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British Airways trialling virtual check-in queues at Heathrow

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British Airways has launched a new ‘virtual check-in queue’ option for selected flights at Heathrow using a technology platform from Qmatic.

You will, if you choose, no longer need to join a lengthy check-in queue. You can pre-book a time slot to check-in in advance of arriving at the airport.

The trial will run for three months on selected flights. If your flight is included, you will receive an email prior to travel inviting you to book a check-in slot.

British Airways Qmatic

The service is not compulsory, and you will still be able to join the main queue if you wish. Customers who have pre-booked slots will use dedicated desks.

This is clearly a positive move – anything which reduces queuing can’t be bad – but there are two obvious problems.

The first is that Terminal 5 Departures doesn’t have a lot of options, landside, to pass the time if you arrive early. The shopping mall is airside rather than landside.

The second issue is that, for most people, the time you arrive at Heathrow is pretty much out of your control. You are at the mercy of the Underground network, the Heathrow Express (miss your train and it’s a 15 minute wait) or the M4.

None of these options would give you much confidence to commit to a timed check-in slot.

If there were a large number of refreshment options pre check-in I would, in theory, be happy to arrive early and have a drink whilst waiting for my slot. In reality, Terminal 5 is fairly short of chairs – let alone cafes – before check-in unless you head to Arrivals.

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Comments (68)

  • Nick says:

    The virgin portal does NOT offer rail e-tickets, it’s the (now largely discredited) m-tickets version. This means it only works in the app you book through – proper e-tickets can be put in Apple Wallet (and similar) or downloaded and printed for luddites (of which we have a few on here!)

    And the Amex/LNER deal has expired, but there’s still a NatWest one live. Sadly only 5% rather than 10, but better than nothing.

    • Anuj says:

      To further confused passengers? I know some train companies provide both an m ticket within their app and an e ticket attached to an email

      • Rob says:

        More confusingly … Virgin has now confirmed that ‘collect at station’ WILL incur a booking fee but an e-ticket won’t.

        • John says:

          They have to pay the train company operating the machine 70p for every ticket collected.

          When they ran stations and had their own ticket machines they would get paid by other booking portals so it averaged out.

  • Journeying John says:

    Of course BA could provide adequate staffing for checkin and have enough desks open to deal with the volumes… but that would reduce profitability so they’ve opted to make it the customers problem.
    So, another corporation friendly process that relies on the house of cards that is BA’s ability to set up and run reliable/functional IT systems at the cost of customers time and effort

  • AJA says:

    Interesting idea but can’t help thinking this is a solution to fit a non-existent problem.

    I have never queued at T5 for more than 10 minutes to check in. Then again I have only ever used the business class check-in. 95% of the time I have luggage and never used the bag label printing although I have used the self checkin to print a boarding pass on the rare occasions I am travelling HBO. Maybe I’ve been lucky?

    I travel to the airport by taxi or drive myself in order to drop friends / family off. When travelling by taxi I tell them to take me to the southern entrances where there is more space (cars bunch up at the northern end) and where the business class check in is anyway.

    If arriving by car I don’t see how this idea from BA will work on the basis that you cannot realistically forecast an accurate arrival time. The traffic is too variable.

    I can see you might be able to work out roughly what time you will arrive if travelling by tube but even so that can really only be predicted to within 15 minutes.

    This idea might appeal to economy class passengers to avoid the queues there but realistically most people arrive at least 1 hour before departure and then spend time in the terminal after security. Security itself is actually the other area you’re most likely to have to queue.

  • Colin MacKinnon says:

    Good on BA trying something new – is there another airport in the world does this?

    I can’t see it working, but until, you try you’ll never know – and sometimes you learn some really interesting and useful stuff from failure.

    • Bagoly says:

      I agree, although only if an organisation is willing to admit failure.
      Too often it is in someone’s interest to portray it as success so it doesn’t get binned.
      The people at the top need to create a culture that celebrates tries, even if they fail.

  • Voldemort says:

    Rob.. referred my OH for the Amex Gold card the other day, got my 12k on this “must end on 12th May” promo, now just seen the referral rate is 15k!

    What’s the normal referral rate for this card?!

  • Susan says:

    Check-in at the airport? How quaint!

  • Mark Janes says:

    I wonder how long before this becomes a premium service, available at extra cost?

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