I do that pretty well every week these days, sometimes more.
Just going between New York and Tokyo I would say twice a month now.
The more you get used to flying the more efficient you get - and the more impatient you get with inefficiencies along the way.
One thing I have noticed recently is that there are differences in the check-in experience depending on the airline.
Now, some of you might think, that is quite obvious, different airlines train their personal differently, also cultural differences shape the perceived level of customer service etc.
But I am not even talking about people right now.
I am talking about machines.
Specifically, the check-in computers that read your passport, and print up tickets and luggage stickers for you.
These devices have dramatically increased efficiencies in the check-in experience. Since all you need to do with a person is check your baggage, there is almost no lining up any more. There are even some airports (London Heathrow) where you check your baggage with computer as well, with only a couple of airline workers making sure everything is working smoothly and no-one needs help. It’s amazing, and as a frequent traveler I give this automation full marks.
But not all check-in computer systems are created equal.
Most have the same steps:
Scan your passport
Verify your destination
Answer security questions about your luggage (doesn’t contain dangerous or illegal items)
Change your seat
Key in number of suitcases
This is the basic process. On a really fast and efficient machine it can take as little as three or four minutes.
But there is the rub. Not all systems are efficient as others.
In all my travel the most efficient and quickest devices are used by the American carrier Delta Airlines. I’m not sure how they do it, but Delta have managed to streamline the questions, and their computers are so fast, I was in and out of the system in less than two minutes the other day. When you are used to spending five or ten, two minutes is nothing short of remarkable.
The worst I have come across recently is Air Canada.
Now, as a Canadian, I hate to say this. And I fly Air Canada all the time. I like it very much. There are some things Air Canada does better than any other airline I think. One is super important to me - on-board WiFi. Air Canada actually offers the choice of normal or super fast at two different prices. I am always one to choose the fastest, but was skeptical the first time I tried it. My general experience of WiFi at 30,000 feet is sluggish at best, more often than not almost useless.
Air Canada’s WiFi is super. It is nothing short of impressive - I even streamed a bit (and when it usually takes five to ten minutes to get a Facebook page up on your screen, streaming in an airplane feels almost futuristic.)
This WiFi speed makes Air Canada a super choice for a long flight where you really want to get work done.
So I wish Air Canada would bring this same attention to their check-in computers. They drive me nuts.
Scan your passport
Enter the first three letters of your destination city
Answer security questions
(So far normal, now it gets weird)
Next, on the screen, comes an explanation of the benefits of upgrading to Premium Economy or Business Class. We are invited to explore upgrade options…
If you choose to explore, the choices and prices of Premium Economy and Business Class are displayed, with more enticing detail about each choice.
So I choose Premium Economy.
Message: We are sorry, your class of ticket does not allow for upgrading.
So why were you offering it to me in the first place???
Surely a computer algorithm could be concocted to skip the enticing advertisement for upgrades followed by the prices and options so that this humiliating message doesn't have to be foisted upon us. It would save three steps and my sensitive feelings. Until they pushed it on the screen as an option I had no thoughts of upgrading in the first place. Now my experience is tainted by feelings of regret and inadequacy, and Business Class Envy.
So now back to choosing my seat in Economy Class. Fine. I’m starting to get over it.
Key in number of suitcases. Fine.
The next step really makes me blow my top.
Instruction: Please scan your passport.
Has the machine forgotten my passport information? Do they think I left my post half way through and now someone else is going to print my ticket? This is unbelievable. I know it probably seems trivial but this kind of thing can really drive you nuts. You are carrying bags, trying to check in as quickly as possible, are worried about any number of things, you scan your passport once and put it back in your pocket or bag and then this machine has the temerity to ask for your passport again? Like it’s double checking? Is this because I tried to upgrade even though my ticket class didn’t allow it? Why is this necessary?
OK, if you feel I am being a bit short-tempered you are 100% right. But sheesh.
Air Canada - I love you! I love your WiFi! I love your planes! I love your staff!
Why are you so cold to me when we meet, again and again and again…