Go with the flow

Go with the flow

Go with the flow

Passenger flow technology is a boost for every airport operator. From the moment a passenger arrives at the airport their progress, speed and dwell-time can all be used to smooth the flow of people through the terminal.

Passenger flow management tools are creating powerful opportunities for airports to enhance the movement of passengers through the airport. But be mindful of best practices cautions a new paper.

Everyone wants passengers to move from curb-side to airside with minimum fuss. We’d all like relevant information delivered as needed, no stress and no surprises, no queues.

But for many airports it’s a dream that’s become increasingly difficult to realize. More passengers, larger aircraft and increased security make flying more stressful and the smooth running of airport operations more elusive to achieve.


The consequences are only too well known. Flight delays caused by late boarders cost airlines tens of thousands of dollars. Not to mention passenger frustrations and perceptions.

On the retail side, SITA figures indicate that an extra 10 minutes spent at security may reduce retail spend by as much as 30%. JD Power found that passengers who are very satisfied with an airport tended to spend more in retail outlets – up to 45% more on average, according to their North American Airport Satisfaction Survey.


”The upside is that technology is providing workable solutions to better manage passenger flow. With that technology come extra opportunities for value creation,” says Rolf Felkel, Vice President Airside, Terminal and Security Applications at Fraport AG.

“By obtaining 'live' information on these flows, airports can react more quickly to unfolding events by deploying extra staff and rerouting passengers to other areas of the airport.”

At the same time, passengers can be kept informed across the journey – often via their smartphones – with personalized up-to-the-minute information about wait times at security and passport control, in addition to other services such as parking availability, baggage tracking, gate changes, flight status, retail offers and more.

Airports can also track, manage and share real-time information about their assets in a smart predictive environment that uses IT infrastructure intelligently.


The number of airports with detailed operational experience of passenger flow monitoring is increasing rapidly. Recognizing this, the Airports Council International (ACI) World Airport IT Standing Committee recently published a best practice paper bringing together existing experience on passenger flow measurement solutions.

The new paper – ‘Best Practice on Automated Passenger Flow Measurement Solutions’ – provides a guideline for airports intending to use passenger flow measurement technologies in the future.


Co-authored by Fraport and SITA, the paper addresses technical solutions that don’t assume explicitly cooperative or opt-in passenger behavior. These ‘non-cooperative solutions’ are typically integrated in the terminal infrastructure, or they use data from existing passenger processes, such as boarding pass scans or mobile devices and Wi-Fi signals.

From the passengers’ perspective these solutions are transparent –measuring flow without any awareness of the passenger, or breach of data privacy, as they monitor passenger movements anonymously.

Use cases

Different use cases have been analyzed based on a range of general characteristics. And because every airport and terminal is truly unique, usage scenarios have individual properties that should be considered to improve terminal operations and planning.

The best practice paper cites two underlying lessons:

  • Because each location and environment is different, there must be a sufficiently long testing phase in a live operations setting, in order to help avoid painful surprises.
  • Once implemented, airports must regularly check the automated measurement solutions to guarantee a constant level of high quality data.


While automated passenger flow measurement solutions can offer great value by improving efficiency and the quality of passenger services, airports must take care when selecting the best relevant technologies.

To help boost business value, the paper offers guidelines to that aim to resolve typical challenges in choosing and implementing the technical solution.

Generally speaking, says the paper, the measurement of passenger flow performance indicators must help to:

  • Confirm and improve passenger service quality.
  • Estimate temporary and continuous bottlenecks in the terminal building.
  • Estimate future resource allocation at process points.
  • Calibrate automated passenger flow forecast tools.

Why automate?

“Of course, it’s quite possible to measure the performance of passenger flow manually. But there are clearly disadvantages compared with automated solutions,” says Felkel.

“For example, the quality of measurement will depend on the experience and concentration of staff, while manual measurement can only be performed as a sample and not continuously over a long period of time."

“Using automated, IT-based solutions, these disadvantages simply don’t exist because IT solutions deliver a continuously updated stream of performance indicators with an equal level of quality.”

According to the paper, while automated solutions usually deliver a better return on investment, the calculation of a local business case depends on the specific needs of that individual airport and local conditions within the terminal facilities.

Influencing factors

The interpretation of any passenger flow solution data depends on several influencing factors, stresses the paper.

Some are solution inherent (sensor technology and calculation software) and some are more external (terminal environment or passenger behavior). They can be defined in three areas.

Technology – the most important influencing factors are encountered through the measurement solution itself. The solution architecture and the technology used (sensor as well as software) have special properties that should be known and considered by any airport looking to deploy automated passenger flow technology.

Terminal environment – the environment of the passenger terminal and the location of sensors can influence the quality of the measurement solution.

Passenger behavior and flow characteristics – interpreting the results of a passenger flow measurement solution must also take into account the possible behavior of the individual or group of passengers, and the characteristics of passenger flow as a whole.

A boost

Passenger flow technology is a boost for every airport operator, says the paper. From the moment a passenger arrives at the airport their progress, speed and dwell-time can all be used to smooth the flow of people through the terminal.   

Real-time and historical data analysis helps airport management to provide the optimal number of processing points, as well as getting the right number of staff in the right place at the right time.

What’s more, armed with this intelligence, airports can ensure that the right assets are deployed and that the right information is available and presented. Each passenger becomes part of a trigger to deliver improvements to customer service that benefits everyone.

“With the right technology and careful planning and testing, obtaining passenger flow data is not difficult,” concludes Felkel. “But making the best use of that data is more complex, requiring a forensic grasp of the processes involved and a clear understanding of what’s useful data and what’s peripheral.

“The result is a substantial potential gain for every airport operator – financial and reputational. And the tools are now available to provide that advantage.”

ACI EUROPE Digital Report 2014–2015

SITA has played an important part in the latest digital report by ACI Europe, the European region of Airports Council International (ACI).

Called the ACI Europe Digital Report 2014–2015, the publication looks at the impact of Wi-Fi, social media and mobile on airports as they strive to attain quality as an essential component of their competitive position.

Digital considerations are ever more important. This means not just attracting airlines, but working on all aspects of the passenger experience, to make it seamless, but also more diverse and more customized.

Wi-Fi, social, mobile

"The level of activity on Wi-Fi, social networks and smartphones has rocketed over the past five years in particular – and it keeps evolving," says Olivier Jankovec, Director General, ACI Europe.

"The digital revolution has been a tremendous enabler thus far – with social media in particular finally giving airports the opportunity to engage directly with passengers."

Special mention goes to Catherine Mayer and Kevin O’Sullivan at SITA.

O’Sullivan says: "Airports are continually trying to improve the quality of customer service and effectively embracing fast moving digital trends is clearly a vital part of that."

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