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To get on a plane ‘without breaking stride.’ That was the vision of Nobel Prize winner Dr. Arno Penzias 15 years ago. Much of his vision is now reality. But we’re progressing even beyond his hopes.

For 65 years SITA and IATA have worked together to improve air transport services. Today, both organizations are pushing the boundaries of self-service for the benefit of airlines, airports and passengers.

Fueled by the mobile revolution, self-service is now increasingly possible via a smart mobile device or laptop for every element of a flight, from initial booking to destination border control – and everything in-between.

Passengers like it and they want more of it. Results from SITA’s Passenger IT Trends Survey make the case: 96% would book their travel requirements through a website, 73% would check-in online.

Two thirds of passengers are keen to use self-service bag drop and will happily tag their own bags.

And over 90% are interested in automated immigration gates. So the demand is there and increasingly so too are the means.  

Fast progress

Through its Simplifying the Business Fast Travel Program, IATA is providing industry leadership. The aim is that by 2020, 80% of global passengers will have access to a complete self-service suite of services based on IATA industry standards.

That suite addresses passenger demands for choice, convenience and control in six key areas:

  • Check-in
  • Bags ready-to-go
  • Document check
  • Flight re-booking
  • Self-boarding
  • Missing bag recovery

IATA’s Head of Passenger Experience, Paul Behan, emphasizes not only on the passenger benefits, but also the cost savings available to the industry.

“The areas we have chosen to concentrate on will deliver savings in the order of US$ 2.1 billion a year. Inevitably it takes time for an ambitious program such as this to bring all the elements together – and airlines have been upgrading core systems. But we’re accelerating towards our 80% target for 2020.

“For example, we were at 16.5% in the first quarter of the year. But by the end of the year, we expect to have hit 27%. More than a quarter of eligible passengers will be able to benefit from the convenience and simplicity of Fast Travel. That’s a major step forward and a radical change in the way passenger processing is handled.”

Benefits for all

“This is a particularly strong program, because it delivers genuine and permanent benefits to all parties in the equation – passengers, airlines and airports,” says Behan.

“For example, self-service check-in – whether via kiosk, the web, mobile phone or automatic check-in – takes away the need for passengers to queue. It reduces congestion for the airport operator, while providing retail revenue growth opportunities and lowering operational costs for the airline.

“Or take recovery of mishandled bags. Allowing passengers to report a missing bag by using a self-service channel reduces passenger stress, and provides more passenger information. It allows the airline to make better use of a baggage claim agent’s expertise and time.

“It helps the airport make the most effective use of physical infrastructure. And it will save the industry an estimated US$ 575 million a year.”

“At the end of last year, we took a further step in making the journey from curb to aircraft steps easier, with the launch of Smart Security as a joint program with the Airports Council International (ACI).

“We want to maintain tight security for all flights while minimizing the hassle. It’s based on focusing resources on risk. We’ll introduce new technologies as they become available and make better use of what’s in place already.

“Under the previous program name of ‘Checkpoint of the Future,’ we began component testing in 2012, moved to evaluate a blueprint last year and now we’re about to start proof of concept trials of Smart Security 2014 at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and London Heathrow.

“All of these technologies depend on the introduction of robust and comprehensive Wi-Fi across the airport campus. It’s essentially the fourth utility. We’re working closely with ACI to promote the benefits of Wi-Fi connectivity for passengers, airlines and airports alike – and, of course, SITA is at the forefront of initiatives to make that connectivity ubiquitous and resilient.”

No compromise

In step with IATA’s Fast Travel and Smart Security programs, SITA is delivering an increasing range of self-service solutions that answer Dr. Arno Penzias’ call for passengers ‘to get on a plane without breaking stride’.

“We work with air transport customers and partners to perfect self-service solutions that make sense specifically for our industry. So there’s no compromise because of the need to provide something to suit any other industry,” says SITA CEO Francesco Violante.  

“What’s changed over the past few years is the way consumers have been empowered by technology to manage their own lives. Standards have also simplified, while the introduction of common-use technologies is having a major impact on cost and is allowing airlines and airports to concentrate on service, rather than process.

“SITA and IATA’s agendas remain aligned. We have been partners from the outset in the development and innovation of services for Simplifying the Business. So our focus on providing end-to-end self-service solutions closely matches the Fast Travel program.”

Public demand

Self-service SITA solutions across nine stages of the passenger journey are now helping the Fast Travel program to meet its goals (see box). Their development is backed by strong demand, echoed through SITA’s IT Trends and Baggage surveys, as well as IATA’s own surveys.

The operational benefits are considerable:

  • 60 passengers an hour can be processed using a self-service bag drop unit for example, compared to 24 using staffed counters.
  • Self-boarding gates can lead to a 50% reduction in the number of agents required. Use of SITA BagJourney can generate savings of 11 US cents per passenger.
  • Up to seven passengers a minute can be processed through SITA’s automated biometric gates.

All of these savings are generated while delivering a faster, smoother journey for the passenger.

“Since we launched Simplifying the Business in 2004, billions of US dollars have been cut from industry costs – not by reducing services, but by improving them,” concludes IATA’s Behan.

“This year we celebrate 100 years since the first commercial passenger flight. For almost seven of those 10 decades, IATA and SITA have worked together to deliver improvements for the benefit of the community as a whole. Radical change will continue and is accelerating.

