Self-service. Passengers love it, technology delivers it. As self-service permeates every step of the journey, it unveils an ever more powerful correlation between technology on the one hand and passenger relationships and emotions on the other.
It’s a correlation anticipated at least 20 years ago now, when Kevin Kelly, co-founder of one of the world’s first online communities, The WELL, wrote a book called ‘New Rules for the New Economy’. It included two novel ideas at the time that now underpin everything that’s happening in self-service in air transport.
Kelly said the imperative of the network economy is to amplify relationships, and that this economy is founded on technology but can only be built on relationships. In a phrase coined at the time: “It starts with chips and ends with trust.”
We see relationships between airlines/airports and their passengers changing at an unprecedented rate, not least because of the extraordinary pace of technological change – and the hunger of passengers to have control of their journey.
Passengers expect (rather than just want) to stay in touch with what’s happening during their journey, with access to relevant information whenever they need it. They expect a seamless experience, one which will generate a positive emotional response to their journey.
This expectation produces a diametric change in relationships as the industry strives to meet rising passenger expectations rather than expect passengers to conform to its own preferences.
Yet this is a huge opportunity, as well as a considerable challenge, to a sector that’s rewriting the rules of engagement with its customers almost on a daily basis. The industry has to rethink relationships with customers and the myriad stakeholders making up our global interconnected ecosystem.
In rethinking those relationships, the pressure remains to create a truly joined up passenger journey – one that offers a self-managed, seamless end-to-end, experience driven by self-service, mobility and other technologies at each step along the way.
That demands ‘joined-up community thinking’, which is why initiatives like the recently signed agreement between SITA and IATA (see 'The sense of community') are important to the air transport industry. It brings together two core air transport organizations to help the industry benefit from more community-based initiatives and programs that respond to traveler expectations.
As relationships and the level of trust grows between passengers and the airport / airline, so passengers will welcome new ideas that give them more control over their own journeys.
James Cherry, President & CEO, Aéroports de Montréal
Make no mistake; change has been rapid and pervasive. Self-service check-in was barely heard of 10 years ago. Now four in 10 passengers use any of a number of different channels for self-service check-in, whether online in the comfort of their homes, via a mobile app in a taxi en route to the airport or at a kiosk in the terminal. Today in some markets, upwards of 80% of passengers enjoy the advantages of self-managed travel, particularly through multi-channel self-service check-in.
IATA’s industry leadership continues to drive impressive results. “Our Fast Travel initiative, which is part of our 10-year old Simplifying the Business (StB) program, responds to passenger demands, delivering time-savings through self-service options,” says Paul Behan, Director, Passenger at IATA.
“They include self-service check-in and/or automatic check-in, self-bag tagging, self-boarding and automatic rebooking.
“In 2014, our goal was to make at least four Fast Travel options available to 27% of eligible passengers, which required a significant acceleration of our plans. With the support of our airport and IT partners, we are making it happen.”
IATA’s stated goal is that by 2020 it wants 80% of air travelers to be offered a complete self-service suite based on industry standards. Behan confirms that: “Today, there are three member airlines already at ‘platinum’ status (reaching the 80%) and these include SAS, Hawaiian Airlines and Air Canada. There are more carriers about to reach the ‘magic 80%’ during 2015.”
“The program has built great momentum and is on track, meeting passenger demands for choice, convenience and control of the journey,” notes Behan.
“It will provide savings for the industry of more than US$ 2 billion a year. But perhaps more importantly, it will expand the scope of opportunity for airports and airlines to enhance their relationships with passengers.”
IATA’s Behan cites the examples of InBag and Smart Security. InBag focuses on reducing baggage mishandling further, encouraging baggage service delivery products and the introduction of modern standards for communications and systems design.
In the meantime, IATA’s joint Smart Security program with Airports Council International continues to forge ahead with trials having taken place at Amsterdam Schiphol, London Heathrow, and Hamad International Airport in Doha.
“Through advance passenger information combined with self-service kiosks and gates, the program will improve security while also removing the hassle,” says Behan.
“Passengers will proceed through security checkpoints with a minimum of queuing and disrobing. Resources will be allocated based on risk, and airport facilities will be optimized.”
Spanning the journey
SITA’s range of self-service solutions spans the journey, from bag drop and security at origination to customs and baggage claim at destination. Aligned with IATA’s programs, they’re based on global industry standards and common-use technologies.
“As our new memorandum of understanding makes clear, SITA and IATA’s agendas remain aligned,” says Francesco Violante, CEO, SITA (see 'The sense of community').
“We have been partners from the outset in the development and innovation of services for Simplifying the Business. Our focus on providing end-to-end self-service solutions closely matches the Fast Travel program, giving passengers more control and a better experience.”
SITA’s self-service solutions are used in every corner of the globe, transforming passenger experiences and airport efficiency.
They’ve been playing a prominent role in improving passengers’ experience at hundreds of airports, one of the most recent adopters being Melbourne Airport.
As a result of its embrace of new and innovative self-service initiatives, the airport scooped the innovation prize at the Australian Airports Association’s 2014 Industry Awards. (See the box below: ‘Self-service winners – Melbourne Airport’.)
Hold tight for more
As the pace picks up, we need to hold on tight for more changes to come. SITA’s 2015 Passenger IT Trends Survey and Airline IT Trends Survey make it clear that passengers expect ever-increasing control of their own travel arrangements, and that they’re very emotional about the fact.
James C. Cherry – President & CEO of Aéroports de Montréal and Chairman of the Board of Airports Council International North America – has suggested that the first phase of self-service revolution is over.
He believes the next more radical phase is now under way with self-service technologies in areas such as parking to immigration and security clearance. But there’s even more to come as the relationships noted by The WELL’s Kelly mature, founded on trust and technologies.
“Self-service will be tied ever closer to the individual,” says Cherry. “It will feature in the home as passengers check-in and print their own bag tags, in the terminal as service agents provide personalized services using wearable technology, in the aircraft and at baggage collection.
“As relationships and the level of trust grows between passengers and airport/airline, so passengers will welcome new ideas that give them more control over their own journeys. We’re already gathering sophisticated amounts of data – and we will be able to hold real-time, location-based, two-way and targeted conversations with passengers.”
Indeed this is happening, with the trialing and gradual rollout of technology using near-field communications (NFC), beacons and wearable technology providing interactive information for passengers as they move around the airport.
Miami International Airport’s and American Airlines’ deployment of beacons with SITA, for example, as well as Virgin Airways and Copenhagen’s trials of Google Glass with SITA Lab.
So in the era of connected travel the pace of self-service is relentless and increasing. What’s clear from all of the fast moving initiatives is that the traveler’s desire to connect and control along the journey is matched by the air transport community’s determination to invest in the enabling technology.
What’s equally clear is the imperative to keep in mind customer relationships, emotions and trust at the top of the IT agenda, making the connected traveler an exciting and far-reaching concept. One that is changing the industry profoundly.