From ro­bot as­sis­tants to aug­mented re­al­ity, Marisa Can­non rounds up the lat­est ad­vances help­ing to smooth your jour­ney through the air­port

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The lat­est air­port in­no­va­tions aimed at im­prov­ing your travel ex­pe­ri­ence

In the early days of com­mer­cial avi­a­tion, air­ports were small, mod­est fa­cil­i­ties, made up of lit­tle more than an air­field and a soli­tary ter­mi­nal. As air­lines mul­ti­plied and pas­sen­ger num­bers soared, air­ports have been driven to meet new lev­els of cus­tomer ser­vice, stream­lin­ing the way pas­sen­gers are pro­cessed and ex­plor­ing new ways of en­ter­tain­ing them while they wait. Here is a round-up of new tech­no­log­i­cal and recre­ational de­vel­op­ments at air­ports around the world.


Pas­sen­gers can be asked to show their doc­u­ments up to five times when trav­el­ling through an air­port. In the past few years, air­ports have be­gun in­tro­duc­ing bio­met­ric de­vices at check­points, speed­ing up the screen­ing process by ver­i­fy­ing a per­son’s iden­tity with a face or fin­ger­print scan.

In March, BA launched a fa­cial recog­ni­tion sys­tem that cap­tures a pas­sen­ger’s fea­tures and al­lows them to board the plane with­out show­ing any doc­u­ments. Cur­rently avail­able for some do­mes­tic flights de­part­ing Heathrow T5, the sys­tem will even­tu­ally be added to in­ter­na­tional routes. Am­s­ter­dam Schiphol and Dutch car­rier KLM launched a sim­i­lar trial ear­lier this year.

In the US, a fin­ger­print or iris scan will soon re­place board­ing passes at 22 ma­jor air­ports, with bio­met­ric lanes launched this year at At­lanta Harts­field-Jack­son, Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional, Minneapolis St Paul, New York JFK and La Guardia.

More am­bi­tious still is Aus­tralia’s “Seam­less Trav­eller” ini­tia­tive, which aims to au­to­mate 90 per cent of screen­ing pro­cesses at the coun­try’s in­ter­na­tional air­ports with no hu­man in­ter­ac­tion by 2020.


This uses lo­ca­tion de­tec­tion trans­mit­ters fit­ted around the air­port to track pas­sen­ger move­ments, send­ing in­for­ma­tion such as flight times and board­ing gates to their phones as they move through the ter­mi­nal. Air­lines have started us­ing bea­cons to no­tify pas­sen­gers of flight changes and sell add-ons such as lounge ac­cess, while air­ports are us­ing it through their smart­phone apps to map routes for lost pas­sen­gers and to tar­get them with ad­ver­tis­ing and re­tail pro­mo­tions.

Doha’s Ha­mad In­ter­na­tional has in­stalled 700 “iBea­cons” to sup­port its app, in­form­ing pas­sen­gers of their flight sta­tus, bag­gage claim carousel, and time and di­rec­tion to gate, while alert­ing them to of­fers as they walk past shops. In

2015, Hong Kong In­ter­na­tional was one of the first to in­tro­duce bea­con tech­nol­ogy in Asia, pro­vid­ing in­ter­ac­tive maps that guide pas­sen­gers to check-in coun­ters, pub­lic trans­port points and de­par­ture gates.

In Europe, BA and Vir­gin At­lantic were some of the first air­lines to trial bea­cons at Heathrow as early as 2014, around the same time that Am­s­ter­dam Schiphol be­gan in­stalling some 2,000 bea­cons, which, among other things, help to mon­i­tor and in­form pas­sen­gers of queue wait­ing times at se­cu­rity. In May this year, Gatwick also in­stalled around 2,000 bea­cons across its North and South ter­mi­nals, which sup­port an aug­mented re­al­ity route-plan­ner that can be used through the cam­era on a smart­phone.


Ro­botic cus­tomer ser­vice agents are no longer a thing of the fu­ture, with many air­ports us­ing them to check in pas­sen­gers and pro­vide use­ful in­for­ma­tion such as lo­cal ex­change rates and di­rec­tions.

