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The Future Passenger Experience: Seamless, Less Stressful and Satisfying

This is the second article in a three-part series on the Future of Airports. To view the main page, click here

Today, unpleasant travel stories are not hard to find: congestion at check-in, security and boarding gates, as well as late flights, poor customer service and lost luggage, to name a few. Outdated airport designs and systems paired with inefficiencies are often to blame.

However, that’s changing.

New investments are proving to help minimize problems for passengers and potentially eliminate them all together in the airport of the future. From mobile check-in to biometric boarding passes, to taking advantage of growing airport amenities, the future passenger experience is being designed today.

Biometric Technology

Instead of waiting through roped off lines and stepping into human “toll booths” to be cleared through airport security, imagine walking through a virtual tunnel with hidden cameras that scan biometric tokens while people are in motion. That will soon become a reality at the Dubai International Airport, according to The National, a daily publication in Abu Dhabi.

Once completed, the airport security tunnels will feature high-quality images of an aquarium that will hold 80 cameras that scan faces and irises as people walk through. The fish will entice people to look around, allowing cameras to capture data. Once passengers reach the end of the tunnel, they will be registered and receive a green message such as “have a nice trip” or if a person needs additional screening, a red message that alerts officials to interfere, according to the report. The first aquarium tunnel is expected to be completed by 2020.

The virtual aquarium tunnel is just one of several programs around the world aimed at improving passenger friction points with biometric technology.

In the U.S., several pilot programs are being tested in Los Angeles, Boston, Miami and more. International passengers at select airports are using self-service facial and fingerprint recognition cameras and scanners to identify passengers, essentially speeding up boarding processes and self-service bag drop. In Miami, facial recognition technology is scanning up to 10 passengers a minute during boarding, the Miami Herald reports.

According to CBS News, Delta Air Lines is testing facial recognition technology for passenger boarding in New York and Atlanta and for automated bag drop in Minneapolis.

“You can literally go from, you know, curb to plane without having to interact with a human being if you so desire,” said Gareth Joyce, senior vice president of airport customer service and president of cargo at Delta, in an interview with CBS News.

Essentially, passengers can expect to see more facial and fingerprint technologies at airports around the world. It’s possible that the use of such technology could expand, allowing passengers to pay for travel upgrades and souvenirs with cameras and scanners located throughout airport terminals.

Mobile Technology

Mobile apps are becoming increasingly important throughout the travel journey.

In the future, mobile apps will not only help complete simple tasks that are commonly done today – like online check-in, instant rebooking, seat upgrades and in-flight entertainment – but they will become virtual assistants that provide information before you even think of asking a question.

Geotargeting push notifications will track all movements and provide options before passengers even approach airport parking garages. Data and insights will provide personal information such as shopping habits and environment preferences – such as premium flyer lounges, kid zones and USO services for military members and their families. Personalized notifications may even provide suggestions based on preferences – like a flash deal for your favorite cup of coffee at the shop in the next terminal, complete with turn by turn directions, pre-ordering options and the time needed to walk there and back before boarding.

Once travelers board, mobile apps will be used to stream in-flight entertainment, order in-flight meals and drinks, and ask attendants for help. Call buttons might be removed; instead, asking for a pillow or blanket will become an automated request routed to a service queue for flight attendants via smartphone apps.

Today, select airlines allow passengers to pre-order food, drinks and in-flight entertainment upgrades when boarding and checking in on mobile apps, according to The Airline Passenger Experience Association. People can also use mobile apps to receive personalized travel information, including boarding times, flight delays and gate changes. Mobile apps allow for online check-in and automatically generated e-boarding passes. According to the IATA 2017 Global Passenger Survey, mobile adoption is up, with 74% of those surveyed claiming they used an electronic boarding pass on a smartphone in the past 12 months.

As use increases, airlines and airports will leverage mobile technology to gather data and provide personalized, real-time, relevant information that enhances the entire travel experience.

Baggage Tracking

Soon, all passengers will have the option to virtually track their bags’ entire journey in airline mobile apps. Today, customers with American Airlines and Delta are already able to view bag location in real-time via (Radio Frequency Identification) RFID technology. As explained by Delta in a press release, the technology allows scanners to use radio waves – instead of manually scanning barcodes – to capture accurate and consistent data from RFID chips embedded in luggage tags.

Such efforts are credited for the global reduction of airline mishandling reports, according to the SITA Baggage Report 2017.

In 2016, reports reached an all-time low of 5.73 bags mishandled per thousand – 12.2% less than 2015, according to the Airline Passenger Experience Association. Numbers are expected to drop even more as more as additional airlines complete implementation of baggage tracking systems to meet IATA Resolution 753, which calls for cross-industry tracking for every bag by June 2018. The resolution requires airlines to track baggage at four key points – passenger handover to the airline, loading to the aircraft, deliver to the transfer area and return to the passenger.

“Everyone wins if we share data about the location of passengers’ bags more effectively,” said Peter Drummond, SITA’s portfolio director for baggage, in an interview with The Airline Passenger Experience Association.

Industry-wide roll out of such technologies paired with additional innovations could enable passengers to part with their bags before they even head to the airport and reunite after checking into their hotel at their final destination – knowing exactly where bags were at any given time. Perhaps notifications will evolve to include camera systems and voice-activated alerts from anywhere in the world. 

Airport Design

Airports around the world are transforming travel layovers.

While many of today’s amenities include day spas, movie theaters and indoor shopping malls, industry leaders are creating experiences rather than a space to wait.

One could look to the most awarded airports in the world for a glimpse of the future experience. In 2018, Singapore Changi Airport, Incheon International Airport and Tokyo Haneda International Airport received top rankings in Skytrax’s 2018 World Best Airports awards.

For example, the Changi Airport, named “World’s Best Airport” six years running, features a rooftop pool, four-story indoor slide, movie theater and more. Additionally, the airport is less than a year away from opening its show-stopping mixed-use area called the Jewel, according to Business Insider. The $1.7 billion project will feature an indoor rainforest with gardens, a waterfall, mazes and more for travelers to spend their time in between flights.

While some of the busiest airports in the U.S. are far behind the adoption of indoor waterfalls, major modernization projects are either underway or will begin soon.

LAX is undergoing a $14 billion modernization project, slated to be completed by 2023. The multi-layer project includes renovating outdated terminals, enhancing runway systems and building new gates, among other airport upgrades. New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Chicago O’Hare International are following suit. According to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago O’Hare plans to roll out an $8.5 million project that would revamp the current international terminal – nearly doubling terminal space and increasing gates from 185 to 220 by 2026.

The massive modernization projects of today will create sleek, modern airports that contain the IT infrastructure needed to ensure systems run smoothly and the design required to create a seamless experience from curb to plane.

In the future, airports will be able to accommodate more travelers, more devices and leverage technology to optimize operational efficiency and improve the overall passenger experience.

For the next part of the series, The Future of Air Travel:

Click here

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