Two international airlines are aiming to make the globe-trotting life a bit easier by installing in-flight automated teller machines for foreign currency exchanges.
Swissair and Cathay Pacific said they will each equip a Boeing 747-300 with an ATM within the first six months of next year.
"Time is at a premium for business travelers, so it will be a great advantage to the business traveler to be able to obtain currency in the air instead of when they arrive on the ground," said Mary Ann McNulty, executive editor of Business Traveler News in Chicago.
It has been estimated that in-flight entertainment could generate as much as $1 million per plane per year. Banks stand to benefit from such transactions because the systems can be used only by swiping credit and debit cards.
By installing ATMs that can also dispense special debit cards for in- flight purchases of goods and entertainment, airlines are poised to grab a larger share of the profits.
Swissair will offer lotto and bingo games, accessible from each passenger seat with a valid credit or debit card.
"This gives us an opportunity to better serve our customers," said Swissair spokeswoman Linda Parseghian.
Cathay Pacific has started testing a program that allows first class and business class passengers access to travel and entertainment information. The program will be expanded to include purchases of duty free goods or movies, said Diana Fung, spokeswoman for the Hong Kong-based airline.
Aero Design Technology Inc. of Valencia, Calif., the manufacturer of ATM+, will provide maintenance and direct marketing support for all aspects of the program. The ATMs can be used only for currency exchange.
"With the aid of a satellite ground-to-air system, card authorizations will take 30 to 40 seconds," said Thomas M. Lee, vice president of marketing for the 12-year-old Aero Design Technology.
A paper currency validator scans and authenticates the currency, and working with the cockpit flight system, the machine automatically identifies its location, and switches currencies if a flight is rerouted.
Plans include the exchange of electronic travelers checks and the issuing of telephone cards and other store valued products.
"American Airlines, IBM, and American Express are developing a corporate chip card that will store as much data as possible, from personal information to cash access," said Cheryl Rosen, executive editor at Business Travel News in New York. "It's a logical thing for the airline industry to extend that to offering ATMs on the plane."
Pan American Airlines and British Airways confirmed that they are also looking into the concept of in-flight machines, but to date only Swissair and Cathay Pacific have signed contracts.
The banking partner for each venture, though not decided, will be from the airlines' home countries, said Mr. Lee.
The banking partner will set exchange rates and provide on a daily basis foreign exchange currencies.
"The biggest stumbling block is the economics of it," said Ann Morgan Moore, president of Synergistics Research Corp. in Atlanta. "The exchange rate is very critical. It has to be competitive."