Home' Technology Review : January 2005 Contents TECHNOLOGY REVIEW
T was absolutely no way I would make my ight. The
Heathrow Express had been late, and British Airways
check-in lines were shockingly long. The queues were
lled with shrieking children, steamer tr unks, and tourists with
zero sense of urgency. I was toast.
Jumping the queue was impossible. Pleading for preferential
treatment seemed a nonstarter: too American. I looked for help.
There, sitting ignored amid the madding crowd, was a machine.
It was a newly installed British Airways automated ticketing
kiosk. No waiting. I scurried over and stuck in my American Ex-
press card. Seconds later, my name and ight to Munich popped
up on-screen. Four or ve more touch-screen taps and I was
sprinting to security, clutching my boarding pass and receipt.
The door closed behind me the moment I boarded my ight.
The Star Wars actress and novelist Carrie Fisher once ob-
ser ved that "instant grati cation takes too long." For business
travelers trapped in airport queues, Fisher s aphorism is no joke.
What makes airport ticketing kiosks such godsends is that they
are engineered around the two strongest desires of business trav-
elers arriving at the airport: to be mindless and to feel no pain.
Mindlessness is a mantra for every Executive Platinum ier.
You don t want to actually think. You just want to do it and be
done with it. Immediately. Continental Airlines mean time for
automated check-in is 66 seconds. You only have carry-on bags?
Barely 30 seconds.
As a promoter of mindlessness, the ticketing kiosk s superi-
ority to the ATM is obvious. With an ATM, you think about how
much money you need and how much you actually have. In con-
trast, an ATK (airline ticketing kiosk) presents you with choices
you either have already made (your itinerary) or don t need to
think about (are you carrying any rearms onto your ight?).
Simply swiping a credit card or frequent- ier card into the ap-
propriate slot creates touch-screen requests requiring little ef-
fort to answer. There are, sadly, irksome exceptions. American
Airlines, for instance, asks you to enter the name of your destina-
tion, something American s computers should surely know. Just
display what you have on le, damn it, instead of making me en-
ter LGA or ORD.
Which leads us to a critical distinction between mindlessness
and painlessness. The Zen state of ATK interaction occurs when
mindlessness and painlessness are one: the ier need neither
think nor feel to get his or her ticket. An avoidable choice is an
on-screen request for information that the ier knows the airline
knows, but which the airline is too lazy or incompetent to bake
into its ATK. Avoidable choices---having to tell the machine my
frequent- ier number or my destination---require both thought
and feeling (irritation). Happily, Southwest s no-frills ATK in-
teractions per mit the traveler to enter a perfect state of satori.
Where perfect mindlessness and painlessness are not pos-
sible, good ATK design allows a choice between the two. The
cleverest example of this is the ATK seat map. A large number of
airlines, including Alaska, American, and Continental, show you
a color-coded chart and invite you to change your assignment by
touching a seat. One doesn t mindlessly choose a di erent seat, of
course, but the ability to procure another seat is made painless.
Even the most unctuous ticketing agents can t do that. Human
agents are awful at creating mindlessness and painlessness, and
increasingly uncompetitive at o ering travelers choices. Supe-
rior ser vice, not automated ticketing, is the cr ux of the ATK s
value. On a systems level, the rise of the ATK says far less about
r uthless "reductions in force" and more about airlines desires to
mass-produce just-in-time convenience.
And yet, I never would have caught my ight if there had been
a queue for British Air ways ATK. I prospered because of others
ignorance. Tomorrow s Heathrow will be less forgiving.
I fret that downtime or demand will create queues in front of
ticketing machines as unendurably long as those for human
agents. I shudder at the thought of ying families burdened by
bouncy tots and bulging bags huddling over the ATK for 10 min-
utes at a time trying to use the seat map to gure out how they ll
all manage to sit together on the ight. I know in my heart that
they ll be standing in front of me in line at Logan Airport. After
all, some forms of mindlessness cannot be conquered.
Will there be ATKs that discriminate between frequent iers
and the masses? Or ATKs that accept only platinum cards? Or
charge an extra $5 per ticket to service the cash rich but conve-
nience starved? Please! ■
For frequent fliers, perfect
mindlessness and painlessness
The Zen of
Self-service check-in kiosk for British Airways,
type 9988, model E01. IBM, 2004.
You re at Service
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