Despite the advent of online check-in, airport kiosks and mobile boarding passes, the airport experience continues to be plagued with long lines resulting in passenger frustration.
We are at the dawn of a new age of passenger processing triggered by the emergence of mobile Near Field Communication (NFC).
In this context, NFC involves two devices: an NFC-enabled mobile phone and an NFC reader. The passenger simply passes their phone over the NFC reader and, voila, the passenger is checked into the flight, checks his or her bags, pays for additional services and boards the flight.
Weâ€™ve all seen this common vision described in different papers, and in the case of Appleâ€™s iTravel as part of its patent.
An IATA-GSMA whitepaper [pdf] helps formalize the benefits of NFC for airport processing and highlights the advantages of this technology for passenger check-in, baggage check-in, security checkpoints, and boarding.
It all sounds great, but when will we NFC be in widespread use?
Two things must happen to bring this concept to reality — the widespread adoption of NFC-enabled mobile phones and the implementation of NFC at the airport locations.
ABI research predicts that 247 million smartphones will be NFC-enabled by 2015.
How long will it take airports to install NFC readers depends on the specific airport authority, its IT infrastructure budget and willingness of the airlines to replace their 2D bar code process with NFC readers.
In other words, donâ€™t get too excited as it will likely be at least 5-7 years until NFC becomes commonplace.
Payment will also be revolutionized with NFC. In many parts of the world NFC-enabled credit cards already facilitate swiping for payments, and as NFC-enabled phones become more common, the card will be replaced by the phone.
When NFC becomes commonplace there will be benefits beyond this self-service capability in providing a unique opportunity to interact with passengers on a one-to-one basis.
The ability to interact with 2D bar codes is already beginning to change the way customers interact with advertising and the physical world.
NFC has the potential to further enhance this capability as posters and other real world objects become NFC-enabled.
At the heart of this new process is a personal interaction between the traveler and technology that can act as a delivery platform for true one to one marketing. The passenger simply swipes Â his or her NFC-enabled phone across the advertisement and receives product information and mobile coupons.Â These NFC capabilities are already in widespread use in Japan.
As with any technological change that requires infrastructure modifications, NFC will be an evolutionary effort as it appears in various airports across the globe over the next few years.
It will give passengers greater control of what is essentially an end-to-end self-service process.
And this will allow airlines to deploy human resources selectively.
Photo Credit: GSM Association