What Happens If Airline Systems Are Down At Check-In?

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In the age of e-tickets, web check-in and even self-service baggage kiosks, one often forgets that all of these conveniences rely on a series of airline systems to work together perfectly.

But in the unlikely event that one or more of these systems go down, how do airlines make due and ensure that check-ins go smoothly and flight disruptions are minimized?

I found out the answer to this very question a few days back when I arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport for my short flight on Singapore Airlines back to the Lion City.

Although I had completed an internet check-in the night previous, as I approached the SQ counters I noted printed signs saying “MANUAL CHECK-IN” attached to the lane signs for the various classes/status holders.

A SQ rep informed me that they were conducting a manual check-in exercise for this flight as “practice in the event of a systems failure”. He also handed me an informational letter regarding this “dry-run” they were undertaking.

Given that this route is served by an A330 and the seat map showed a very light load, it was not surprising that this flight was chosen for the exercise. This also meant there was no line ups, so I was able to proceed directly to an agent.

As this was an exercise, the airline systems were available and my passport information was verified against the electronic record, but the agent also had a handwritten manifest of everyone on the flight that she also manually verified.

There was another agent, whom I will call a “floater”, who held a stack of paper boarding passes for the flight. When my agent called out “38 Delta” he rushed over, presented her with a boarding pass from the stack and proceeded to write my name into the blanks.

When it came to tagging my bag, a manual tag pre-printed with “SIN” on it was stapled together on my luggage.  The agent also issued a modern tag from the computer, although this one was labeled as a ”FALLBACK TAG”. Given the manual tag, I am assuming SQ was also testing the ground-handling of the baggage to the aircraft under a manual check-in scenario.

There was no issue at security or screening points with the paper boarding pass, as presumably SQ notified the airport of the exercise.  When I arrived at the gate, the top copy of the boarding pass was kept by the gate agent and one of her colleagues manually crossed my name off another copy of the flight manifest.

All in all it was a rather painless process, although I do confess it felt a little strange presenting a handwritten boarding pass to staff along the way. My only concern is that the manual boarding pass did not contain my FFP number.

Fortunately though, the flight posted to my KrisFlyer account the next day. Had this been an actual manual check-in without any systems whatsoever, I might have had to chase down the miles manually.

Conclusion

It was rather interesting to see how SQ would work to get flights out in the unlikely event that their systems suffered an outage. While it was not a fully “blind” manual check-in for the airline staff, it certainly was a good way to keep their skills up and ensure a high level of customer service should thing goes awry.

This was in stark comparison to a situation in Bali many years ago, where my CX flight went mechanical. After a 22-hour delay, the flight was checked-in manually and that process took almost 3 hours. Clearly the staff in Denpasar had little or no practice in the process…. it was chaos at best.

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