Technology Gets off to a Flying Start; Innovations in Business Travel Might Mean Bad Airline Coffee Is All You Have Left to Moan about. Beverley Fearis Reports Business Travel

Article excerpt

Byline: BEVERLEY FEARIS

NOT long ago, electronic ticketing and self-service check-in were being hailed as new, wonder technologies that would revolutionise business travel.

Now these are old hat and newer innovations are taking their place.

While certain aspects of business travel remain depressingly constant - poor quality airline coffee, flight delays and sticky hotel soap - technology is moving at a rapid pace. Online bookings have been available for some time but now airlines are allowing passengers to check-in through the internet.

British Airways offers online check-in to all passengers through its web site (www.ba.com). Executive Club members can also check in via WAP-enabled phones (wap.

britishairways.com) and receive notifications of flight times.

Fergus Boyd, BA manager of technology and innovation, said that eventually, boarding-pass information might be stored in a passenger's mobile phone.

"WAP phones can already hold bar codes and so this might be the way forward. It is also better security as it is harder to counterfeit than a paper ticket," he says.

Meanwhile, biometric technology is being employed to increase airport security and speed up the departure and arrivals process. Iris scanning has been introduced at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to speed up border controls.

Under a scheme called Privium, pre-registered passengers skip queues at manual passport checks and go through turnstiles in seconds, just by looking into a camera. Similar technology is now being tested at Heathrow arrivals, using 2,000 pre-enrolled US passengers with BA and Virgin Atlantic.

According to IATA's Thomas Windmuller, every airport worldwide is now looking at some form of biometric identification technology. "Eventually this will be extended to check-in, lounge access and departure gates," he said.

Once on board, passengers will soon be able to check their emails and browse the internet from the comfort of their seat. Singapore Airlines and Air Canada have already tested the technology and most major airlines were due to install this service on long-haul flights by the end of this year, but some are waiting for better market conditions.

In order to stay connected, executives have to travel equipped with a mobile phone, laptop and a PDA plus the mass of wires and plugs required to use them. …