Automation in the Terminal

A few weeks ago I had to go to the airport. I had not been to the airport in a while and some drastic changes had been made! At least from my point of view.

Big Trouble at the Check-In

I was dropping my kids off and we were running late (airport late, not late late), which really didn’t help the cognitive thinking. So we got there with a few minutes to spare and to my surprise the baggage check-in is missing. There were lots of touch screens and conveyor belts and people seemed to know what they were doing. But the one thing missing was a person to ask. We had about 5 minutes until check-in was closed, I looked about and found a counter and a person to ask.

Waiting, waiting, waiting… and when she was ready, ‘Hi, umm what do I do here?’. And she just looked at me as if I’d just removed my own head. Based on her meager instruction, I took to tapping on the screen. It was so simple, press button and type in flight number. Oh yeah, well maybe if someone got their shit together to get here earlier…

The last time I was at the airport there was a person to do this for you. And now that job has gone? Sure it was probably reassigned or something, and maybe it wasn’t the most interesting thing to do all day, but it was a job! Now that has been allocated to a program and savvy engineers.

Automation of the Soul

I have written about AI replacing human jobs previously. And I am still looking forward to a time where AI replaces many jobs, but it does need to be handled properly, especially in a service industry. In the airport case, it was almost an assumption that you would understand the processes. The ticket said NOTHING about automated check-in, and there was no one to help. A simple ‘help me’ button somewhere would have done it.

Automation has been replacing jobs for a long time, but more thought needs to go into training people on how to operate under the new regime. I felt completely in the dark. We are all busy being swabbed for bombs, but someone can’t help me load a bag?

As I said I don’t go to the airport all that often and it does feel like the place is run on the understanding that you know where you are going and what you are doing. There wasn’t even a sign pointing to arrivals, only departures – one has to figure that out. However after one visit I’m confident that I know what to do now and the next time will not be as challenging. Unless in the next five years it is all drones and personal flight systems… OMG.

Perhaps it was the shock, more than the experience. It was not as I expected, and perhaps that is the trick to dealing with fast paced automation. Be prepared to learn something new, give it a go because it probably isn’t all that hard.

Feature Image: That Way by Kerry Lannert (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)