Airports of the future: Towards a seamless and simplified customer experience

Updated: December 9, 2016 9:36:03 AM

It’s the year 2025 and the day before Diwali. You’re getting late to the airport, with a lot more luggage than anticipated, and you have a 2 hour 45 minute flight to the other end of the country.

Woodward says there was only one minor ankle injury reported but the person refused treatment because she was concerned about making her connecting flight. (Representative image: Reuters)Passengers now don’t need to empty pockets and can instead keep their bags in their hand with toothpaste, perfume, laptop and all as they pass through the checkpoints of the future. (Reuters)

It’s the year 2025 and the day before Diwali. You’re getting late to the airport, with a lot more luggage than anticipated, and you have a 2 hour 45 minute flight to the other end of the country. A few years ago, this would have been a stressful situation with long waiting time in check-in queues, slow security checks, and difficulty in finding one’s way around the airport. Not anymore, and never again—this is the future, after all.

Instead, imagine being able to check in with a single touch—your fingerprint. Imagine paperless air travel with the use of a biometric token serving as your passport, boarding pass and ID for the journey—eliminating the need for separate documents. Security clearance improvements that use laser molecular body scanners to detect banned materials hidden in clothing or hand luggage in seconds. Passengers now don’t need to empty pockets and can instead keep their bags in their hand with toothpaste, perfume, laptop and all as they pass through the checkpoints of the future.

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Too good to be true? Not for the airports of tomorrow, investing in smart innovations that benefit both passengers and airports. For passengers this means a memorable and stress-free experience. For airports, this means operational excellence and increased revenue opportunities. Leveraging technology in keeping travellers well-informed not only improves overall customer satisfaction and reduces the burden on the airport, but it also leads to travellers spending more time relaxing at the airport. According to JD Power’s North American Airport Satisfaction Survey, passengers that report high levels of satisfaction at an airport tend to spend up to 45% more on an average at retail stores. It’s simple—Happy Travellers. Successful Airport. So what is the best way for airports to approach this opportunity?

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Re-imagining technology led customer experience

The ideal journey through the airports of the future will be a seamless and simplified customer experience, driven by technologies that promise to revolutionise a traveller’s experience through an airport.

We have reviewed some of the key digital technologies that are helping reshape passenger experiences in the airports of tomorrow.

The future is better with beacons

Personalisation and context are essential in delivering enhanced customer experiences. Beacon technology is a fairly new, hyper-local way of providing location-based services, based on contextualisation. Beacons essentially do three things: they give a passenger’s exact location, present the proximity of things close by, and finally speculate the intent of a passenger. Airports have a huge opportunity in combining the information on location from beacons with historical information on user behaviour and preferences, to generate customised offers and communications, enhancing the customer’s experience and maximising marketing return on investment. Beacon technology at airports also enables monitoring of airport throughput, tracking passengers as they navigate through the airport and helping the airport manager achieve better efficiencies in passenger flow management. According to a report by SITA, by the end of 2018, about 74% of airports globally will be using beacons to provide notices to passengers, 58% for locating resources and 48% for environmental sensing.

Smart security using body scanners and biometric check points

Smart security allows passengers to proceed through security check points with minimal inconvenience while enabling the allocation of security resources based on risk. The future holds a new generation of millimeter-wave technology (MMW) full body scanners which can detect metallic and non-metallic items and process up to 5-6 passengers a minute at 10-12 seconds each, to step in, raise their arms, scan and step out. This is about 360 passengers an hour while X-ray metal detectors can process only about 150 passengers an hour. In addition, biometric recognition technologies (fingerprint, iris and face) installed at both arrival and departure zones speed up passenger screening and reduce queuing time whilst addressing security concerns. The biometric token is a step in the direction of a paperless journey serving as passport, boarding pass and ID, issued post check-in and scanning. This needn’t be a physical token and can be instead stored securely in a passenger’s smartphone. A few airports across the world have already started testing smart security, like Heathrow, Schiphol, Hamad International Airport and Melbourne Airport.

Near field communication and digital luggage tags

For many passengers, the baggage process can be a source of great stress. Enter the permanent bag tag—a reusable tag designed to replace the traditional paper bag tag that makes use of a short-range low power wireless technology—Near Field Communication (NFC). Using a smartphone app, a passenger checks-in for a flight, holds their smartphone over a personalised digital tag which programs it with flight details and baggage destination information. At the airport, the passenger skips the counter that dispenses tags and leaves the electronically tagged luggage at the baggage drop or with a representative at the counter. With every new trip, the information on the tag is reprogrammed. Convenience and speed are key for frequent travellers and with security built into the design of the digital baggage tags, it allows a passenger real-time tracking of their baggage—they are now as good as digital passports.

Seamlessly integrated airport experience

Passenger touchpoints in the future will no longer be defined by key information interchanges at check-in, security check or boarding. Instead, the use of an advanced management platform enables the integration of all passenger touch-points into an end-to-end workflow in coordination with the passenger flow. Aruba International Airport, for example, has initiated an innovative passenger pilot project in which the passenger is required to show his passport only once through the entire journey, following which facial recognition technology serves as the basis of a single passenger token at multiple stages in the airport journey streamlining the passenger process, making it fast and secure.

The digital transformation of an airport goes well beyond small technology experiments. An airport can achieve great efficiencies as it embraces the digital revolution, rethinking what customers value the most and creating operating models that leverage the new technologies for competitive differentiation. There is no better time to own the future than now.

Suresh Subudhi heads the public sector infrastructure practice-India and Gaurav Jindal is Project Leader at The Boston Consulting Group India. Views are personal

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