How will passengers find their flight information? sitaonair

Tap OK for takeoff

The connected airport of the future

The day before a flight, a passenger’s watch taps her on the wrist to remind her to check in, and also offers her a discount on her favourite whisky in duty free. On the way to the airport, her self-driving car receives information that the south bag drop and security checkpoint has a lower wait time, and she taps OK to direct the car to drop her off at the closest point to that end of the terminal. Her favourite seat opens up, and she swaps it with a single phrase to her phone’s artificial intelligent assistant thanks to a notification from the airline app. Her airline’s system tracks her as she walks through the terminal door, and the kiosk welcomes her by name as she puts her phone and near-field-enabled passport down on the tray. Her electronically tagged bag disappears and she heads towards security as intelligent, live-changing signs adjust the flow of passengers to take account of queue and processing variations, keeping the airport moving more smoothly for everyone.

Changeable multilingual signs will be able to
adjust to real-world passenger languages in
real-time. christchurch airport

This sounds like the airport of the future, but it’s also the airport of now. Australians and New Zealanders have had a glimpse of this future with self-bag tagging, thanks to early adopters Air New Zealand and Qantas. Worldwide, airline apps are increasing in functionality all the time. Electronic departures, arrivals and security information is growing more common.

This self-service future is only just beginning.

IATA’s Fast Travel Programme aims for 80% of passengers to be self-service by 2020, covering check-in, bag drop, security, boarding, rebooking and baggage claim. A similar proportion of passengers carry a smartphone through airports today. But when was the last time that you received useful information as a result?

The core technologies of the airport of the future will be able to work independently of human intervention

Passengers will find their way through the
airport using an assistive technology. ba

The smartphones and wearables toted by an ever-increasing number of passengers are at the forefront of the airport revolution. Whether it’s the app from the airline or airport, the operating system’s boarding pass or payment wallet, RFID or other near-field technologies, stored fingerprints or retina scans, face or passport identification, or something new, it seems clear that the device that travels with us everywhere is the token that airlines and airports will use to identify us. Non-smartphone users or opt-outers will likely be given a stand-in for the phone – something along the lines of an electronic bag tag combined with a cheap smartphone and one of those flashing notification disks that some restaurants send you away with to wait until your table is ready.

How will the passengers of the future receive
information about their flight? sita

Sensors, too, are vital, not just to detect the passage of that smartphone or other token. Beacons, whether Bluetooth or otherwise, which are the cue to send location-specific information to the customer or other systems, are a big part of it. Beacons are already being used to track passenger flows in the aggregate, assisting with wait time estimation and bottleneck identification. They’re also likely to actually pass passengers through to different sections of the terminal, like London Heathrow and other airports do currently with the boarding pass as the token: if you approach the security checkpoint and you don’t have enough time to make it to the gate compared with the minimums assigned, you’ll be turned back to ticketing.

Facial, fingerprint, iris and retina sensors will also roll out from their current use in the immigration areas. Panasonic Avionics was demonstrating a consistent and simple to use facial and iris recognition system at this October’s Aircraft Interiors Expo Asia in Singapore. Airlines are relatively enthusiastic adopters of some personal device tech, with airlines among the first to roll out Apple Watch apps, and Apple Pay surely won’t be the last innovation around secure data coming out of Silicon Valley. The key will be ensuring that biometrics overcome the issue of data security – which will itself be a vital hurdle for the airport of the future to overcome – your fingerprint is a password you cannot change, and if it becomes associated with someone else there’s a problem.

Virtual and augmented reality will move beyond Pokémon Go and clunky headsets to real world navigation and gamification of the airport experience. Augmented reality, where information pops up over the live camera image on a smartphone screen, is already being used in Mumbai and elsewhere.

Fundamentally, though, the aviation industry needs to ensure that it is more nimble at adopting standards, rather than implementing advances at the same time as they become obsolete. Modularity and flexibility of design are crucial: what happens if Bluetooth is dropped because some new wireless communication standard takes over for consumer electronics? How quickly can the airport of the future adapt its buildings and grounds to create a coordinated pickup zone for automated cars, ride-sharing schemes, bus rapid transit, or a new rail line?

The high speed rail Fernbahnhof station at
Frankfurt Airport. Airports are increasingly
better connected to the cities and regions they
serve. john walton
Apron vehicles, like cars, will be automated.
auckland airport

Opportunities and threats coincide, and much work is needed to identify and act on them

An alternate dystopian future to our earlier passenger’s smooth arrival is one where she gets 15 conflicting notifications on her wrist, phone and glasses as she arrives within marketing range of the terminal. She can’t unlock her phone because it’s humid outside and her fingerprint won’t register. She can’t get to the boarding pass app because new notifications keep asking her questions she’s already answered. Her bag tag doesn’t register because there are too many wireless headphones around the bag drop area interfering with it. She misses some vital information about a flight delay between three generic attempts to sell her perfume, which she doesn’t even wear.

Information overload is going to be a huge risk for the airport of the future, for passengers as well as for airports and airlines. There will be so much data generated in the aggregate that processing, storing and creating management information will be a real challenge. Privacy concerns too are a real issue for many customers, despite the general population’s willingness to hand over most of their personal data to social media companies. It just takes one or two high-profile issues for memes to begin and people to click “no” to notifications.

