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American Airlines to install wireless check-in devices
(IDG) -- Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines Inc. plans by year's end to roll out a mobile check-in service aimed at speeding up the boarding of flights at the three busiest airports in which it operates -- O'Hare in Chicago, LaGuardia in New York and Dallas/Fort Worth.
The installation plans, which were announced last week, follow a successful test of the wireless check-in system at San Jose International Airport. American officials said the airline, which is the third in the U.S. to install such a system, expects to expand the mobile service to at least 22 additional airports next year.
Jointly developed by Fort Worth-based Sabre Holdings and Holtsville, N.Y.-based Symbol Technologies, the Roving Agent technology will provide American's check-in agents with handheld computers that can connect to Sabre's computerized reservations system via wireless LANs that will be installed at each of the airports offering the new service.
The terminal agents will be able to "bust" lines by using the handheld PCs to issue bar-coded boarding passes to passengers waiting to board flights. American is the second airline to sign on with Sabre to use Roving Agent, joining the smaller Indianapolis-based American Trans Air. In addition, St. Paul, Minn.-based Northwest Airlines last summer began using similar technology that it developed internally.
Roving Agent is different from a more advanced wireless check-in system, announced last month, that lets airlines send boarding-pass images directly to the Web-enabled phones of travelers (see story). Mike Anderson, Sabre's director of product development for passenger services, said the handheld devices used as part of Roving Agent are basically personal digital assistants equipped with scanners.
The American Airlines agents who use the technology won't sell tickets or handle large amounts of baggage as part of the initial rollout, but they will be to check in ticketed passengers with carry-on luggage. Roving Agent was designed to work with Sabre-designed automated check-in systems, but it can be adapted for use by other airlines, Anderson said.
The technology is similar to the devices used by rental-car companies to process customers who are returning vehicles. Anderson said the tricky part of adapting the devices to airlines was in making the handhelds work in real time with the often-convoluted ticketing systems of the air traffic world. Sabre also envisions extending the wireless system to cruise lines and shuttle buses, Anderson added.
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