Airports and travel providers are turning to technology – and the data collected and maintained by it – to play a key role in the industry shift toward a more frictionless, “traveler-centric” approach to the end-to-end travel journey. For travelers, this shift brings with it a streamlined passenger process to meet traveler expectations of an unparalleled travel experience, impacting everything from the efficiency and effectiveness of the security clearance process to the traveler’s enjoyment of airport facilities. For airports and travel providers, it’s an opportunity to strengthen bonds with travelers and improve performance.
Following are some of the latest innovations in airport technology to look out for in 2018 and beyond.
The Role of Data
The ubiquity of data in the travel experience is helping usher-in a new golden age of travel. By mining the mountains of data generated by travelers and travel-related facilities alike, innovators are finding a wealth of opportunities to transform the traveler experience from “Point A to Point B” to one rich with new products and services catering to traveler wants and needs.
According to Joe Leader, CEO of Airline Passenger Experience Association, “Consumer technology is driving airline partners, alliances, airports and technology providers to integrate, cooperate, and collaborate around the passenger experience,”1 requiring a more open exchange of data between stakeholders.
Even the simplest trip involves the collection and maintenance of a considerable amount of passenger data, some of which can be used to enhance the traveler experience. Despite critical concerns around data privacy, a recent survey found that 85% of passengers would be happy to provide additional information to speed up process checks.2 In today’s “on-demand economy,” consumers are more willing to share their personal data if the end-effect is a more efficient and personalized experience. Biometrics (discussed further below) is one area where travelers increasingly show receptivity to share what is arguably their most sensitive personal data in exchange for a transformation of the traditional security clearance process – where most travel-related anxiety is experienced by passengers.
Airports are making innovative use of aggregate passenger data and the “Internet of Things” to streamline and enhance the traveler experience with their facilities. One example is Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG), a Skytrax award-winning facility, which collaborates with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) by using data to drive efficient staffing during volume-related surges that typically disrupt the security check process. The result, according to Brian Cobb, Chief Innovation Officer for CVG’s operator, Kenton Country Airport Board, is a significant reduction in security queue wait times – “from over 60 minutes to around 30 minutes during peak periods of holiday traffic” and a 2017 average of under nine (9) minutes.3
Moreover, CVG effectively uses sensors and cloud-based data analytics to improve the traveler experience with their facilities by notifying housekeepers of high restroom traffic. Quality metrics indicated a strong correlation between restroom cleanliness and overall traveler satisfaction with the CVG experience, so the airport turned to technology: when restroom guests exceed a predetermined limit, housekeepers are notified via wearable devices that a restroom needs inspection and cleaning.
Computerized tomography, or CT Scanners, are commonly associated with head injuries. However, the technology also proves useful when searching for liquids or dangerous goods in baggage entering the plane hold. Due to the large size and noisiness of the scanners, their use has been restricted to check-in luggage only and is conducted away from crowded areas to avoid disruption to passengers. Recent advancements in the technology has reduced the size and sounds associated with the scanners.
To take things one step further, experts in aviation security have suggested turning this technology into “CT walkways” to replace the current conveyor belt security system for carry-on luggage. Instead of waiting for the person in front of you to search every inch of their bags and remove all shoes, belts and hats – a “pain point” for many travelers — the CT walkways would be able to detect any questionable items carried by passengers or in their luggage, as they pass through, thus effectively solving for security concerns while streamlining the passenger process.
A 2017 VISA study revealed that over 65% of consumers are already familiar with biometrics and 86% are interested in using biometrics to verify identity or to make payments. Airports and airlines alike are taking note: the 2017 SITA Air Transport IT Trends report shows that 63% of airports plan to invest in biometric ID management solutions in the next three years, and 55% of airlines say increased operational efficiency is a very important driver to improve ID management. 4
Biometric technology is becoming increasingly popular in airports around the world, providing a streamlined, paperless and efficient boarding experience. Until recently, the technology was mainly used for check-in and exit checks, but with a match-rate of almost 100%, the technology has now expanded to baggage drops and has been adopted by individual airlines for boarding processes. The self-service solution provides a better travel experience for passengers, while also enabling high-level automated security checks.
Brisbane Airport implemented the Smart Path biometric technology in 2017, with Air New Zealand passengers the first to trial the seamless boarding experience. Following the success of the trial to-date, the Australian government has announced plans to automate 90% of air travel processing by 2020.5.
Closer to home, CLEAR has quickly emerged as a biometrics-based solution to help travelers bypass the dreaded security line and go straight to the physical screening. Currently installed in 24 of the busiest airports across the U.S., travelers can identify themselves at CLEAR kiosks using fingerprints and an iris scan, then get escorted past the security line directly to the physical screening area.
Looking to strengthen the bond with travelers, Delta partnered with CLEAR in 2017 and offers Delta SkyMiles Members an exclusive discounted rate to enroll in the service; Delta Diamond Medallion Members are offered complimentary CLEAR enrollment.
“Delta is constantly looking for ways to improve the customer experience from the time you arrive at the airport all the way through the travel ribbon,” said Gil West, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. “Delta’s CLEAR partnership is an extension of our broader innovative approach to helping customers get through security lines a bit easier.”6.
While relatively nascent biometric solutions like Smart Path and CLEAR are effectively improving the traveler experience at select airports, biometric credentials are not yet universally recognized. The sharing of biometric data across borders or between airports (or other venues) is limited by data privacy concerns and is dependent upon whether a common service provider like CLEAR is established in those venues. As trust frameworks are developed to facilitate secure data exchange under the traveler’s control, and as governments define universal standards for biometric identification, we continue to move closer to a seamless, frictionless traveler experience.
Possibly one of the most controversial suggestions in airport security innovation is behavioral profiling. Behavioral profiling is a method of detecting abnormal behavioral responses from travelers that may be considered “suspicious.” Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real Time (AVATAR)7 is an example of this technology and involves a robot interacting with travelers and assessing for any changes in eyes, voice, gestures and posture to determine if there are any potential security risks.
The AVATAR technology is currently undergoing trials by the Canadian Border Services Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to test accuracy. The ethical and social implications of this method have caused some concern in the industry, however, those in favor of the technology claim it is non-intrusive and highly accurate.
In parallel with mobile’s continued march forward as an important channel for flight sales and passenger notifications, airports themselves are increasingly focused on developing mobile apps to enhance the traveler experience and to maximize their own revenue and margins.
SITA’s 2017 IT Trends study found that between 50% and 75% of airports plan to launch location-based promotions via mobile by 2020. Airport beacons and sensors are being used to tailor delivery of offers and promotions to smart devices — such as food and beverage offers, duty free advertising and offers, virtual concierge service (e.g. shopping delivered to gate or lounges), and car rental.
Moreover, the majority of airports are tapping travelers’ smartphones (or plan to within 3 years) as a means to facilitate customer relationship management, e.g. complaints, compliments (82%); surveys (76%); access to lounge / transit / other secure areas (66%); and AI-driven chat bot assistance, e.g. notifications, airport guides (42%).8
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