IoT set to transform the airport experience
IoT set to transform the airport experience with asset tracking

IoT set to transform the airport experience

IoT technologies have the potential to make air travel a smoother door-to-door ride for passengers, as Doug Drinkwater reports.

Airports are usually a terrible experience. You arrive hours early for a flight that may or may not be on time, move slowly through detailed security and pay over the odds for underwhelming food. Add to the mix crowded waiting areas, long queues and cramped seats and it’s not an experience to be anticipated with pleasure.

But could the airport experience be changing for the better? A recent Deloitte report argues that it might be, suggesting that the IoT could “increase revenue” for operators while “simultaneously improving the overall passenger experience.”

Speaking to Internet of Business, the report’s author Candice Irvin, US airline leader for Deloitte Consulting LLP, said that all parties could benefit from a reinvented customer experience.

“Many of the airport IoT examples being touted are focused on the passenger experience – biometric kiosks in customs, blue-dot indoor mapping, and so on,” she told Internet of Business.

IoT has the ability to impact both RASM [revenue per available seat mile] through a differentiated customer experience and/or new revenue streams, and CASM [cost per available seat mile] as result of greater efficiencies.  Likewise, airports have the opportunity to increase revenues and lower operating expenses.”

Internet of Business sees eight key areas where IoT could change that airport experience from beginning to end.

Stage 1: Arrival and check-in

Check-in has improved significantly over recent years, with the introduction of online check-in and speedy bag-drop processes. But more automation is coming.

For example, budget US airline JetBlue has begun using IoT to automate this process through its ‘Auto Check-in’ function. After booking, customers are automatically issued a ticket and given a seat 24 hours before take-off, without having to log onto the app or website. The seat is chosen based on data about the passenger’s preferences, and they are then sent a boarding pass.

“Today, with the technology we have, we don’t need to check you in, so we eliminated the step and our customers love it,” JetBlue CIO Eash Sundaram has said.

Stage 2: Moving through the airport

The check-in process may now be relatively painless, but the same cannot always be said of moving around airports, with passengers often getting lost and/or frustrated by long queues and overcrowding.

Again, new technology is changing that, with Bluetooth beacons, NFC tags, Wi-Fi and geolocation enabling airport operators to pinpoint passengers’ locations – and serve them relevant information, such as flight notices and product offers, at the right time.

This is already a reality across the globe:

These kinds of technologies can do much to simply reduce customer stress, says Jan Willem Kluivers, digital program manager at Air France KLM, which has used beacons and the ‘Spencer’ robot at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. 

“If we have the information at hand that we need, then we can offer a better experience and will resolve a lot of stress [customers] have,” he said at last year’s Internet of Aviation event.

Read more: Cranfield, DARTeC and the future of aviation

Stage 3: Security

Dubai International Airport was among the first airports to offer ‘smart’ security gates with automatic identification, with this system cutting waiting times for travelers waiting for immigration officers. Anyone with a machine-readable passport can simply use the ‘smart’ gate and proceed.

While such technology is becoming commonplace, Deloitte’s Irvin says there’s further potential here: “Imagine a process that starts before you even leave your house – by providing your biometric that enables you to check a bag without showing a ticket or ID, and traveling (touchless) through security as your identity and low-risk status is re-confirmed through advanced screening technologies,” she says.

“This can only be achieved through device interconnectivity and a ‘systems of systems’ approach that combines every step of the travel experience, and uses data from every step of the journey to inform a touchless screening journey.”

Stage 4: Lounge experience

Turkish Airlines is using Apple’s iBeacon technology at Istanbul Ataturk Airport’s Lounge. It is designed to work with the airline’s Sky Library application, and allows lounge guests to access the airline’s publications, as well as popular books.

This helps to create a more tailored, ‘premium’ experience, making life more comfortable for customers and generating more revenues as a result.

Stage 5: Is my flight on time?

The customer experience start smoothly, with easy passage from check-in to security and going to gate, but there is one stickler of which all passengers are aware: will the flight actually take off on time? Here, airlines are working hard in the background, says Deloitte’s Irvin.

“Some of the areas where IoT has been present the longest are in the airside operations, which many of us never see, but which we rely on to keep planes on time,” she says. “[These include] systems like ACARS [airport communications addressing and reporting systems], which include sensors on planes that automatically communicate flight status changes to air traffic control via SMS message.  

“Even air traffic control itself, as we move to GPS guidance, is turning planes into sensors – creating an Internet of Planes that is true IoT.”

Read more: Tata Comms: Airlines on digital transformation journey as IoT takes flight

Stage 6: The in-flight experience

Once you’re in the air, IoT could potentially be used to serve up a more tailored, personalized experience. Airlines could get a more accurate view of the customer’s satisfaction, possibly from sensors in seats which measure your anxiety, hydration and temperature. There’s talk, too, of using real-time and historical data to enable the cabin crew to know if you had a disruption on a connecting flight, what your food and beverage preferences are, even your preferred hotel or rental car chain.

For now, IoT in flight has been somewhat gimmicky and more than a little patchy; Qantas worked with Samsung to launch an entertainment service that uses Samsung’s Gear headset to offer a VR viewing experience, while British Airways is said to be investigating the use of ingestible sensors or ‘digital pills’ to wirelessly monitor health information inside a passenger’s body.

The idea with the latter is that the pill could assess a passenger’s wellness during flight, and to help combat jet lag by aiding their sleep, eating and exercise patterns. Whether passengers would be willing to share that information, however, is another matter. 

Stage 7: Landing and connections

In a recent blog post, Dave Bartlett, technology chief at GE Aviation, claims that IoT has the potential to alleviate some of the key pain-points along the passenger’s journey for all involved, namely luggage handling and flight connections.

“Another challenge is the anxiety felt by passengers over tight connections. Permission-based sensing of the passengers at airports could help airlines to make better informed decisions about when to wait and when to close the door,” he writes.

Stage 8: Where’s my bag?

Luggage problems are bad news for passengers, airlines and airport operators; about six to seven bags are lost for every 1,000, according to statistics from SITA and the Department of Transportation, and this results in disgruntled customers and  costly compensation claims.

But by 2018, SITA estimates, nearly half of airports will be using IoT sensors to transmit baggage location information to customers at bag drop and baggage claim. Some airlines have already started.

Late last year, Lufthansa went live with the launch of its RIMOWA Electronic tag, an electronic luggage tag which displays baggage info in the same format, size and appearance of typical paper labels, but on a digital screen built into the luggage unit and located near the handle.

Travelers with a Rimowa tag can send their digital boarding info via Bluetooth from their smartphone to check their bag before they leave home, with details appearing on the bag’s electronic display. After arriving at the airport, they simply hand it in at the airline’s automated check-in station.

Read more: Air China chooses Panasonic to provide inflight entertainment and connectivity

Smart airports, friendly skies

All this, says Deloitte’s Irvin, is just the start: “Real, radical change of the airport experience will come when IoT connects an airport to off-airport assets such as transport options, allowing you to create a door-to-gate travel experience that is the fastest/most comfortable for you – and lets you choose options, on the fly, to adjust to changes.”

She gives as an example traffic congestion in the airport area, which may mean that a passenger coming in by car is not going to make their flight, so offering a $10 discount on valet parking instead of requiring them to waste time finding a parking spot themselves.

“The future travel experience is both customized and seamless to the passenger, and enabled through technology innovation,” she concludes.

For more insight into the world of connected aviation and the impact that IoT technologies will have on airlines and airports, readers may be interested in attending our Internet of Aviation event, to be held at London Heathrow on 7 & 8 November.