Tigerair takes aim at queues, counters with a hip hit team

iPad toting customer service staff with holster mounted printers started the process of eliminating much of the counters and queues for Tigerair passengers at its Melbourne Airport terminal today.

The rollout of the iPad procedures, called Max Airport by Australian software company Levarti, will be finished by the end of this month according to Tigerair Australia CEO, Rob Sharp. We were assured there was no relationship between Max Airport and the Mad Max post apocalypse road warrior movie trilogy, or other famous identities called Max.

Max Airport coincides with a new internet booking engine design which Sharp said would be far more straightforward to use and makes disclosure of charges and fees for ancillary services like queue jumping rights, extra legroom seats, meals and baggage choice upgrades completely transparent and understandable.

At the moment Tigerair Australia web bookings are made on the head franchise booking screens run by Tigerair out of Singapore, which works fine for short international flights in Asia, but isn’t optimised for the domestic network of the 100 percent Virgin Australia owned franchise.

But the quick draw iPad print-from-the-hip process looks like the show stealer.  When most passengers arrive in the terminal they will not need to queue for check in if they haven’t already done so on line. The iPad team will walk up to customers, check them in, print out the boarding pass, sort out any other issues, and do everything possible to up sell ancillary enhancements. The iPad comes with a nifty credit card reader.

The idea is not just to make the flying more friendly, but get more flights away on time by cutting queue bottlenecks and eliminating cumbersome transfers of data made now being rendered virtually instantaneous by the Levarti software.

Mr Sharp estimates that use of queues and counters could fall by at least 60 percent using the new system.

Now, freeze the frame for a moment so to speak.

When passengers arrive at the terminal holding reservations with well known and occasionally notoriously customer hostile low cost carriers in Europe and the US  they can be bailed up and charged massive fees for not having a printed boarded pass, or misunderstanding the baggage rules, or not being internet savvy, or just getting in some addled check in clerk’s face.

What Tigerair is doing is heretical. People with a problem are helped, the solution takes seconds, they get a printed record of their itinerary if they don’t already have one, they are saved the hassles of queuing in many instances, and to labour the European example, not humiliated at a counter or held up side down while the small change is shaken out of their pockets.

The novelty of helpful people being nice to those who just want a low fare seat is almost shocking.

Mr Sharp and his commercial director, Adam Rowe, also demonstrated how the iPad procedures would once in place also take on the task of dealing with service disruptions, ‘sliding’ bookings in seconds onto replacement flights, including at times those of owner Virgin Australia, as well as arranging food vouchers and if the worst delays arise, overnight hotel rooms.

Mr Rowe said that at the moment a passenger who is totally connected and familiar with booking processes can actually turn up for a flight 11 minutes before departure assuming he or she isn’t carrying more than seven kilograms of cabin carry-ons. (The gate closes 10 minutes before each flight).

But those who don’t have access to a printer, or can’t store the boarding pass on their mobile, or otherwise find airports terminally unpleasant, will find getting on their flight fast, friendly and efficient.  Well, that’s the objective.

It will of course be helped by the demolition of the current Tigerair tin shed at Melbourne Airport, with the carrier expecting to move to the nearly ready new common user low cost carrier terminal it will share with Jetstar and REX before the end of this year.

Today’s Tigerair briefing did not deal with the overarching questions about the future and direction of low cost travel in Australia. Tigerair is officially looking at where and how it might address international services, including China maybe, but Mr Sharp remained firm on earlier commitments not to have a loyalty program nor permit access to Virgin Australia lounges the way Jetstar customers can under some conditions use Qantas lounges.

“We are sticking to the true, simple low cost model” he said. “It’s all about low fares, and on time flights, with fees for extras like baggage other than the free carry on allowance, and meals, and exit row seats that may be of value to particular passengers.”

Australia doesn’t have an open air travel market in which independent low cost carriers take on established carriers.  Tigerair and Jetstar are owned by full service carriers and their initiatives are ‘managed’.

However Mr Sharp said this wasn’t limiting Tigerair’s ability to compete or grow.

“We are a small business”, he said. “If we didn’t have access to synergies in fuel and management and marketing of the size made possible by the relationship with Virgin Australia, success and growth would be  much harder to attempt.” Or to summarise, the full service carrier was facilitating its growth, rather than curbing it.

No doubt there will be future interesting discussions right across the Australian airline scene as to just where the low cost and full service brands are headed.

If there are less reasons for people to dislike or avoid low cost air travel the difference between them and full service brands must surely diminish, as it has so notably done in Europe this year.