamline travel, save time at the airport and give them functionality on things that are important and matter to them,? said Charlie Hobart, a spokesperson for United Airlines.

?More people are living a world connected to their mobile devices and it only makes sense we are there.

?Checking in is important and this feature enables them to do this as they would for a domestic or international itinerary from anywhere without kiosks or lines for agents,? he said.

Reducing turbulence
After initiating the app's check-in feature, customers will have the option of verifying their existing stored passport data or scanning their passport.

The app uses the mobile device's camera feature to capture travelers' passports, similar to a mobile banking deposit. Jumio Inc., a credentials management company, will then verify the passport for additional security. Once the verification process is complete, customers may obtain a boarding pass. Customers requiring additional travel documentation, such as visas, will continue to check in at the airport.

United will collect feedback during the testing phase of passport scanning functionality with the goal of further improving the product and launching additional customer-friendly features utilizing this technology.

In 2007, United became the first U.S. airline to introduce mobile boarding passes, and it is the first U.S. carrier to offer mobile boarding at all 214 domestic airports it serves. United currently offers mobile boarding at 54 international airports, more than any other U.S.-based carrier.

Last year, United launched its all-new mobile app, and since then more than 13 million customers have downloaded it. CIO Magazine recently selected United as a recipient of its prestigious CIO 100 Award, recognizing the airline's commitment to improving the customer experience with mobile technology. Later this year, United will begin to introduce its all-new website, providing customers a simplified, clearer and faster user experience.

Identifying paint points
For some, the excitement of air travel has been replaced by more stressful and unpleasant experiences, resulting from crowded airports, rising passenger numbers and increased security checks.

Results of a recent SITA/Air Transport World Passenger Self-Service Survey discovered that the main source of anxiety for passengers is "long wait times and queues," with "unexpected changes/lack of information" and "lack of control" a distant second and third, with check-in cited as among the top three most stressful steps of the journey.

Passengers are generally positive about using technology to assist them during their travel experience, particularly if it reduces tension, and for this reason self-service continues to be increasingly popular with passengers, with almost two thirds of those surveyed having used a self-service channel to check in on the day of the survey, up from just more than half last year.

It is no longer a question if mobile transform travel, but how fast and to what extent it will do so. Mobile apps offered by airlines is expected to reach 90 percent by 2015.

Multichannel interaction has much become commonplace, as 80 percent of passengers use both Internet and kiosks. Mobile check-in could be used as frequently as other channels in a few years? time as more tech savvy travelers welcome the opportunity to move seamlessly across channels.

?Customers value time and they want an efficient, quick experience whether in-air or on the ground, ?Mr. Hobart said.

?This functionality helps provide that as we recognize the importance of improving the customer experience with mobile technology.?

?Our customers tell us what they want, and we respond,? he said.

 Final Take
Michelle is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York