lufthansa self service gates New to the USA: Turnstile gates at the airport
If you’ve flown through major international hubs outside the United States in the last decade, you’ve probably noticed that some airlines offer self-service turnstiles at the gates. Passengers either slide their magnetic-stripe boarding pass or swipe their barcoded passes over the scanner. The turnstile opens, and off you go. And now, Continental is bringing the concept to Houston, where it’s testing a single self-service gate.

The image above shows a Lufthansa self-serve gate — the German airline has been doing this since 2003. 13 other airlines in Europe and Asia do this as well.

You may be thinking, “How will this ever meet the often-arbitrary standards of the TSA?” Well…:

The Transportation Security Administration, which is in charge of air security, “determined it does not impact the security of the traveling public,” says Greg Soule, a TSA spokesman, adding all passengers are screened at airport checkpoints prior to arriving at boarding gates.


With self-service, you’ll also be more likely to sneak an extra or oversized carry-on. Just sayin’.

The self-service option won’t be the only way to board. Customers who can’t (or won’t) use self-service can typically hand their boarding pass to a human being, as before.

Lufthansa spokesman Martin Riecken says while loading customers at self-boarding gates is “a little faster” than traditional gates, the airline’s primary goal was to free agents from the mundane task of scanning boarding passes. It frees them to handle other customer issues that require individual attention, such as upgrading seats, he says. The number of agents assigned to automated gates isn’t different from other gates: one or two agents for short-haul flights, three or four for longer ones, he says.

I’ve used these gates at Munich and Frankfurt; they’re loveless but efficient. I don’t mind the self-service option, since the taking of boarding passes isn’t really a deep, meaningful interpersonal interaction that I am going to miss. But I realize that others might feel different.

I’ll look forward to hearing the details of how Continental will change their boarding process at the gate. For example, what does this do to zones? Better enforcement of the zone, or the opposite? And if you add a self-service line, though, that makes it harder to leave room for red carpeted (or in Continental’s case, blue-carpeted) lines for early elite boarding.

Thoughts? Is this something you’d want to use, or something to avoid? Hit the comments.

pixel New to the USA: Turnstile gates at the airport
Categorized in: airports

11 Responses to “New to the USA: Turnstile gates at the airport”

  1. rhino Says:

    Sometimes it gives me more confusion while traveling through a different country’s airport system

  2. robert Says:

    Sometimes at the gate, the agent has not only swiped my boarding pass but compared the name with my passport too. Would that final check now be redundant?

  3. Oman Airport Says:

    Oman’s main airport in Muscat now also has a self service immigration for residents using ID cards and biometrics – very nice ; add the time saving at the start with online boarding pass – probably 2 hours saved on total travel time

  4. ShortWoman Says:

    I hate to bring this up, but I notice that none of the people in the picture are, well, fat. Is this also going to end up as a proxy for “you couldn’t fit through the turnstile, therefore you must buy two seats”? For that matter, is this thing ADA compliant?

    Also, can somebody explain what exactly is stopping somebody from going around the end of that thing and boarding the plane?

  5. Mark Ashley Says:

    @ShortWoman, I think the big photo in the post may be PR fodder rather than reality-compliant. This photo is a little closer to my memory of using these gates in Munich or Frankfurt. The gates are adjacent to the counter, and there isn’t a ginormous gap to walk around. Here’s a (crappy) photo that partially illustrates this:

    Interesting thesis re: the 2-seat requirement. I’ll see what I can learn, and I’ll try to find photos of Continental’s implementation of the turnstile concept.

  6. Miles Says:

    I have AA Plat status, and often the GA lets my non-status wife board early with me. Will be interesting to see what happens to this perk.

  7. Michele (nzm) Says:

    Mark: in that press photo you’ve used, the woman with the red trolley is about to get it jammed in the gates as they close behind her and in front of her suitcase! Plus, you never see the gates this uncrowded – usually you can’t see the gates for the mass of humanity trying to push their way through them!

    In answer to those with preferential boarding, these auto-gates aren’t usually opened up until general boarding is called. Families with children, people with physical limitations who require boarding assistance, unaccompanied children and people with airline status are generally called first and will go through the attended gate. I use the word “generally”, because even with HONS Circle status with Lufthansa, we have sometimes never been called through first!

    I detest the whole procedure of these gates, and question whether or not they actually streamline the process. In most cases where I have used them, a gate agent is still required to man the gates, to cope with the problems that occur.

    Having used them in a lot of Germany’s airports, things invariably go wrong:
    - the machine stops working and won’t read the boarding cards, or they haven’t been correctly brought online by the gate staff before boarding commences.
    - the passengers can’t figure out which way to insert their cards, if the gate is one of the types that requires the card to be fed into a slot.
    - people boarding with trollies get jammed in the gates as the sensors “think” that the trollies are other people trying to get through on the one pass.
    - Some pax don’t have the right boarding card to use them.

    As you can see from the sign above the gates, only people with the word “etix” (Lufthansa’s eTicketing system) and a scrambled code square on their boarding cards can use the gates. Invariably, there are at least 10 people in front of you who don’t have this type of ticket, and hold up the lines while trying to use their non-conforming boarding cards in the machines. They then, with trollies and other luggage, try to push their way across the whole crowd of pax to get to the line with the gate agent, where they expect to be able to push into that line ahead of the other pax, who have been observant enough to get into the correct line to start with!

    The gates’ success relies on intelligent travellers! (and also with forward-thinking gate agents who bring them online and test them, prior to commencing boarding procedures!)

  8. Michele (nzm) Says:

    @Oman Airport: oh yeah, Dubai has the same system. Place your ID card on the scanner, enter the first gate. Place your finger on the fingerprint reader, and the second gate opens. You’re free – what a joy!

    New Zealand airports have just started with special eGates for NZers with the new NZ passports. Swipe the ID page over the scanner, and you’re on your way.

  9. Tom Says:

    Looks like a great idea to me. Hopefully we will see this very soon here in the US. It really looks like it would speed things up.

  10. RJP Says:

    Looks like an expensive installation that will still require the same number of gate-check personnel to get everyone aboard on time.

  11. Mark Ashley Says:

    Here’s a photo of the actual Continental gate at IAH, from IATA:

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