Mobile technology has changed how we interact with the world, as anyone who uses a smartphone can attest.
Just as smartphones have altered our social, professional and home lives, rapid improvements in hardware, software and wireless connectivity have ushered the air travel industry into the digital age. Air travelers feel the effects of technological advancement pre-flight, at airports and on aircraft, and they have come to expect even more implementation of new technology to enhance the travel experience.
Many technological advances in aviation worldwide arose in recent years as demand increased for greater flight safety and airport security, as well as increased passenger convenience and autonomy. Here are a few ways technology has changed how travelers experience flight.
More Efficiency from Point A to Point B
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) operates the NextGen project, a recent $1.6 billion investment in technology across the entirety of the National Airspace System. An additional $11.4 billion in improvements is expected over the next 15 years.
The goal of NextGen is to implement state-of-the-art technologies and procedures that “enable aircraft to move more directly from Point A to Point B,” according to the FAA. Here are a few examples of NextGen programs that already are in use in an attempt to improve efficiency:
The FAA also funds a number of major capital programs intended to improve the efficiency and safety of the National Airspace System. Programs currently under development apply to improvements in navigation, telecommunications, computer processing, surveillance, weather monitoring and prediction, as well as tools for air traffic controllers.
Reducing Delays at ‘Pinch Points’
In addition to improved methods to ensure smoother movement from Point A to Point B, streamlining the air travel experience requires the development of technology-driven plans that reduce the delaying effect of various “pinch points” in the air travel experience.
Potential “pinch points” include check-in, passport control, baggage check, gates, parking, customer service kiosks and other traditional instances of face-to-face interaction between a passenger and an airport or airline staffer, or a Transportation Security Administration officer.
Airport planners and airlines around the world are using a wide variety of devices, software and Wi-Fi-enabled hardware to ease the travel process for passengers. Technological conveniences include:
Robots Take on Tasks
There is one more major advance in airport technology that could have been ripped straight from the script of the 1960s animated show, “The Jetsons.” Robots have been introduced at airports in Geneva (Switzerland), Auckland (New Zealand) and Tokyo to perform tasks as simple as luggage transport and as complex as cleaning.
In 2015, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines rolled out Spencer, a robot “tour guide” with the ability to converse with and perceive the emotions of passengers at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Spencer even has the ability to respond to minor crises, such as spills or a crowded terminal.
Advances in the depth and adaptability of artificial intelligence (AI) could revolutionize the way robots are used in airports. Cognitive technology research is ongoing, and Middle East airline Etihad recently agreed to a $700 million partnership with IBM to explore the uses of AI using the IBM Watson technology platform.
The 2016 IATA Global Passenger Survey revealed that passengers want even greater autonomy, with wider availability of technology-enabled functionality such as mobile boarding passes, instant check-in on arrival, automated security checks and better airline-to-customer communication about flight status, baggage status and wait times.