Airline inefficiency, from non-exhaustive check-in at the airport to lost luggage

In as little as one minute, passengers can check in at the airport. The length of the experience can vary widely.

If you’re like most fliers, you consider checking in your luggage, getting your boarding pass, and printing it from the airline kiosk or your mobile phone’s screen before you leave home — even if only to indicate that you are “boarding.”

The airline may waive the pre-check fees it requires from those passengers who are willing to attempt the task. But in my experience, many airline employees clearly don’t spend time educating or helping other passengers achieve this goal.

It’s not just the effort required — which can exceed 15 to 20 minutes depending on what you’re doing, such as checking in — that can bog down the customer service process. Getting through security usually involves two processes.

The first involves entering your boarding pass information into a specific kiosk in the security area, and getting the necessary security question and answer. The second involves being passed to another screening location where you pass through a metal detector. It can take another 10 or 15 minutes to cross through security.

Airlines often use pre-check to provide any last-minute room in the boarding space for paying for the last-minute carry-on bag.

Because of that, many passengers travel with a large carry-on, typically to give them a last opportunity to minimize the pre-check fee.

To use pre-check, you must arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time of your flight. I saw customers allowing themselves, to varying degrees, to wait in line at baggage carousels or at security checkpoints for up to 90 minutes to avail themselves of this ability to check in earlier.

It’s no wonder that airlines are now hiring armed guards to escort pre-check passengers from one part of the airport to another, or in my case — from the ticket counter to the gate — to keep other passengers from pitching in to help passengers who arrived late.

When fliers arrive before 10am and are not given priority boarding, sometimes they miss their flight. Even if they do manage to get to the gate within 15 to 20 minutes before departure, the current self-assessment of flight crew members may tell them the possibility of needing to change their flight for whatever reason – a canceled flight, delayed flight, or delays not yet acknowledged by the flight crew – likely forces them to miss their flight.

One way to avoid this is to arrive early and then wait — to the staff and to the passengers. I prefer that approach. It’s also more difficult for the airline staff to miss the flight they’re being paid to fly.

Alternatively, customers who are willing to wait for flight crew member approval – again, even for the briefest period – can bypass check-in and gates, making for a streamlined process for taking your seat.

But most airlines, realizing that they lose passengers if they can’t cope with the demand from the time a passenger arrives at the airport through gate cots and changing tables with a screened-own hot meal, still rely upon a fast line of passengers waiting to be led from the bag room to the boarding area.

But about half of the lines are in the direction of many passengers trying to get tickets, and the other half are in the direction of other passengers.

Passengers who arrive by the airline’s most busy late morning and early afternoon hours get priority. The best way to expect to be seen on time is to be ready to roll when given the flight number (NTB or VSB) that the airport assigns to a plane that you’ll be boarding shortly. But even if you’re positioned directly above a self-service kiosk where you can scan your boarding pass, you still may not receive a ticket for your assigned flight unless you’re fast enough to wait on the line.

The behavior of all lines has become a continual learning experience for the airline industry and passengers alike.

Amateur hour has been replaced by expert work by the on-airline staff. But airlines still have work to do.

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