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I, Airports – Part 2

Published: 02/04/2015 - Filed under: Home » News »

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Airports have changed.  In part 1 of this series, we looked at self serving airports.  In this article we will look at how automation is tracking passengers and efficiency.  Is Big Brother watching you?   

Keeping an Eye on You

Fast Travel depends largely on passengers taking an active part in the automated airport – using kiosks, checking smartphone apps, tagging bags. And of course, the airlines assure us there will always be live people around to step in if anything goes wrong.

But in the brave new world of technology, nothing is ever exactly as it appears. Some airport operators are using mobile technology and automated systems to track passengers, monitor crowds and prevent traffic jams. And did we mention that they can also let you opt in for other, more overt communications, like special offers from the airport’s shops and restaurants, in addition to any relevant flight information.

That’s the system at Helsinki Airport.   All mobile phones logged into the airport’s WiFi network will be monitored by an in-house tracking system that identifies passengers’ real-time movements. Devices placed at various points around the airport are equipped with tracking technology designed to collect the “unique identifier numbers” of all mobile phones which have WiFi access switched on. 

Needless to say, the technology has privacy groups up in arms, but airport officials say passenger privacy concerns are “extremely important.” Users accessing the WiFi network will be notified of the monitoring system before they log on, and the data collected is in aggregated form to protect any personal information.

On the other hand, as terminals become more expansive and more confounding, location technology can also serve a wayfinding function. San Francisco International Airport is testing a prototype of a new app, which uses iBeacons located throughout Terminal 2 to help visually impaired passengers navigate through the terminal. 

A total of 500 iBeacons that use Bluetooth technology to communicate with smartphones have been installed throughout the terminal, from the front entrance to the boarding gates, as well as in baggage claim. When a passenger is near boarding gates, restaurants and power outlets, for example, the app informs them by calling out details.

“This groundbreaking new innovation offers visually impaired passengers something remarkable: the ability to navigate through SFO independently without assistance,” says John L. Martin, SFO’s airport director.

Automation is extending beyond the terminal and into the parking lot too. Self-service is practically de rigueur for any self-respecting airport parking lot; easy payment methods have seen to that.

But Düsseldorf Airport has taken it a step further with an intelligent robot parking system for vehicle drop off and pick up. Travelers can reserve a parking spot online before their trip, leave their cars near the airport terminal and the parking robot named Ray handles parking cars for them.

Ray is connected to the airport’s flight data system, and by matching the stored return trip data with the airport’s current database, Ray knows when the customer will come for the vehicle. The vehicle is then left in one of the transfer boxes for the traveler to pick up. If an itinerary changes, the traveler can communicate the changes to Ray via the app.

If all of this sounds like science fiction, just remember what another famous Ray – Ray Bradbury – had to say about imagining the future:  “Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn’t exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody, and nothing will ever be the same again.”

The automated airport of the future is really upon us today, with new ideas being born every day to change the airport and the air travel experience for everybody – especially the passenger.

“Now the passenger is at the very beginning making all kinds of choices, and will be able to make more choices going forward,” ACI’s Angela Gittens says. “So that’s partly what’s going to make it happen, because the different stakeholders are beginning to see their self-interests.   If I know more about my passenger, my passenger knows more about me, my process will be a whole lot smoother.” 

Gittens adds, “Technology is enabling this, and very quickly.” 

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