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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

First, a user must download the SpiceJet app on her Android or iOS device, at the Google Play or iTunes website. She can then book a flight on the app, and the system links that flight information to her personal data in SpiceJet's software. When she arrives at the airport and steps out of her car, the beacon within the area transmits its ID number to her phone, and the app determines her location based on that beacon's ID. The software then searches all flights scheduled for the next three hours, as well as the flight number linked to that individual's phone, and display the matching flight on that phone's SpiceJet app.

The app then asks the passenger to acknowledge that this is her flight. When she does so, she is automatically checked in and her boarding pass is stored in a file in the app. In that way, once she reaches the security officer, she can easily access the pass and show it to him.

SpiceJet's Glory Nelson
If the passenger has a bag to check, she must still use the traditional method of printing a baggage tag at a check-in counter and dropping the luggage at the appropriate desk. If the customer does not respond to the beacon transmission at the departures area, or if she fails to receive that transmission, she can still use the technology in the check-in area. An Estimote beacon is installed here as well, and the traveler can respond to the message linked to that beacon's transmission. Another option is for her to walk to a sign displayed in the area, and—provided that her phone has NFC technology built into it—she can tap the handset against the sign to launch the check-in process via the app.

The technology, put in place in early June, was offered to those already using the app to book flights. In late July, the system was announced publicly with a ceremony that included Shri Ashok Gajapathi Raju, India's union minister for civil aviation. Staff members at the airport are now encouraging passengers to try the new technology. To date, Nelson reports, only a few passengers per flight are using the system, but the numbers are increasing as awareness grows.

About 30 percent of those using the app are employing iOS devices, Nelson says, while 70 percent utilize the Android version. Of those with Androids, she notes, the majority appear to prefer the NFC technology, by which they tap their phone against the sign. However, she says, it is still too early to assess how much time may be saved for passengers using the system, or by SpiceJet's staff. "Our goal is to improve the customer experience and reduce congestion," he states, and the airline plans to continue determining how well the system is achieving that goal.

SpiceJet is also in conversations with other airports where the technology could be employed. Some airports are moving toward a system similar to the one deployed at Hyderabad Airport that would enable the use of electronic boarding passes, as opposed to printed paper versions.

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