Continental Tests Subway-Style Boarding Scanners in Houston

Continental Tests Subway-Style Boarding Scanners in Houston
Travelers pass through Continental Airlines Inc.'s new subway-style gates at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. Source: International Air Transport Association via Bloomberg

Continental Airlines Inc. is testing subway-style gates at its hometown hub in Houston that let travelers board planes without using an agent, in what a trade group said is the first such trial at a U.S. airport.

Barriers on the machines open to let passengers onto the jet bridge after they scan a pass, said Christen David, a spokeswoman. Continental installed two of the devices at one gate in June, in addition to a traditional boarding lane with an agent, she said.

Self-boarding frees up agents for tasks such as processing upgrade requests and reduces the number of employees required to monitor the loading of planes, said George Hamlin, president of Hamlin Transportation Consulting in Fairfax, Virginia.

“It could save on costs if the airlines can eventually have just one person per gate, or one person to monitor a few gates,” said Hamlin, who previously worked as a gate agent and at ticket counters for Trans World Airlines. “It could also stop passengers from hopping to the front of the line when their boarding zone hasn’t been called yet.”

Continental is the first airline in the U.S. to combine self-scanning technology with automated gate barriers, said Steve Lott, a spokesman for the International Air Transport Association trade group. He said there are 17 airlines worldwide that use self-boarding, many of them in Europe.

‘Responding Well’

Passengers at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport are “really responding well” to the experiment, David said today. Travelers still must show a pass and identification to Transportation Security Administration officers at checkpoints before reaching the airport’s departure area.

In the U.S., automated barriers are now common on urban transit systems, such as New York’s subways.

Air France-KLM Group has been using self-boarding since 2009, when it rolled out a boarding pass program using mobile-phone technology, said Cedric Leurquin, a spokesman. Air France-KLM initially tested the system at hubs in Paris and Amsterdam to get feedback from business travelers, he said.

Air France-KLM has expanded mobile-phone boarding passes and self-boarding to many of its European destinations, he said.

Continental is the fourth-biggest U.S. airline. It agreed to merge with UAL Corp.’s United Airlines in May, a tie-up that will form the world’s largest carrier. USA Today previously reported Continental’s plans to test self-boarding.

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