Tech Speeds up Requests at MEM

By Bill Dries

Since June, airline passengers with disabilities at Memphis International Airport have been met by agents from Delta Global Services with handheld devices including scanners to speed their pickup assignments for wheelchairs and scan boarding passes.

Memphis is the only airport so far where the Intermec CS40s are being used by DGS, a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta Air Lines Inc.

The new service at Memphis International Airport is also available to airlines besides Delta, which has one of its seven U.S. hubs in Memphis.

“It’s just something the industry has not been able to do up until this technology has been deployed,” said Tom Farmakis, DGS vice president of marketing and business development. “This special group of customers should be treated no differently than anyone else.”

The devices scan and create a paper trail for how requests for wheelchairs are met at an airport gate. The service to the disabled is a regulatory issue as well as a customer service issue.

Federal transportation requirements mandate that those passengers must be picked up within minutes of requesting a wheelchair. If they aren’t, there could be a substantial fine of thousands of dollars.

The fines across the airline industry totaled $3 million in 2010, according to federal figures.

“In the regulatory environment that we live in, we are required under the regulations to provide these types of services when they are needed,” Farmakis said. “We do it in a timely manner. If something happens and we’ve not served properly, we have to be able to go to an accurate transactional history of what happened and provide that information.”

DGS had tried several devices with optical scanners but found them to be hit-or-miss, which was a problem with passengers trying to make connecting flights in a certain amount of time.

The scanners not only allow for a document trail, but they also allow agents to be at gates in advance and waiting. In the past, agents used handheld two-way radios that a dispatcher used to send them from gate to gate.

“Everything’s not perfect. Things happen. Sometimes people aren’t served like they should be,” Farmakis said. “This gives us the opportunity to have a valid record of what happened. If there is a failure at least we can go back and determine what happened. And we can do it accurately. If we were late, why were we late? On the other hand, when people get upset they write letters. … Because we have an accurate record, we can better research what happened to the government whenever they want to find out.”

DGS tested other devices before selecting the Intermec devices this month for use at Memphis International Airport.

And DGS has a “significant” investment in the technology.

“Well over seven figures since we initially developed it,” Farmakis estimated. “Anytime you invest in mobile devices you are just spending a lot of money for the bubble device and the service that goes with it and all the application development.”

There is a possibility the devices could have other applications including scanning the documents that are a chain of custody for children who fly unaccompanied by a parent or guardian.

“We don’t do it in Memphis because it’s not required under the contract,” Farmakis said. “The technology absolutely can be used for the processing of unaccompanied minors.”