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IBM checks in with British Airways

A new service allows passengers with Wireless Application Protocol-enabled mobile phones to use the devices to check in, select seats and get flight information.

British Airways passengers with mobile phones won't have to wait in line to check in anymore.

British Airways seat map on WAP phone IBM and British Airways launched a new service Thursday that allows passengers who own mobile phones with Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) to use the devices to check in, select seats and get flight information. WAP is the prevailing means for accessing the Internet over mobile phones in Europe and the United States.

The new service will allow all passengers to access flight information from anywhere in the world. And Executive Club members will be able to check in and select a seat for certain flights departing from the United Kingdom.

An IBM representative said British Airways has the ability to extend the check-in and seat-selection options to other countries.

The services are part of a two-year contract worth $17.5 million, according to IBM.

Ken Hyers, a Cahners In-Stat Group analyst, said the IBM-British Airways deal is a "good first step." At the same time, he added, it doesn't address the larger problem of travelers who feel cut off from the Web when they're waiting for flights at airports. That won't be addressed until airports establish wireless network access for travelers.

"The real headlines will be when passengers can walk into an airport and get instant access to the Internet," Hyers said.

The British Airways deal is part of IBM's effort to tap the mobile e-business market through hardware, software and services targeting the transportation, finance and retail sectors.

Last year, Delta Air Lines launched an IBM service that allows Palm VII and Sprint mobile phone owners to access flight information. Japan Airlines is using IBM software that allows its passengers to check flight information and purchase tickets with phones using NTT DoCoMo's i-mode network.

Swissair, which also uses IBM services, was the first airline to allow passengers to check in using WAP phones, according to IBM.