E-tickets hold key to speeding up check-in

When you have spent a four-figure sum on your club-class air ticket, you expect a few perks while waiting for your flight. But new technology and airport lounge facilities are refining the check-in process, and the benefits are at last filtering down to the economy-class masses.

When you have spent a four-figure sum on your club-class air ticket, you expect a few perks while waiting for your flight. But new technology and airport lounge facilities are refining the check-in process, and the benefits are at last filtering down to the economy-class masses.

Our survey of 10 top airlines flying out of Heathrow reveals that e-ticketing is ubiquitous - so no more sheaves of paper to lose - and that checking-in over the telephone and even on a WAP mobile or on-line is catching on.

At the top, the airlines compete to provide the best check-in service. American Airlines has just opened a drive-in check-in service opposite Terminal 3 in the £6m Park Avenue building. First and business-class passengers are able to bypass the Terminal 3 check-in and head straight for the departure lounge.

In January, Air Canada launched its Concierge Service for Executive First and Super Elite members, which helps customers with last-minute arrangements such as restaurant reservations, theatre tickets and even upgrades.

Last month, Sir Ranulph Fiennes opened the Island Lounge at Heathrow. The new arrivals lounge from BAA, which runs the airport, welcomes passengers regardless of the airline they will be travelling on or the class of their ticket, and offers luxury shower suites and work areas, costing £25 per person.

Passengers on some airlines who take the Heathrow Express from Paddington can also check in at the mainline station. But the industry standard of a two-hour check-in deadline for economy passengers remains. "One of the most significant causes of delay is people not getting to the airport on time," said Caroline Corfield of the BAA, "and airlines decide the check-in time for themselves. Electronic check-in may reduce the time eventually."

But not everyone is convinced. A spokesman for SAS said that he wasn't aware of any evidence that electronic ticketing would shorten check-in queues.

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