Travel was revolutionized the day the airplane was invented. The world became smaller as people were able to get from one place to another faster and more efficiently. In air travel, the airport remains a pivotal component of every journey. From waiting in security lines to boarding the aircraft, simply getting through the airport can be one of travel’s most dreaded experiences. Yet what if I were to tell you that airport processes are constantly being improved?
Changes behind the scenes
I personally understand why many travelers say that more needs to be done to fix air travel hassles. As unbelievable as it may sound, on my recent flight from Austin to Dallas, the boarding process at the airport took longer than the actual flying time in the sky! Yes, things need to change – and changes are happening. Yet sometimes innovation happens so subtly that travelers hardly notice.
That’s why thousands of professionals at travel technology companies like Amadeus are working tirelessly to improve the flying experience. For example, with Amadeus Auto Document Check, airline agents no longer need to manually check passengers’ travel identification documents.
Behind the scenes, Amadeus applications automatically pass traveler information (visa, passport and health data) to the relevant authorities. If all of the traveler’s necessary information appears in the passenger name record (PNR), the agent sees a “DOCS OK” prompt, which confirms the traveler can be checked in. This may sound simple, yet the solution saves an average two minutes of processing time. In dollar terms, this can add up to a whopping $1.45 million in annual cost savings for a medium-size airline.
Not all innovations are in the background, and some have a huge impact on the traveler experience. For example, recent innovations in Departure Control Systems (DCS) have enabled travelers to check in for their flights using their mobile phones, tablets and home computers.
As the check-in process evolves, technology innovators like Amadeus are pushing for even more automation. On the horizon, a notification will be sent to the traveler, and once acknowledged, “smart services” will use the profile saved in the phone to automatically check in the passenger and save the boarding pass within the device.
The evolution of home-printed bag tags will also enable travelers to avoid waiting in lines to print and tag their bags at the airport. These innovations will significantly improve convenience and reduce costs while making the process more efficient for everyone.
Bye-bye baggage blues
Technology is also readily improving the baggage process at the airport. Traditionally, travelers must stand in line and speak with an agent who checks in their bags for a flight. New technology will enable direct communication between airports and travelers to streamline this process. From an automated bag check-in device at the airport’s entrance, travelers would automatically be recognized via a Near Field Chip (NFC) in their mobile phones. The automated bag check-in device would use the data from the traveler’s phone to generate digital bag tags, and then send the tag numbers to the phone through an app notification. The app would also be used to pay baggage fees and enable tracking all the way to final destination. The traveler would simply place the bag on a belt and head straight to security, avoiding the lines altogether.
An early version of this technology is already being used by Delta, Lufthansa and Japan Airlines with great customer reviews.
Security made easy
Another challenging part of the travel experience is the security process, and new technologies will change all that. For example, an eye scanner at the airport entrance will validate the traveler’s identity using iris recognition software. This will cut wait times in half, with gate agents no longer having to manually match passengers with their documents. Recently, JetBlue and Delta piloted two facial recognition systems that operate in a similar fashion. This system, combined with pre-flight identity checks such as TSA Pre-check, will move travelers through security and on to their gates quickly and efficiently.
The final “obstacle” before a traveler can board the plane is the boarding gate. Currently travelers are required to wait outside the gate – sometimes in different groups – as airline agents check their travel documents. To speed the boarding process, Amadeus has implemented a biometric boarding system with Lufthansa at Los Angeles International Airport. Self-boarding gates with cameras capture passengers’ images and securely send those images to the U.S. Customs & Border Protection database for real-time verification. After a successful instantaneous match, the system recognizes the passenger as “boarded.” The passenger no longer needs to show a boarding pass or passport at the boarding gate. During initial trials, Amadeus received very positive feedback from travelers. In fact, Lufthansa boarded approximately 350 guests onto an A380 plane in nearly 20 minutes!
Faster travel, happier customers
Travel will continue to advance as new technologies facilitate positive changes. By simply upgrading our airports, innovative new technology can speed up the overall travel process by as much as 25 to 50 percent. With leadership and support from technology companies like Amadeus, the world of airline travel is headed for an exciting future – with jubilant travelers leading the way!
What future airport innovations are you most excited about and why?