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SpiceJet Uses Beacons, NFC RFID to Automate Check-in

The Indian airline's new system, installed this summer at Hyderabad Airport, enables passengers to automatically receive a boarding pass as soon as they arrive at the airport, or to tap their phone against an RFID-tagged sign to access that pass.
By Claire Swedberg
Tags: Aerospace, BLE, NFC
Aug 15, 2016

In an effort to reduce wait times for passengers, as well as labor time for its own employees, Indian budget airline SpiceJet has launched a check-in system at Hyderabad International Airport that uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Near Field Communication (NFC) radio frequency identification technologies. The solution, which enables passengers to check in for flights via the SpiceJet smartphone app, was officially launched late last month. The airline is now in discussions with other airports to expand the system.

At most Indian airports, passengers must obtain a paper boarding pass, either at the airport or via a web-based check-in process. The paper adds an extra layer of security since it is stamped by security officers so that flight-gate personnel can ensure that each passenger has completed the screening process. This paper-based process, however, can lead to long queues, according to Glory Nelson, SpiceJet's senior VP of IT. Passengers arrive at the airport up to three hours in advance of their flight, then line up in order to check with an airline and receive a boarding pass. Security officials inspect and stamp every pass, and airline personnel and security agents at the gate examine each stamp. Even if an airport accepts electronic boarding passes, passengers must use the app or the website to input their ID and check in.

In the airline's departure area, SpiceJet app users can tap their smartphones against an NFC RFID tag embedded in a sign to launch the check-in process.
All of this causes some inconvenience for passengers, Nelson says. SpiceJet is a budget airline with 38,000 to 40,000 passengers flying its aircraft daily—approximately one million passengers a month. "With the check-in process for any airline," she states, "you have to do something—you have to take action," such as waiting in line for check-in service, or keying in identification information at a kiosk, or on a smartphone or other device. "We wanted technology to transform this process. We thought, 'Why not let technology [provide check-in] automatically?'"

The company held some brainstorming sessions, Nelson says, before settling on a system that would use the airline's existing app (typically used for booking flights), as well as enable passengers to check in via that app and prompt them to get it done using beacons or NFC. Hyderabad Airport is among the first airports in India that does not require a paper boarding pass. It can accept an electronic pass (displayed on a mobile phone screen), and security personnel follow prompts in the airport's software to indicate that they have screened each passenger.

Airline employees at the gate can view that data upon scanning the QR code displayed on the electronic boarding pass, and thereby confirm that the individual has completed security screening. Because Hyderabad has a system in place for using electronic boarding passes, SpiceJet opted to launch its automated check-in system there. Software company Xebia helped SpiceJet to add the NFC and beacon functionality to the airline's existing content-management software.

Early this summer, SpiceJet installed Estimote beacons in several locations—at the departures unloading area outside the airport, and near the check-in desk for its flights.

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