Getting through a busy airport to reach the comparative tranquility of the airside lounges can be one of the most frustrating aspects of the travel experience. Crowded check-in areas and long queues at security are just some of the joys.
So IATA’s vision of going from curbside to duty free shop in 10 minutes might even have raised the eyebrows of Usain Bolt.
But such has been the impact of technology on the way we travel already, that for those of us working on the technology side of the industry such an idea is no longer a flight of fancy.
Smart technology for smarter airports
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72% of airports plan to check-in more than half of passengers through a kiosk by 2017 and 65 percent of passengers are interested in self-service bag drop.
The check-in process has already had a technology makeover and today around 38% of passengers globally check-in by web, mobile or kiosk, with the figure much higher in the North American and European markets.
The industry is now very much focused on baggage processes to bring them into the self-service sphere. At SITA, we have worked with a number of airports, such as Melbourne and Brisbane in Australia to deploy bag-drop solutions. The impact has often been immediate with self-service bag-drops operating much faster than traditional baggage processing – our units typically process 60 passengers an hour, compared to 24 using staffed counters.
Outbound security checks, of course, still remain a frustrating and time-consuming part of air travel for passengers. It is not something that the industry alone can fix, but needs close cooperation with border security agencies.
Nevertheless, that close cooperation is starting to happen in some countries and IATA and ACI are doing a great job of driving improvements to the security processes through their Smart Security program.
Automated gates and kiosks are going to be at the heart of the improvements. For example, our automated border control (ABC) kiosks use biometric technology to process passengers securely in less than 60 seconds. These kiosks are already helping outbound passengers get to their aircraft quicker in Abu Dhabi and Ireland.
The ‘connected passenger’ is a game-changer
The fast adoption of smartphone technology by passengers has opened the door to new self-service options and further automation of the journey through the airport. It enables us to use proximity sensing technologies to link the discrete steps through the airport into a more seamless journey that is both faster and more convenient.
For example, in 2014, SITA worked on a pilot project that allowed passengers travelling on Air France flights from Toulouse-Blagnac Airport to Paris-Orly Airport in France to use smartphones enabled with Near Field Communication (NFC) to get from the airport entrance to their gates seamlessly in a matter of minutes.
By simply tapping their phone on dedicated readers in the airport, they were able to quickly pass through the different steps of their journey. Even if the passenger’s phone was locked or the battery was dead, the NFC readers could still automatically read their boarding pass
Last year SITA also worked with several airports, including Miami International Airport and Copenhagen Airport, to deploy iBeacons, a technology Apple introduced with iOS 7. Beacons send out Bluetooth signals that when integrated with a mobile app can trigger location-relevant information or actions on the mobile device when it moves into range.
For passengers, this means receiving the right information at the right time. Beacons can efficiently guide passengers with indoor directions or walk times to gates, for example, or display their mobile boarding pass as they approach the gate.
Clearly it is going to take time for the industry to adopt these technologies. Queues are not going to disappear overnight. IATA has a target of offering a complete suite of self-service options based on industry standards to 80% of passengers by 2020.
But the good news is that for those who like turning up at the airport late you will not need to be an Olympic sprinter to make your flight.