“More can be done to improve passenger services, and to cut out costs. I’ve no doubt that IATA and SITA will continue to break new boundaries together in the years ahead.”

Find out more

Passenger processing

Self-service across the journey

Designed to help keep passengers moving through every stage of their journey, SITA’s range of self-service solutions reduce traveler stress, as well as airport congestion and costs.

At the same time, they enhance: passenger control over travel, transparency, intelligence for airports and airlines, security and financial return.


Spanning nine stages of the journey, the self-service solutions address:


BOOKING – the vast majority of passengers are now content to make travel reservations online. A growing number of countries now also enable visas to be issued online during the booking process. SITA facilitates booking through its eCommerce and iTravel solutions, with online visa application also available through iBorders TravelAuthorization as well.


CHECK-IN – an increasing number of passengers now regard it as normal to check-in online prior to arriving at the airport. SITA solutions in this area include iTravel, AirportConnect Kiosk and Passenger iCheck.


BAG DROP – checks that bags are within the correct parameters for flight, using SITA Passenger iCheck and Self BagDrop. A self bag drop unit can more than double passenger processing times.


BOARDING – met by SITA iTravel and Airport Self-Service Gates. Using these gates, airlines and ground handlers can reduce the number of gate agents needed by 50%.


SECURITY – a third of passengers find security checkpoints one of the most stressful stages in the journey. SITA’s Airport Self-Service Gates, Airport iValidate and fast-track automated biometric identity verification services can remove the stress and reduce congestion.


IN-FLIGHT – more than nine out of ten passengers want their bags to be tracked like a parcel. This can be done using SITA BagJourney. Passengers can then be alerted to any delays on their mobile phone during the flight (where mobile services such as OnAir are available) and can use self-service baggage recovery kiosks at their arrival airport.


TRANSFER – using SITA BagJourney and AirportConnect kiosks can greatly simplify the transfer process – including having their transfer departure gate notified by mobile.  


BORDER CONTROL – the majority of passengers are interested in using automated immigration gates. SITA’s iBorders BorderAutomation provides faster automated processing for low risk travelers (up to seven travelers a minute), allowing border control staff to focus on the small number of high risk passengers.


BAG CLAIM – a majority of passengers are now happy to deal with lost bag claims through a SITA WorldTracer Kiosk. WorldTracer was developed in cooperation with IATA in 1980, as a global service that matches found bags with lost bag reports.

Smart security

IATA announced Smart Security in December 2013. Originally known as Checkpoint of the Future, the initiative is now a joint program between IATA and ACI.


The aim is to give passengers a robust security checkpoint that creates minimal inconvenience, allocating resources according to risk. It is based on a three-pillar scenario:


  • Risk-based security and differentiated screening
  • Technology for enhanced detection capability
  • Process innovation for increased operational efficiency



Proof-of-concept Smart Security checkpoints will be deployed this year at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and London Heathrow. They will be based on the 2014 footprint involving:


  • Lane configuration and automation
  • Security scanners
  • Large electrical items effectively screened while in bags
  • Remote screening, and
  • Unpredictable measures and steps towards risk-based differentiation


Shared goal

On announcing the joint program with IATA, ACI Director General Angela Gittens said: “We all know that a touch point in the passenger journey that triggers a sense of dread is the security check.


“Airports, airlines, control authorities and system suppliers all have a role to play in making the process more effective, efficient and pleasant for the passenger.


“Smart Security brings these stakeholders together with the shared goal of transforming the security checkpoint for the benefit of all the traveling public.”

A centenary to celebrate

It’s 100 years since the beginning of commercial flight and IATA is leading the celebrations. That beginning came on 1 January 1914 when pilot Tony Jannus flew Abram Pheil, the Mayor of St Petersburg, 35km across Tampa Bay to the town of Tampa, in Florida, US.


Today an average of eight million people are in the air every day and 3.3. billion passengers will be carried by the world’s airlines in this centenary year.


The cost of that first flight was set at US$ 5. This year, the industry is expected to turn over US$ 743 billion. It generates US$ 2.2 trillion in economic activity and provides employment for 57 million people worldwide.


Dual pillars

The air transport industry could never have grown without the dual pillars of cooperation and competition. In 1919, this was recognized in the founding of the International Air Traffic Association – the year of the world’s first international scheduled services.


That body transformed into the International Air Transport Association – the modern IATA – in 1945. Its role was to be the principal vehicle for cooperation between airlines to promote safe, reliable, secure and economical air services – for the benefit of the world's consumers – through the development of global standards, practices and procedures.



Cooperation was a potent idea in the years of recovery following the 1939-45 World War. It led also to the founding of SITA by 11 airlines.


Its objective was to create a shared communications network owned by its members and outside of the regulatory framework of largely state-owned monopolies. One of the benefits understood from the outset would be that the public would enjoy ’speedier handling of reservations‘.


Today, more than ever, industry-wide collaboration in non-competitive areas supports a safer, more secure and more effective air transport system, while also making financial sense. These principles continue to underpin both IATA and SITA.


We can be certain that Tony Jannus and Abram Pheil were more concerned with getting safely across the waters of Tampa Bay than thinking about a global industry. But the impact of that short flight has changed the world in a thousand ways. How much more change can we expect to see in the next 100 years?

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