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Cathay Pacific unveils online check-in service

The airline and travel giant Sabre Holdings expect its technology to expedite the boarding process and reduce lines by allowing passengers to check in prior to leaving for the airport.

One of the most popular airlines for business travelers in Asia introduced an online check-in service Monday for frequent flier customers.

Dallas-based travel giant Sabre Holdings will help power the service for Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways. "SmartSourcing" technology developed by Sabre and Cathay Pacific is expected to expedite the boarding process and reduce lines at the terminal by allowing passengers to check in prior to leaving for the airport.

In part to reduce the record number of cancelled flights and relieve passengers' mounting frustrations at increasingly congested airports, most major airlines are expected to introduce similar services in the next year or two. Airlines are also keen on the concept because it automates a function that is now the domain of hourly customer service workers at airport terminals, and it can be programmed to work in numerous Asian and Western languages.

Northwest Airlines was among the first of the major U.S. airlines to introduce Internet check-in. The program was offered to some corporate clients in early 2000, and the Minneapolis-based airline is considering whether to broaden the program this year.

Experts say online check-in is a logical extension of online travel booking, one of the fastest-growing e-commerce segments. The online travel market will reach $20.2 billion by the end of 2001, according to market researchers at PhoCusWright, and travelers will buy $12.7 billion in airline tickets online.

Cathay Pacific's Asia Miles and Marco Polo Club members and their companions can now check in and receive a confirmed seat number 48 hours to 90 minutes prior to departure. Eventually, Web-based check-in will include a graphical interactive seat map and seat change capabilities.

Customers who check in online are then encouraged to arrive for their flight 90 minutes before their departure time--even on international flights, which normally involve a two-hour wait before departure.

The service is good for anywhere Cathay Pacific flies. To promote the new feature, the airline is awarding customers 1,000 bonus Asia Miles to people who check in online.