• United States
Contributing Writer

Self-service complaints

Feb 13, 20033 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Is Delta taking self-service too far?

If you’ve ever been the victim of a flight cancellation, you know the overwhelming feeling to find an airline representative and complain. Well, if Delta has its way, locating a human to hear your griping might be a bit challenging.

Delta last week announced it is streamlining its check-in, boarding and flight delay/cancellation process to encourage the use of self-service kiosks and phone links. Though Delta says it hopes to improve the customer experience, one can’t help but think that Delta, like the other airlines, is trying to trim its workforce.

Delta says it will add 400 kiosks to all of its domestic airport locations, bringing the total of kiosks more than 800. The key, though, is the functionality held within those kiosks. Today, travelers use the kiosks for checking in if they don’t have luggage, selecting seats and printing out boarding passes. Anything more complicated and they stand in long lines to see a customer service representative.

The airline says it has added more knowledge to its system to be able to handle more complicated tasks such as putting passengers on stand-by lists, rebooking them from cancelled flights and offering meal and hotel vouchers. This moves the self-service kiosk all the way to the gate, when primarily they’ve been stuck out by the ticket counter.

Not wanting to abandon human contact altogether, Delta says it will have phone access for customers needing assistance. The boon for Delta is they can hook the phones to a call center rather than having to maintain well-staffed ticket counters around the country.

Although travelers are slowly warming to the automated check-in process, it’s unclear whether they will tolerate automation after a flight cancellation. A large part of the process is going back and forth with a person to see what the best available flights are, what the best available seats are and what else the airline can do to make you feel better about the situation. Trying to express all this over a telephone or to an automated system does not seem as encouraging.

The good news for Delta is that other airlines intend to follow suit. Some of the bigger name airlines are offering free mileage rewards for customers who opt to use the self-service check-in rather than the ticket agent. Others have greeters who send passengers straight to the self-service kiosks without offering them the option of visiting a ticket agent.

What do you think? Are passengers, who are sure to see a reduction in available flights as a result of the airline industry fallout, ready for this move? Or do they need the in-person experience the ticket agents offer? Let me know at