Airline Tries Robot-Controlled Boarding, For the Sake of Greater “Individual Attention”

Another round of our post-human economy is being deployed at George Bush Airport in Houston, as Continental Airlines tests out an automated boarding gate. Passengers scan their own tickets to pass through turnstiles and get onto the plane, avoiding contact with human gate agents.

Currently, no one will admit to any of the obvious implications of this technology. According to the Houston Chronicle:

Continental has no plans to add more machines at Bush or other airports at this point.

“We are pleased with what we’ve learned so far from initial testing — customer and employee feedback has been positive,” said Continental spokeswoman Christen David.

“The self-service boarding gate allows our agents to focus on giving individual attention to customers who need extra assistance, thereby facilitating flights departing the gate on time.”


Even if more lanes are added, the airline does not plan to cut its gate agents, who are not members of a union.

Got it? Installing machines to do a task currently done by human workers will not cost anyone a job. It will make it easier, not harder, for passengers to get human help with their individual problems. And besides, Continental isn’t even thinking about installing any more of these machines.

So: look for completely human-free boarding gates by 2012. Lufthansa, the Chronicle reports, has been using automated boarding in German airports since 2003. Children and the infirm are sorted out into a separate lane, where they can receive appropriate attention.

What else does the International Air Transport Association have planned for travelers who are tired of dealing with human wage-earners while passing through airports?

The other self-service tools being studied include people tagging their own bags, verifying their documents and rebooking flights, all using airport kiosks. Such technology could save the industry $2 billion annually, according to the association.