Accessibility and multilingual options are both opportunities and threats for the airport of the future. Well designed airports and enabling assistive technology should make universal access simpler to implement, and ensure that airports can also serve passengers who cannot use automation, whether that is passengers with disabilities, reduced mobility, those with older or lower function phones or simply those who wish to opt out. Similarly, the chance to send native-language messages to international travellers is a huge boon – if done correctly. If not, well, no airport wants to end up on the microblog of the future with an offensively translated message.

There are also questions to be asked about the industrial psychology of so many messages hitting passengers. Incorrect “official” messages may also lead to unintended consequences: what if a restaurant sends a deal over the airport app when a passenger only just has enough time to make it to the gate? “The airport told me!” sounds like a perfect early evening TV magazine sob story. What if a bar sends a 2-for-1 booze deal that gets a passenger drunk? What responsibility will retailers and the airport take for a ticket change – or, worse, an inflight diversion? Elegant fallback and failover of these automated systems must be designed from an early stage. Not all passengers will have the right devices, so it is crucial to ensure that important information is also sent via other channels. Moreover, recent distributed denial of service attacks have taken down significant portions of the internet. While it may feel ironic that a network designed to survive nuclear armageddon is being compromised by cheap internet fridges and toasters, these problems must be planned for. With consolidation – and what some would suggest is overconsolidation – of integration services and airline IT into the hands of a very small number of third party suppliers, failures at those suppliers have stopped airlines in their tracks. This will have an even greater impact on the airport of the future.

What information can be held locally at airports to avoid the necessity to hand-process passengers? What procedures, cross-training, staffing and call-off agreements need to be put in place in the event of failures? What physical, information and technological security measures need to be baked in before these new advances start going mainstream?

The airport of the future will look and feel quite different to the airports of yesterday and today

LHR is an example of a future ‘toastrack’
style layout. heathrow airport
Airports will become destinations in their own
right, and not just for flying. munich airport

It seems clear that the airport of the future will be located away from city centres, likely connected by a high speed rail or maglev line, and will be surrounded by the kind of service, logistics and retail park neighbours that are exemplified in Canberra or Melbourne.

Even as terminals begin to look like very similar toast-racks – with a series of midfield satellite gate buildings connected by underground shuttles to a much smaller number of terminal zones – the facilities will have passenger-pleasing amenities. Tokyo Haneda’s international terminal Edo-period shopping district above the check-in desks or Singapore Changi’s Hello Kitty tearoom in arrivals will be joined by destination retail and dining options. They’ll also be built with expansion in mind: London Heathrow’s Terminal 5, for example, has already been built to grow to the south, with an existing glass wall to be removed and extra road frontage, check-in zone, and departures area facilities to be constructed, and its underground satellite shuttle peoplemover system was designed for easy extension to more satellites.

While some passengers will avoid the need for contact with an airport staffer at all, with mobile boarding, self bag drop, tablet ordering, virtual assistants, and automated boarding, other travellers will experience a more personalised level of priority and premium service. This is already expanding beyond just the business and first class worlds to premium economy and as an ancillary revenue option for profit-hungry airlines. As bags and their passengers become a Thing in the Internet of Things, making passengers feel like people again, and taking away some of the information overload and yes/no decision-making, will be key to success.

Check-in zones will evolve away from staffed booths to kiosk-style operations even more than they already are, while self bag drop technology will become more integrated and more reliable. It feels like e-ink bag tags, as demonstrated recently by Rimowa, are more likely to be a red herring in the future of passenger experience than, say, Qantas’s Q Bag Tag. But expect the size of these to shrink, and indeed to be replaced by semi-permanent stickers, perhaps one for each airline or airline alliance, to add a little human status symbol to the cogs of progress.

The airport itself will be more efficient, and not just because automated and human analysis will remove bottlenecks and improve flow. As airline operations become more driven by connected aircraft and information sharing, operational issues and pain points will be reduced – delays will be reduced, that gate change won’t be necessary, and information will be shared with passengers earlier.

In the future, as our our passenger glides through security, she skips the reduced-size duty free storefront in favour of having her shopping delivered on the plane. She stops for a quick sandwich at the shop she likes, which always sends her a loyalty discount offer as a repeat customer. Her watch updates her on boarding time whenever she happens to glance at it or if there’s any change, and she passes through the near-field automated boarding channel without even stopping.

Before the aircraft starts its descent, our passenger receives information about her arrival gate, and has the option of a virtual reality high-speed walkthrough on the seatback screen to ensure she knows where she’s going. She’s offered tickets for the local airport train, a low-cost roaming agreement from a local cellular carrier, and a tailored hotel option because she doesn’t have one booked already. On arrival, her watch taps her wrist to let her know which way to go, and she can pull up the augmented reality line-on-the-floor if she needs to. She gets updates as her bag passes various sensor gateways – off the aircraft, into the distribution system, onto the belt, or even if it wasn’t loaded onto her flight – so she can avoid the toe-tapping thirty minutes of did-it-make-the-flight waiting. She can share her location with anyone waiting for her, and her self-driving car has a designated spot to pick her up. And all the data generated by her trip is already being processed to improve that experience for her next flight, and for passengers around the world.

Now that’s a bright future.

The barcoded tag is already on the way out.
sydney airport



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