LONDON – Travelers using Heathrow airport are now checking in as little as six minutes thanks to Virgin Atlantic's central computer system.
Business class passengers departing from Heathrow are now able to step out of their front door into a limousine that will whisk them straight to the departure lounge.
Behind the scenes is a complex mesh of computer systems – responsible for limousine booking, seat reservation, and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) – all controlled by Virgin's central Limo Drive Through System.
The main system is based on a Java application working alongside an Oracle database that handles real-time updates from the myriad systems controlling each stage of the passenger's journey.
The system kicks in after a passenger books a Virgin business class seat from Heathrow, with the EDS-run reservation system updating the central system with the new travel arrangements.
The system then automatically books a limo pick-up on an outside company's system, notifies the passenger of the pick-up time, receives GPS updates on the limo's progress to the airport, prints off the boarding pass and bag tags when the car is close to Heathrow, receives and verifies ANPR details from the airport security system to let the limo airside, arranges for a Heathrow worker to meet the limo and check in bags, and then drops the passenger at the departure lounge.
About 150,000 passengers have used the system since it launched in December 2007, and Virgin Atlantic IT director Mike Cope said it has been very well received.
"It gets rave reviews from passengers," he told silicon.com.
Developing the system has not been without its challenges, however.
"There are a number of third party and other systems it interfaces with, such as the one used by the limo company and the ANPR package used by the airport, and feeds from the reservation system, which is based on transaction processing facility, a 40-year-old technology," Cope said.
"It was very tricky to make sure our systems worked effectively, and there was a lot of co-ordination with other companies and the airport."
"The main challenge were the timeframes, we had to go live in December 2007 and there were very tight timeframes to get it developed."
Virgin is looking to expand on the limo service from early next year.
Cope added: "We are looking at how we can extend the system to develop new features to improve the service for a wider range of our passengers."
The software for the central system took about six months to develop, and was produced by Indian outsourcer NIIT to the design specification provided by Virgin.
Source: Silicon.com – UK