Heathrow

Smart Airports promise travellers fewer trip hazards and less stress

By: Gillian Upton @gillupton1
Published: Monday, December 1, 2014 - 11:57 GMT Jump to Comments

Smart airports are set to revolutionise the passenger experience as airports invest in beacon, NFC, mobile and wearable technologies.

Traveller stress is one of the hidden costs of business travel. Now businesses caring for the wellbeing of their travelling staff can look forward to advances in the passenger experience at the world’s airports.

Imagine driving to the airport, having chosen a car parking space in advance and, on arrival, being told exactly where to drop your bag, being able to track your luggage throughout your entire journey, being informed where the shortest security queue is, where to go and when to start your journey to the gate from where you are currently and on arrival, being guided to the right carousel to collect your bag.

This is the airport experience of the future for passengers. Smart airports or intelligent airports are set to revolutionise the passenger experience as airports invest in beacon, NFC, mobile and wearable technologies to ease the journey through the airport, which is known to be the most stressful part of any air journey.

It’s no surprise that this is on the horizon as already, some 97% of travellers carry a smartphone, tablet or laptop, and one in five travel with all three, so travellers want to use technology at every point of the journey.

Airports need to prepare themselves for the connected traveller according to the Global Airport Trend Survey published in early November by SITA, the IT solutions company for the air transport industry. And that’s just what they’re doing.

SITA works with almost every airport and major airline around the world and reports that the majority of the total airport investments of US$6.8bn will go on IT. Some 33% will be implementing beacon technology, 84% mobile applications, 16% investigating in wearable technologies and 49% investing in Near Field Technology (NFC) by 2020.

These developments will give passengers more convenience, more control and a more connected experience. More self-service is at the heart of it all, which means more mobile options. Moreover, the investments will help airports help process the increasing number of passengers coming through their doors.

NFC, for example, offers a ‘tap and fly’ facility whereby travellers tap on their phone at a boarding gate (which doesn’t even have to be turned on or the battery charged) and walk straight through.  Air France is currently trialling this with its Touch& Pass app at Toulouse airport on Toulouse to Paris Orly flights.

Beacon technology provides the right message at the right time by using the customer’s Bluetooth signal to estimate their proximity to a beacon. Beacons are small, low energy Bluetooth transmitters that trigger the passenger app.

SITA is running pilot beacon programmes with Copenhagen, Shanghai Hongqiao and Miami airports and American Airlines and Virgin Atlantic. EasyJet trialled iBeacon technology this summer at its three busiest airports - London Luton, London Gatwick and Paris CDG airports – to notify iPhone users when approaching security checks and it is likely to be rolled out.

American Airlines app uses iBeacon technology on the Apple Watch provides travellers with pre-trip notifications, gate change alerts, connecting gate information when arriving at connecting airports and boarding times.

In the UK British Airways sends push notifications to smartphones of when the gate is open and when to board, while the airline is utilising iBeacon technology to send the wifi password when travellers enter their lounge at Heathrow T5.

Lufthansa customers using T1 at Frankfurt Airport can scan their boarding cards at self-service check-in machines to find up to date information about their flight.

Wearable technology will provide other passenger service enhancements. After a successful trial earlier this year, Virgin Atlantic will roll out Google Glass and Sony SmartWatch next year at its Upper Class Wing at Heathrow, to offer “an even more personalised and efficient service” for passengers arriving by limo, said a spokesperson.

A faster passport control process using self-service automated passport control (APC) kiosks is reducing wait times by 40% at Melbourne, Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Boston, LA, Philadelphia and JetBlue’s T5 terminal in JFK.

The APCs use biometrics (iris, fingerprint and face recognition) that expedites border control procedures. Dublin and Rome Fiumicino airports are currently trialling biometric gates. “We want to catch the baddies and let the good passengers through as quickly as possible,” said a SITA spokesperson.

By 2017 SITA reports that 85% of airports expect the majority of their passengers to use self-service check-in, and by 2020, 80% of global passengers will have access to a complete suite of self-service options from arriving at the airport to clearing immigration at the final destination.

Airports will offer a faster, smoother and better-connected and therefore less-stressful journey through the airport in the future.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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