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Self-serve kiosks are the new look for American Airlines at LAX

The lobby makeover that included the installation of 36 kiosks was not a way to cut back on staffing, airline officials say, but ticket agents are unhappy about the change.

February 06, 2012|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times
  • Transportation Security Administration officer Florence Fabian-Rouse demonstrates the use of full-body scanners at LA/Ontario International Airport in November. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced legislation last week that, if approved by Congress, would require the TSA to order new tests on the safety of the scanners.
Transportation Security Administration officer Florence Fabian-Rouse… (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles…)

American Airlines recently completed a radical makeover of its lobby at Los Angeles International Airport, a project that eliminated the counters that separate ticket agents from long lines of passengers.

In place of counters, American Airlines installed banks of self-serve kiosks, a total of 36 machines, where passengers can check in, get boarding passes and pay for on-board extras.

Although American Airlines' filed for bankruptcy in November and has called for 13,000 layoffs, airline officials say the lobby makeover was not a way to cut back on staffing.

"While we're always looking for ways to operate more efficiently, we do not anticipate having less agents as a result of the redesign of our ticket counter," airline spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan said.

But ticket agents are unhappy about the move.

"Agents are concerned about the effort by American Airlines to have customers totally bypass employees through the use of a variety of technologies, like agent-less travel, and contracting out the work of helping customers with kiosks, and other technology," said Candice Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Communications Workers of America, which is working with ticket agents to unionize.

The shift to more self-serve kiosks is not a new trend, and American Airlines is not the only carrier relying more heavily on kiosks.

Alaska Airlines is scheduled to move to Terminal 6 at LAX, where the Seattle-based carrier plans to install a layout design dubbed the Airport of the Future. The new layout, expected to be completed by April, will replace some staffed counters with self-serve kiosks.

Meanwhile, the number of all types of self-serve kiosks in the world is expected to jump from 1.6 million in 2011 to nearly 3 million by 2016, according to a new study by Scottsdale, Ariz.-based ABI Research.

The travel industry is among several that the study says will increasingly rely on electronic self-serve kiosks. Other industries using kiosks heavily include entertainment (DVD rentals, movie ticket sales), retail (grocery store checkouts) and finance (bill payments and coin exchange).

The biggest drawback, according to the study, is that some customers are still reluctant to turn to a machine for complicated transactions. For that reason, American Airlines said it would continue to employ ticket agents at LAX to untangle any ticketing snafus.

Bill would require new safety test of airport scanners

Can the radiation from airport scanners cause a miscarriage?

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and the U.S. Army Public Health Command don't think so, but a U.S. senator from Maine is calling for a new test, just to be safe.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins introduced legislation last week that, if approved by Congress, would require the Transportation Security Administration to order new tests on the safety of the scanners that use so-called backscatter technology to detect objects hidden under passengers' clothes.

Collins said she was motivated to introduce the bill by the daughter of a constituent who had a miscarriage after going through an airport scanner.

"We will never know for certain the cause of this family's loss," Collins said in a statement. "But they believe in their hearts the backscatter is to blame."

TSA Chief John Pistole has defended the safety of the machines, noting that they have been tested and approved by a handful of federal agencies. But over the past few months, Pistole has changed his position several times on whether further tests are needed. Most recently, he said he is open to an additional independent study.

"We are satisfied with all scientific research showing this technology is safe for all passengers," TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said. "However, working with Congress, we have committed to further confirm the safety of these machines by exploring our options to commission another independent study."

Southwest Airlines to offer football, baseball games via Wi-Fi

Southwest Airlines, the nation's biggest carrier of domestic passengers, doesn't provide its customers with high-tech entertainment systems or in-flight movies, like many of its competitors.

But the Dallas-based airline will soon offer professional football and baseball games, at least for passengers who travel with Wi-Fi-enabled laptops or other portable devices.

Row 44, the in-flight Internet provider for Southwest, last week announced a deal with the NFL Network to provide live streaming of football games, video highlights and analysis for passengers who pay the $5 Internet connection fee. Row 44 has cut a deal to broadcast Major League Baseball games as well.

The new entertainment offerings for Southwest passengers is expected to be unveiled soon. (About 150 of the airline's fleet of 550 Boeing 737s are equipped with Wi-Fi.)

Said Southwest spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger: "We will announce the new options on the portal service in a couple of months."

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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