Airports: Moving into the Digital Age

Airports: Moving into the Digital Age

Unless, like me, you’re a bit of an avgeek and enjoy spotting the planes, most of us don’t like going through airports.  They are simply an unavoidable means to an end. They can also be a mega source of stress and tension.

Worrying about traffic conditions on the way to the airport, standing in line to check in bags, wondering how long will it take to get through security, are all things which raise the anxiety level when travelling by air.  Now airports are moving into the digital age, increasingly deploying technology solutions to soothe and ease our experience as we make our way through their terminals. We are increasingly used to checking in on line, using our phones as boarding passes and saving the need to queue.  Growing use of automation is also permitting us to do self baggage drop or even use lifetime baggage tags to speed up that process too.  We are also seeing more options for remote check in of baggage, away from the airport and expanded use of self boarding gates to speed up the process of actually getting onto the aircraft. Many airports are testing the use of biometrics to simplify and reduce many of the functional processes even more and the last bastion of painful, but necessary, security and border checks is also likely to see big improvements in the years ahead.

On top of this the trail of data which we leave behind us is helping airports to personalise our journeys through airports and even updating us on traffic conditions for that, sometimes angst inducing, journey to get there as well as helping us to navigate through the terminal and find the gate.  This is, of course, being provided in different languages, making it that much more friendly to a diverse customer base.

We are more calm once we are through all the formalities that modern air travel dictates and data driven personalisation can also provide an opportunity for airports to sell to travellers when all that tedious but essential stuff is out of the way.   Retail and food outlets can be brought to our attention via customised messages to our mobiles,  offering unique discounts tailored to known preferences.  This can be a “win win”, as our inclination to spend is greater when we feel relaxed and we can enjoy the time waiting for our flight, whilst airports can gain important streams of commercial revenue.

Use of data doesn’t just improve our experience as passengers, it is also making a significant contribution to manpower and resource planning at airports.  Based on a wealth of performance data, better predictive capability allows maintenance to be carried out on key equipment (such as baggage belts) before they actually break down, leading to higher service standards.  The growing pool of meaningful data also creates a better understanding and management of peak periods, so that staff numbers and shift patterns can be matched with known busy and trough periods, in key areas such as security or baggage handling.

Equally important, new technology and use of data is helping to deliver stronger environmental credentials.  Aircraft movements and parking stand allocation can be made more efficient, so reducing delays and the amount of time wasted burning fuel, just waiting for a gate.  There are also developments which over time, could bring engineless taxiing for aircraft, to and from the runway-imagine the fuel savings and the consequent reduction in emissions which this will bring!

For me the whole topic is fascinating and it’s certainly fast moving.  I hope you’ll join me with my guests from Amsterdam Schiphol and London City Airports as we discuss the latest developments in the panel on Wednesday 6th November at this year’s WTM.

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Director, John Strickland, is a graduate of the University of York and has held senior positions with a number of airlines including British Caledonian, British Airways, KLMuk and Buzz. John was instrumental in the decision by KLM to establish the low cost operator Buzz and in its selection of new routes. His 40 years of experience have exposed him to the business models of regional, global, legacy and low cost carriers. JLS Consulting was established in 2003 and now serves a growing range of clients including airports, airlines, investors and those whose businesses require strategic insight on and advisory services concerning the air transport sector. John regularly devises and chairs panel discussions and interviews senior executives at industry conferences and events. Media work is undertaken for numerous global media organisations including the BBC, CNN, Sky, Al Jazeera, and business specialists Bloomberg and CNBC. John also contributes to a wide range of respected written publications including the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones Newswires, Business Week, The New York Times, Gulf News, Reuters and AFP.

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