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Student innovation challenge

Published on  05 June by Amber Harrison , Director, Corporate Social Responsibility, SITA
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First-time flyers – what can ease the stress of a maiden voyage?

During a recent trip to Africa with the SITA Air Transport Community Foundation, I met an elderly lady at the airport in Zimbabwe. She was boarding an airplane for the first time to visit her son in South Africa.

I am a frequent flyer. My trip to view the SITA Air Transport Community Foundation funded ICT Labs was one of many I've taken over the last several years and I also enjoy air travel as a tourist.

For this lady, however, a first airplane trip presented every possible worst case scenario. She was concerned about catching the wrong plane, missing her flight or getting lost at the airport; she was unsure of how to use the flight ticket, or find the boarding gate.

Thankfully, we were travelling to the same destination, so I was able to help. But, as a seasoned traveler, I realized how complex a first-time plane trip can be.

A helping hand

Amber Harrison with studentWe raised this topic with WITS University students and entrepreneurs at Tshimologong Precinct in South Africa March this year, in the form of an innovation challenge, asking: "What information, tools or technology will the first-time air traveler in Africa need to make their journey easy, successful and enjoyable?"

The incentive for workable solutions was a US$10,000 reward for the winning entry.

We kicked off with briefing sessions, discussing how the growth of air travel in Africa was predicted by IATA to be 5.4% between 2014-2034 – second only to the Middle East (6%).

The top 10 fastest-growing markets, by percentage, are all in Africa, according to IATA's 20-year passenger growth forecast (2016). Many of those will likely be first-time travelers, such as my elderly companion in Zimbabwe.


Population boom and air travel

According to UN predictions, Africa stands out as the region set for the biggest increase in population over the next 20 years.

Seven African countries are predicted to move income groups, from low to middle income in the period 2015 to 2035, while a further four will move from middle to high income groups.

Add to this the increasing penetration of mobile and digital technologies opening up access to travel and online booking, and the opportunity exists for a greater number of people to travel by air across Africa than ever before.

A modern dilemma?

Let's put aside numbers for a moment, and focus on the people in these statistics.

Each 'newbie' flyer in Africa may well be the first in their family to board an airplane – let alone negotiate the maze of an airport.

They could miss common points of reference that frequent flyers take for granted and may not have any knowledge of how to navigate an airport (or a boarding pass using a mobile device or, even how to use a mobile device). Even getting to the airport can represent a challenge – so how could this be addressed?

Solid (and surprising) solutions

Many of the students to whom I chatted have never flown in an airplane, let alone visited an airport. Despite (or because of) this disadvantage, they emerged with refreshing, clever and highly innovative solutions.

A shortlisted group of students has been selected and will be taken on a tour of OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg in May to help develop their concepts.

I am looking forward to being part of the judging panel in July, together with WITS and Tshimologong experts, where we'll have the chance to review these solutions in more detail.

And how was that maiden voyage for Gogo (Granny)? Together, we navigated passport control, collected her luggage, and I watched her being safely delivered into the waiting arms of her precious son.

It was a touching reunion – and a reminder of the value of a helping hand.

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