Meeting the needs of the travelling public while keeping up to date with the latest security requirements has never been easy, and arguably it is going to be even more difficult in the future as airports strive to improve the passenger experience as they handle more traffic than ever before.
Like everything else, of course, air travel can be frustrating and it doesn’t take much to make or break the airport experience.
A confluence of events adding delays and frustration to what should be an otherwise standard trip, for example, can result in a “nightmare” time at the airport while a smooth and hassle free trip can lead to a “best ever airport” experience.
Our desire for a moan means that we get to hear about the bad experiences much more than we do the good ones, and in today’s social media mad/ever connected world, this appears to be almost every day now.
What isn’t being discussed with that same frequency, however, is the willingness of airlines and airports to create and deploy the necessary solutions to alleviate passengers’ woes.
According to IATA, more than eight million passengers fly on a daily basis. In 2013, for the first time ever, over three billion passengers passed through an airport for travel purposes and in 2016, that number is estimated to hit 3.6 billion.
And for many of these travellers, the growing presence of technology – particularly the airline and airport eco-systems – is vastly overlooked, but can no longer be ignored.
In discussing the standards that once were and ones that now exist, you can see the delicate balance between the passenger journey and efforts to secure that journey.
Past events have caused us to flip from one side to the other, but today’s solutions can allow us to achieve equilibrium between the ability to integrate new technology and still maintain effective levels of security. This balance is crucial, not only for the passenger experience, but for the safety of us all.
All things security – the 9/11 response
Many of us remember the days when air travel was viewed as glamorous. Indeed, in this halcyon era for aviation the airport experience was quick and easy for most passengers who could pass through terminals with little or no hassle. This, of course, all changed in one day 14 years ago.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, prompted the US government and most others across the world to enact new legislation aimed at improving passenger safety.
In the US, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) – signed in November that year – ushered in the federalisation of passenger security. Actions taken were primarily in the form of screening practices, many of which were conducted by the newly formed Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
As a result of the establishment of the TSA, for the first time ever airlines began instructing passengers to schedule their arrival at least two hours prior to their flight, and even more so for international travel.
Screening measures like hand searches through carry-on luggage were implemented, as were additional measures in the form of shoe removal, laptop removal, the restriction of liquids, and even selective screenings. A commonality is they all serve as impediments to efficient facilitation processes.
Over time, these standards have been begrudgingly ingrained into the minds of travellers. It has, in turn, become commonplace to expect these types of issues from check-in to take-off and arrival. It seemed that years of increased, intensive security birthed a new era of non-facilitation.
Today, borders can be identified both physically and digitally. Facilitating passengers in a physical space (and between countries) can be challenging enough, but with the rise of technology, even just in the last decade, securing and monitoring their safety has become an added challenge.
Ultimately, this should be seen as an opportunity to influence and establish appropriate practices and procedures, all aimed at efficiently and securely assisting passengers to their destination.
The added hope being that passengers will remain loyal, choosing to travel through the airport with the airline that gave them a great experience they wish to repeat on future journeys.
The potential to improve
To ask how facilitation and security can come together on a new level is to recognise the emerging technologies assisting travellers today.
Let’s begin with intelligence. Intelligence is a growing concept in the technology industry. Once deemed as science fiction, intelligent applications and visual solutions are a growing reality in a number of airports. Whether built with real-time analytics, digital mobility or big data capabilities, solutions today are providing the transportation industry with the ability to deliver personalised services.
These personalised services are disrupting what since 9/11 has become considered to be the new norm in travel, giving passengers an increasing sense of autonomy and the ability to facilitate themselves, such as using their mobile phone to navigate their way through the airport.
We at Unisys are very familiar with the passenger journey that starts as soon as the traveller has booked their flight and ends when they leave the airport at their destination (with their bags).
Providing travellers with solutions that offer more freedom and flexibility, and that are accessible throughout the airport, is critical for success. Such solutions we see increasingly coming to life include:
Biometrics – This technology is quickly bringing identity management to the forefront. Solutions involving the art and science of uniquely identifying passengers, be it via facial recognition, fingerprint, or the scanning of the eye, is going a long way towards ensuring airlines, airports and immigration officials can maintain close watch on inbound and outbound passengers from a security perspective, whilst processing them faster from a facilitation perspective.
Customer insights – Data analytics and mobile device use is giving the industry the ability to track the patterns of repeat passengers, including preferred amenities so that the next time a passenger visits the same airport, customised services can be immediately presented to them.
Big data is allowing the industry to infer all sorts of knowledge about retail spending habits, shopping demographics and the like.
Automated passenger recognition – Through scanning a standard boarding pass (and enhancing that with a secondary ID check), entitled passengers seeking lounge access can enter and exit swiftly and with ease, with airlines not having to worry about unauthorised entry.
Home-printed bag tags – In an effort to increase passenger self-service, the ability to print one’s own bag tag at home allows for quicker passenger processes, aimed at increasing passenger satisfaction by shortening queue times.
Similarly, self-bag drop and common-bag drop services are also starting to be utilised when you arrive at the airport.
One might think that security and passenger facilitation stops at the airport edge. Think again, because governments, airports and the airline industry today, more than ever before, are also concerned with effective border control.
A consistent enjoyable travel experience is key to the future of air travel. New technologies such as Automated Border Control (ABC) using kiosks, electronic gates, passports and biometrics; and completion of arrival documents via mobile device are all being implemented around the world today.
Through a harmonised and interconnected approach by these stakeholders, all utilising common international standards, both nations and airlines hosting the travelling public will benefit greatly. The more fun (and the more efficient) it is to fly, the more people will travel by plane.
Revisiting tomorrow: A call to action
There is a great deal of emphasis being placed on the future of travel, including how to build the infrastructure necessary, and how to ensure the safety and security of passengers.
At a time when budgets are slim and infrastructure is aging, airports must reinvent their business model, not only to manage increasing passenger volumes but also passengers’ expectations.
Public awareness of technology and its capabilities in our airports needs to change, as does the modern technology these facilities deliver. After all, it is for today’s travellers that we are working to develop the solutions and standards for the next generation.
Normal operations in travel will ultimately take on a new definition as technology continues to mature and evolve, and enhance the passenger experience. The sooner airlines, airports and passengers realise this and take action, the sooner the standards of travel – and hence the airport experience – will improve for all.