For many frequent business travelers, the airport is literally a means to an end. After all, it’s called a ‘terminal’ for a reason; the airport is the end point, either at the beginning or the completion of the journey. There was a time when airport design, services and amenities were utilitarian, oriented to throughput rather than stay-awhile hospitality.
Today airport management and some very savvy retailers have wised up to the presence of lots of travelers in a relatively confined space. For example, Mall of America, the largest shopping mall in the US, welcomes around 42 million visitors annually; by contrast, Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson International, the busiest airport in the world, hosted over 100 million guests last year.
Consequently airports are increasingly coming to be viewed – and to view themselves – as more than jumping off points. According to a recent survey from Priority Pass, the independent airport lounge access program, more than half (53 percent) of the 3,000 frequent travelers polled said that the airport is something to be enjoyed.
“We are witnessing an important shift in mind-set when it comes to the airport experience,” says Stephen Simpson, global marketing director for Priority Pass, part of Collinson Group. “It is clear that today’s frequent fliers no longer view themselves as passengers merely transiting the airport but as consumers seeking more rewarding travel journeys.”
An important factor in that shift is the rise of the so-called ‘digital’ flier. A separate survey by Priority Pass found that 50 percent of European travelers say digital boarding passes and e-tickets make the airport experience much easier, with 24 percent of travelers using airport mobile apps, a figure that jumps to 41 percent of frequent business flyers.
Those findings are confirmed in another study conducted by Honeywell in the United Arab Emirates. That research reveals that air travelers are increasingly relying on new airport and in-flight technologies to make travel smarter and less stressful. Passengers in the UAE survey agree such developments as self-service kiosks, e-boarding passes and e-tickets, and luggage location tracking are key to reducing stress levels and improving the airport experience.
Simplifying the Business
While all that technology is important today, it’s going to be vital to the success of the air travel system of tomorrow. According to projections from the International Air Transport Association, the aviation industry is set to nearly double its passenger traffic in the next 20 years, from 3.8 billion air trips in 2016 to some 7.2 billion trips in 2035. To handle this level of activity, airports, airlines and the entire aviation infrastructure will have to embrace new ways to get air travel done.
One such future concept is a program IATA calls Simplifying the Business, an initiative which examines the passenger experience from end-to-end. The StB perspective spans all the processes of air travel, from shopping and booking, to navigating the airport, to arrival at the final destination. The focus is on how each of these factors can be transformed so that aviation can successfully accommodate the rising tide of traffic in the coming decades.
Elements of IATA’s Simplifying the Business program include:
• Smart Security, a joint effort with Airports Council International to make airport security checkpoints more efficient and less intrusive. The initiative is making progress in Europe, and the first US airport, Hartsfield Atlanta International, just joined the program.
• One Identity would allow an air traveler to offer their identification documents just once, eliminating repetitive ID checks at security, border control and the gate.
• New Distribution Capability is a standard that IATA has been working on for some time, which will give consumers wider access to products and services currently available only directly from the airlines due to technology limitations.
• ONE Order will build on NDC standards to streamline booking and ticketing records into a single and flexible order record, eliminating multiple reference numbers and documents across the trip.
• Real-Time Interaction provides customers with accurate real-time information from all travel service providers throughout their journey.
“My dream journey through the airport would offer security processes that are both effective and convenient, constant communication that makes me aware of changes to my journey or opportunities nearby, and a more efficient way of identifying myself to the airline, security staff and border management,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO, speaking at the “Innovating Better, Together” World Passenger Symposium at the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel in Dubai in October.
De Juniac called for air transport stakeholders to work together and embrace speed and innovation to meet the challenges of growth and rising passenger expectations.
One such initiative that’s coming sooner than you think to a baggage carousel near you is radio frequency identification technology, or RFID. The technology, already familiar in many other applications, can accurately track bags in real time across key points in the journey.
According to a business case presented by global IT provider SITA and IATA at the Dubai symposium, initial deployments of RFID by carriers such as Delta Air Lines show a near perfect 99 percent success rate for tracking bags. As a result, RFID technology could reduce the number of mishandled bags by up to 25 percent and save the industry more than $3 billion over the next seven years.
One of the key areas that RFID promises to address is mishandling baggage during transfer from one flight to another. With the technology, airports, airlines and ground handlers will be able to keep track of bags at every step of the journey and ensure the right bag is loaded onto the right flight.
RFID is one solution that’s being offered to meet IATA’s Resolution 753, a requirement that, by 2018, airlines must be able to keep track of every item of baggage from start to finish.
“The airline industry is at the brink of a revolution in baggage tracking,” maintains Jim Peters, chief technology officer at SITA. “Deploying RFID globally will increase accuracy and reduce mishandling rates. This is a win-win situation – airline passengers will be happier, ground operations will run smoother and airlines will save billions of dollars.”
Interestingly, the improvements in handling rates don’t cost a lot. The SITA report finds that RFID capabilities can be deployed for as little as a penny per passenger on average while saving more than two cents per passenger. Now a penny a passenger may not sound like much, but when that could add up to 7.2 billion pennies, pretty soon you’re talking some serious money.
Baggage tracking is one of the research programs being conducted by SITA in the airline industry. Others include passenger identity management of the future, an industry-wide disruption warning system and enhanced cybersecurity for airlines and airports.
Of course, not all the great ideas to improve the air travel experience need to come from the experts. At Munich Airport, the InnovationPilot crowdsourcing platform is looking for passengers and visitors to offer input and suggestions on specific airport issues.
The website innovationpilot.de launched in June to invite creative minds to play a role in the design and implementation of airport projects and events by contributing their requests and proposals. All postings are open to comments, discussion and improvements by the online community.
InnovationPilot just completed its second round of idea seeking in October. According to the Terminal 2 operating company, a joint subsidiary of Munich Airport and Lufthansa, the project is generating a wealth of innovative ideas on how to improve passenger experiences at security checkpoints, the gates and baggage pick-up.
“Since the kick-off of our InnovationPilot crowdsourcing platform in June, we’ve been delighted with the many valuable ideas from our community and the very positive response,” says Jörg Ebbighausen, the head of corporate development at Munich Airport. BT