NB: This is a guest article by Brian Beard, executive technology consultant, and Patricia Simillon, head of airlines operations strategy, both with Amadeus.
When you think about an airport today, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Long lines? Stress? Delays? Missed connections? Lost baggage?
To be sure, everyone has experienced the vast majority of these inconveniences, if not many others. Going through an airport is viewed by many as simply a means to an end, a necessary part of the process to get from one point to another.
But why couldn’t the time we spend in airports become part of the travel “experience” itself? Why is the airport such a throwback? Well, it doesnâ€™t have to be.
Unquestionably, the airport is the last part of the travel process waiting for an “experience overhaul,” a digital renovation, and todayâ€™s passengers are clamoring for it.
Airport at the center of the “experience” chain
As travel continues to evolve, we will continue to see major changes across the entire industry. This will not be limited to just the traveler experience and the use of mobile devicesâ€”it will impact the whole travel industry supply chain.
And the airport, where many trips begin and end, is potentially poised to be at the center of it all.Â We are on the verge of a true convergence of technologies in travel.
The proliferation of smartphones and tablets is and will continue to lead the way, but big data, intelligent systems, predictive analytics, enhanced security monitoring technologies and improvements to broadband connectivity will lead us through the next phase of the evolution of travel.
Airports have always been a good litmus test for technological change, and they have a great opportunity to transform the passenger experience by collaborating with every player in the travel supply chain, from the airlines to the restaurants and shops in the terminals to the taxis and hotels at the final destination.
There’s already data and discussion underway in the industry about these new opportunities in the airport ecosystem and what models are available to transform the airport experience.
Through the use of innovative technology and collaboration between all parties that make up the travel process, we will exit the twilight of the era of “cattle herding” and enter the dawn of the new and nimble airport ecosystem.
This new era of mass personalized travel services will manifest itself in many ways: lines will shrink, stress will melt away, alerts will appear in real time, and travelers will be satisfied and more productive. Just the idea makes you want to travel again!
Traveler data will fuel the airport evolution
These may seem like grandiose ideas for an antiquated air-travel infrastructure, but much of the technology needed to achieve these traveler benefits already exists today. The key that will unlock the evolution of the new airport ecosystem is traveler data.
Here are a few ways that access to real-time traveler data can enhance the traveler experience:
1. Flight changes
- If carriers have access to travelersâ€™ locations through their smartphones, they can automatically recognize when a passenger is delayed and immediately rebook his/her flight.
- Biometric screening such as iris scanning can be used to check-in passengers automatically upon airport entry.
- Ambient technology can be used to scan all passengers upon terminal arrival.
- Airlines can use facial recognition to facilitate operator-less gate boarding.
- Airports and carriers can integrate with a secure intermediary to send baggage straight from the airport to passengersâ€™ destinations.
Beyond these passenger benefits, airlines, which know the location of their passengers following check-in, are well equipped to enable new, personalized traveler experiences.
By collaborating with airlines, local retail stores and restaurants can send coupons to passengersâ€™ mobile phones the second they step off the plane.
And airports can be set up and equipped to receive these types of travelers.
This is not to say that there will not be challenges. The security of personal information is clearly a hot topic, and all players within the travel supply chain will need to work together to protect and share that information responsibly and securely.
As weâ€™ve seen with mobile platforms and social media networks, consumers will ultimately dictate the amount of information that is shared.
Airports are already “getting it”
There are a few standout airports that are already focused on evolving the airport ecosystem. Singaporeâ€™s Changi Airport is a perfect example of innovation centered on the passenger experience.
The airport features a “SWIFT” smartphone-enabled service for agencies and tenants to receive real-time feedback from customers and resolve any issues (such as dirty washrooms) immediately.
In addition, the airport features a wide range of traveler-centric leisure and entertainment options, ranging from gardens and nature trails to city tours, interactive art zones and a 3D electronics zone.
Tegel Airport in Berlin is another standout travel hub, capitalizing on what they say Germans are best known for: efficiency. As passengers approach the airport, a large, real-time departure board shows the gate for their flight, which they can drive directly to.
Check-in is located immediately behind the entry doors, and a few steps beyond take you through airport security.
In fact, the UKâ€™s Centre for Policy Studies notes that “seven minutes after stepping out of the taxi a passenger can be in the departure lounge, boarding pass in hand”.
Vestiges of a bygone era
Where are you going? How many bags do you have? What is your flight number? Can I see your boarding pass and a form of government issued identification? What is your seat number? Can I see your baggage ticket?
In the airport ecosystem of the future, skycaps, ticketing agents, TSA officials and flight attendants wonâ€™t need to ask these questions anymore, and relaxed travelers will be able to focus on where theyâ€™re going and the traveler’s experience while getting there rather than stress out about where they are.
NB:Â This is a guest article by Brian Beard, executive technology consultant, and Patricia Simillon, head of airlines operations strategy, both withÂ Amadeus.