British Airways trials app to end queues at check-in counters

Airline is testing intelligent queuing technology from Qmatic to revolutionise post-pandemic travel

BA is the first airline to use Qmatic, with the three-month trial on selected flights departing from Heathrow’s Terminal 5 optional for passengers. Courtesy: British Airways
BA is the first airline to use Qmatic, with the three-month trial on selected flights departing from Heathrow’s Terminal 5 optional for passengers. Courtesy: British Airways

British Airways is trialling a new virtual queuing system to prevent travellers from gathering at check-in desks as the airline looks to revolutionise the post-pandemic flying experience.

The carrier is testing intelligent queuing technology from Qmatic that allows passengers to pre-book a check-in slot through a mobile app, which then notifies them when it is their turn.

BA is the first airline to use Qmatic, with the three-month trial on selected flights departing from Heathrow’s Terminal 5 optional for passengers.

Declan Pollard, British Airways’ head of Heathrow customer experience, said with many customers either travelling less frequently in the Covid era or not at all, the airline wants to explore new technology to “simplify the experience for them”.

“This technology means that our customers can plan their departure knowing that they have a personalised check-in time," Mr Pollard said.

We think this technology, coupled with digital travel apps, will help efficiently manage the flow of customers in the airport at any one time and give our customers reassurance."

BA’s trial comes after Britain unveiled its traffic light system earlier this month to resume international travel from May 17, with only a handful of destinations approved for quarantine-free movement, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson seeks to protect gains made by a rapid vaccination campaign.

However, the reopening of countries on the green list will increase passenger numbers at a time when Heathrow is already struggling with the extra Covid measures needed to process passengers flying into the country.

Last month, the boss of Heathrow Airport told UK government ministers unless they “get a grip” on delays at the border, planes will be diverted to foreign countries.

Earlier this month, British Airways owner IAG demanded government action to help restart foreign travel, calling for travel corridors without restrictions between countries with successful vaccination programmes, affordable testing to replace quarantine initiatives, well-staffed borders using contactless technology and digital passports for passengers.

Under the BA trial, customers will receive an email before they fly inviting them to book their personal check-in time.

When they later receive their alert to check-in, they can go to the dedicated desk and proceed as normal. Customers that do not use the app can either queue as normal or join a virtual queue when they arrive at the airport by scanning a QR code.

The Qmatic app is already widely used to manage flows of customers in the public sector as well as by retail, healthcare and financial organisations around the world, including BP Service Stations, the Tate Modern and the UK Post Office.

Mark Brackley, managing director of Jade Solutions, the supplier of Qmatic in the UK, said the system will allow BA customers “to add themselves to a virtual queue and see their position change in real-time, all from their phone”.

BA is considering a number of technologies to streamline the passenger experience, with customers flying to Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal being able to upload their negative Covi-19 test results on to ba.com for verification before travel.

BA is also trialling a saliva-based Covid test that delivers results in just 25 seconds and could be a “game-changer” for the way pre-flight tests are conducted.

Elsewhere in Heathrow, robots that disinfect the virus in toilet blocks using ultraviolet light and touch screens with antiviral screens have been added to help prevent the spread of coronavirus as travel reopens.

There is also a temperature testing area for passengers heading to countries that demand a reading as a condition of travel.

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Published: May 14, 2021 01:30 PM

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