Beginning next year, travelers will be able to walk up to a new device -- strikingly similar to a bank automated-teller machine -- and purchase an airline ticket.
If the new Travel Teller Plus ticket-delivery system works as planned, about 1,000 of the machines will be installed in airports nationwide over the next four years.
An additional 4,000 machines eventually will be churning out tickets in many of the same places where consumers look for bank ATMs, including office-building lobbies, shopping centers, branch banks and supermarkets, according to Travel Teller Inc.
Travel Teller, the Phoenix, Ariz., company that will be selling and installing the machines in cooperation with travel agencies, says its device changes only a small part of the airline ticketing process -- how a passenger takes physical delivery of a ticket.
But the company says the machines are such a quick and efficient way of delivering tickets that they will be popular not only with busy travelers, but also with agencies, because of the expense they eliminate.
Susan Gunther, chairman of Travel Teller, says the national average cost to a travel agency of delivering a ticket to a client is $5 to $8. Using Travel Teller Plus machines, the cost to the agency is $2, she says.
"The Travel Teller machine's face is exactly the same and the procedures are exactly the same" as those of bank ATMs, said Travel Teller President John McPhilimy. "We're trying to make use of the system as easy as possible."
When a traveler plans a trip and wants to use a Travel Teller Plus machine, he or she will still call a travel agent. Agents, who write about 70 percent of all airline tickets sold, will be partners with Travel Teller, paying to be a part of the network and helping choose sites for machines.
Just as they do now, the travel agent will make a reservation and then store the information in an individual "passenger-name record" in the agent's own computer system.
The traveler will pay the agent using a credit card, check or cash, just as he does now. But instead of the agency's actually
printing out a paper copy of the ticket and delivering it using an agency employee, messenger service or the mail, or having the traveler pick it up personally, the agent will add a code to the electronic ticketing record.
The customer's ticket record and the code will then be transmitted electronically to any single ATM-style machine, or to a group of ATMs, such as all of those at a particular airport. That way, the traveler who's --ing through an airport to catch a flight can go to any Travel Teller ATM in the airport and get the ticket.
In order to get a ticket out of a Travel Teller ATM, the traveler will take the same two steps that a bank customer does. First, he or she will run a credit card through the machine's card-reading device, for identification purposes. Then the customer puts in a
four-digit personal identification number that has been supplied by the travel agency.
With those two steps, up pops the customer's ticketing record, which can be viewed on the screen before the customer takes the final step of telling the ATM to print the ticket.
Look for the first Travel Teller ATMs next spring in major airports. Plans call for all 300 or so airports with scheduled service eventually to have at least two machines.
At the busiest airports, there will be many more, with 20 planned for New York's Kennedy Airport, 19 at Los Angeles International, 16 at Chicago's O'Hare and 14 at both Atlanta and Dallas/Fort Worth. Secondary hub airports, such as Philadelphia International, will have about eight ATMs.