Magazine
Copa Pioneers Mobile Check-in

Courtesy of COPA Airlines

New service lets passengers receive boarding passes on cell phones.

Mercedes Morris Garcia, director of external relations at copper miner Minera Panama, has been a paperless traveler for years. When she checked in at Panama’s Tocumen airport, she would typically show counter agents flight information from emails on her BlackBerry. She is now benefiting from a new service from Panama’s airline Copa that allows passengers to generate electronic boarding passes for smart phones and other portable devices — the first of its kind in Latin America, Copa says.
“I’ve traveled on Copa six times in the past five weeks and am thrilled with the new service,” Garcia says. “To have a mobile site enabled just for this, with all flight data quickly available, as well as an electronic scannable code on my screen instead of the thermal printout for the gate check, is convenient and traveler-friendly.”
Although the functions on m.copaair.com are limited compared with the regular website, copair.com, the service has been a hit, airline executives say. “It’s had a much better reception than we expected,” says Frank Kardonski, the carrier’s distribution director.
Roughly 200,000 visitors have used the mobile site, and about 25,000 have used the site to check in for a flight. Other features include real-time flight status updates, contacts for Copa offices and reservations, and travel policies and procedures.
At launch time, the e-boarding passes were valid only at Copa’s home base and hub, Tocumen International Airport in Panama City. Since then, two more Latin American airports have come aboard: Comodor Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport in Santiago, Chile, and Carrasco International Airport in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Other regional airports considering adopting e-boarding pass technology have approached Copa for advice on doing so, according to Diana Mizrachi-Kopel, customer experience director for Copa Airlines. Airport authorities “are very supportive of the idea. It’s less paper — a seamless experience,” she says. “There are plans to roll it out to more countries.”
Copa has found that some travelers log into the regular website from a computer and then send electronic boarding passes to their smart phones. Such a user might be a business traveler who uses a laptop in a hotel room and then visits the mobile site for updates before heading to the airport.
Before the year is out, Copa plans to introduce more functions to the mobile site. Those additions likely will include the ability to manage reservations, from booking and buying a ticket to changing seat assignments.
“We’re focusing on complementing the experience and making it as easy as possible,” Kardonski says.
Although some analysts predict mobile could overtake regular connectivity, Copa executives see room for both.
“We are also investing in improving copa.com,” Mizrachi-Kopel adds.
Key upgrades involve expanded payment options, such as a proveedor de servicios electrónicos (PSE) program in Colombia, that enables travelers to pay via bank debit cards in local currency.
A similar program, Boleto Bancario, has been introduced in Brazil, where customers can pay for tickets at branches and ATMs and by fund transfers.
And Copa is relaunching its portal in Venezuela to allow for payments in bolivares fuertes. “This is something our customers have been clamoring for,” Kardonski says.
In other online initiatives this year, visitors to the Facebook page of Copa Airlines Colombia (formerly Aero República) can make reservations and buy tickets there — the first airline in the region to add that function to the popular social networking site.
Introduced in February, “the basic idea is we want to go where the customers are,” Mizrachi-Kopel says. “There is an important domestic market in Colombia.”
The Facebook page is customized with deals and offers designed to appeal to the Colombian market.
As yet, there are no plans to expand the Facebook connection. “We want to focus on doing it right,” Mizrachi-Kopel says.

—Mary Sutter, with additional reporting by Joachim Bamrud

Mary Sutter
Mary Sutter is a contributing editor to Latin Trade.
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