American Airlines self-serve kiosks trouble union organizers, please passengers

American Airlines recently installed self-serve kiosks in a major makeover of its lobby at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The project eliminated the counters that separate ticket agents from long lines of passengers, allowing passengers to check in, get boarding passes and pay for on-board extras. Passengers like it but ticket agents are unhappy about the move. A union spokesperson working with ticket agents to unionize agrees.

“Agents are concerned about the effort by American Airlines to have customers totally bypass employees through the use of a variety of technologies, like agent-less travel, and contracting out the work of helping customers with kiosks, and other technology,” Candice Johnson, of the Communications Workers of America, working with ticket agents to unionize told the Los Angeles Times.

Airline officials deny the claim and say the makeover of it’s LAX lobby area is not related to its recent announcement to lay off 400 pilots, 2,300 flight attendants, 1,400 management and support staff positions and 8,800 ground workers and mechanics.

“While we’re always looking for ways to operate more efficiently, we do not anticipate having less agents as a result of the redesign of our ticket counter,” airline spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan said.American Airlines promotes the change as being more efficient, allowing passengers to make same-day travel changes, standby for an alternate flight at no charge, print boarding passes for up to four flight segments and check bags faster by using the bar code on their boarding pass.

“You know, as long as I get a receipt, I don’t mind self-service check-in. First and foremost, I check a bag less than 5 times a year,” said one passenger member at MilePoint, an online community where frequent flyers meet. “I don’t really want any portion of my ticket to pay for an AAgent I’m never going to use. Second, I’m willing to work ever so slightly harder ( really, how hard is it to put on a bag tag?) if it means there’s a chance that the money saved will eventually support some benefit I’ll actually use. Might be silly thinking on my part, but hey.”

A long time coming, in 2010 Gadling’s Tom Johansmeyer reported on the fifth annual SITA/Air Transport World Passenger Self-Service Survey that found “air travelers would like a bit more independence. Seventy percent, this year, want automatic boarding gates – where scanning a boarding pass opens a turnstile – up from 57 percent.”

Reporting a $904 million loss in December, American employs about 74,000 full- and part-time workers plus 14,000 at regional carrier American Eagle. The 36 machines in T4 West Lobby can check in both international and domestic passengers.

Flickr photo by Andrew Morrell Photography