Airport Kiosks Contain Tips For Product Managers

by drjim on August 26, 2009

Airline Product Mangers See Kiosks As Their Ticket To Success<p>(c) 2007</p>

Airline Product Mangers See Kiosks As Their Ticket To Success(c) 2007

Can you remember when flying was fun? I almost sorta can – I think that it was back when I was 10 years old and flying was something that was a special treat – I didn’t get to do it very often because it was very expensive. My how things have changed! Now I fly all the time and I pretty much hate it – the hassles, the delays, etc. Sure seems like a great opportunity for a product manger to step in and do something to make flying a better experience…

Airline Budgets – Where’s All The Money Been Going?

In the past few years, airlines have complained about fuel prices and fewer fliers. Even when faced with problems like this, running an airline is a big business. Since there are so many different airlines, there is a lot of competition between them. That’s why it’s surprising when you find out where airlines have been spending their money.

Airlines have traditionally invested in back-office products to handle tasks that customers never see like reservations and ticket pricing. Sure this makes the business run better, but we’ve seen what it does to the customer experience.

Airlines are only now starting to boost their spending in the development of products that are customer facing. This is where product managers are going to have a chance to shine.

The Problem With Bags

So my question to you is do you check bags when you fly? I desperately try not to – I’ll attempt to squeeze everything that I need for a 5-day trip into a single carry-on bag that still (pretty much) meets the carry-one size restrictions. Why all the effort you ask? Simple – I’m afraid that the airline will lose my luggage if I have to check it.

It turns out that missing or lost bags cost airlines almost $3B in 2008. Sure seems like an issue calling out for a product manager’s touch.

Kiosks have been popping up in airports as an effort to streamline the check-in process and print boarding passes for passengers. It now seems as though some enterprising product manager has realized that these kiosks might be able to do double-duty and help with the luggage issue. The thought is that passengers will soon be able to trace their checked baggage at self-service airport kiosks.

You can well imagine what this will do for the customer experience: you are waiting for your bags to come off of the delivery system and they never do. After everyone else has claimed their bags, you go to a kiosk, scan the bar codes on your luggage tags and learn the exact location of your bags – in other words discover that your bags are on their way to South Dakota.

In the end, this will allow you to report missing bags in less than 2 minutes instead of the average of 45 minutes that it takes to report missing bags to an agent today. This may not seem like that big of a deal, but let me tell you when you are mad at the airline, the quicker they can get a solution to you, the quicker you’ll cool off.

Final Thoughts

The airline industry is in bad shape these days. It just might take product manager to pull them out of it. If product mangers can create products that take the hassle out of flying then customers will flock to that airline.

The ability to quickly locate your lost luggage is one way to do this. There are other innovative changes being discussed such as having the airlines offering new wireless services such as notifications of flight status and delays via text messages. Of course the holy grail of all of this is the ability to to send encoded boarding passes directly to cell phones in order to completely eliminate paper.

If product mangers can find ways to make flying fun once again, then they will have have found yet another way that great product managers make their product(s) fantastically successful.

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Jeff Vance over at Sandstorm Media talked with me to get some inputs for an article that he was writing for the Project Manager Planet site. Yeah, yeah – I know that we’re Product Mangers not Project Managers. However, Jeff did a very good job of capturing a lot of what makes our job so hard to do.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

NWGuy August 26, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Thanks for the great article (again). The odd thing is now that flying is very painful the cost is a lot lower than when we were young.

Two tangent notes since you bring up airline baggage, which I also try vehemently to avoid checking.

1. Did you see that Congress is considering a new law to have the TSA manage the size of baggage? They believe and overfilled bins (caused by recent charges for checked bags) are due to larger than normal bags and think that putting this check at the airport security line will streamline the process?
2. Product Managers will have to think through the display of where a bag is prior to final destination or will have to handle numerous false-positive issues of misdirected luggage. Luggage may take a different route to the destination and if a passenger checks status too soon they may get concerned.

Thanks for the thought provoking note today!


Dr. Jim Anderson August 27, 2009 at 10:11 am

NWGuy: you bring up a scary picture of the future – I’ve carried on more than my fair share in the past! Here’s an interesting product manager thought: what if an airline took ALL of your carry-on luggage from you at the gate and had it waiting for you immediately as you got off the plane. Not sure how they’d do it, but it sure would solve the problem…


Sumit July 20, 2011 at 2:04 am

You would think that airlines would use RFID tags on bags to make sure they make it to the right airport. Surely the savings in lost baggage makes up for the tags?

Here are some more tips for product managers:


Dr. Jim Anderson July 22, 2011 at 10:32 am

Sumit: you bring up a good point. However, the cost of RIFD tags is still too high — about US$0.50 last time I took a look. Considering how few pieces of luggage get lost, the cost / benefit probably doesn’t yet work out for using them in this scenario…


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