Last year, KLM tri­alled its Spencer ro­bot, which can scan board­ing passes and guide lost trav­ellers around Schiphol. At Tokyo Haneda, JAL tested its hu­manoid NAO ro­bot, which could in­form pas­sen­gers (in three lan­guages) about the weather at their des­ti­na­tion as well as gate te lo­ca­tions and open­ing times, while tech giant Hi­tachi tri­alleded a roller-skat­ing ro­bot guide. Seoul oul In­cheon is tri­alling the use of 15 ro­bots – to clean floors, han­dlee bag­gage and pro­vide di­rec­tions.ns. The air­port plans for ad­di­tional al ro­bots to even­tu­ally per­form se­cu­rity checks and serve food d and drink in air­port lounges.


Air­port in­no­va­tions aren’t justt re­stricted to pas­sen­ger pro­cess­ing. sing. Gym fa­cil­i­ties are grow­ing in de­mand as trav­ellers look to make bet­ter use of their time in tran­sit. Ha­mad’s Vi­tal­ity Well­be­ing and Fit­ness Cen­tre of­fers a 25-me­tre pool, a hy­drother­apy tub, squash courts and a gym plus anti-jet lag mas­sages. Chicago O’Hare has a yoga room, while Toronto Pear­son has a 930 sqm fit­ness club and kit hire. At Changi, you can swim lengt lengths in the T1 rooftop pool.


ChangiChan is well known for its green spa­ces,space from the but­ter­fly gar­den in T3,T3 which con­tains more than 1,000 trop­i­cal but­ter­flies from 40 species,sp to the wa­ter lily, cac­tus and or­chido gar­dens in T1 and T2. DubaiD In­ter­na­tional’s Zen Gar­den­sGard in T3 are re­plete with trop­i­cal­tropic veg­e­ta­tion, fish­ponds and bench­es­benc to re­lax on. At Chicago O’Hare,O’Ha pas­sen­gers can visit an

aero­ponic gar­den where seedlings sprout from 26 ver­ti­cal tow­ers, grow­ing herbs and veg­eta­bles that sup­ply the air­port’s restau­rants.


Ja­pan was first off the bat with the cap­sule ho­tel, of­fer­ing weary of­fice work­ers and thrifty trav­ellers a place to rest their heads back in the 1980s. At Tokyo Narita’s T2, cap­sule ho­tel Nine Hours has 129 pods with beds and shower fa­cil­i­ties charged on an hourly ba­sis. In May, Dubai un­veiled 27 sleep pods and dou­ble cab­ins as part of its Sleep ‘n’ Fly lounge in Ter­mi­nal 3 (see Up­front, page 12).

In 2015, Helsinki was the first Eu­ro­pean air­port to in­tro­duce sleep pods, equip­ping them with hand lug­gage stor­age and power out­lets, while Ber­lin Tegel and Mu­nich’s Nap­cabs of­fer 4 sqm pri­vate cab­ins with a bed, desk, wifi, iPod dock and USB port, book­able for up to 12 hours.


Short of buy­ing a new case, there’s not much you can do if your lug­gage han­dle breaks or a wheel comes loose while in tran­sit. Not any more – Frank­furt’s Bag­gage Ser­vice (FGS) can re­pair all man­ner of mishaps, from snagged zip­pers to stuck wheels, at no ex­tra charge. In the event of a write-off, you can buy a re­place­ment suit­case should you need one.

Tokyo Narita’s T2 also of­fers help with faulty lug­gage, whether it is open­ing a locked case, lu­bri­cat­ing sticky wheels or mak­ing spare lug­gage keys. De­liv­ery ser­vice Air­portr will col­lect and trans­fer your bags to Heathrow, Gatwick or City from any Lon­don ad­dress, and check them in for you if you’re trav­el­ling with Bri­tish Air­ways.


Frank­furt has re­cently opened a “Movie World”, where you can watch films and TV shows. It also has a “Gam­ing World” with the lat­est ar­cade and com­puter games avail­able to play for free.

Am­s­ter­dam Schiphol hosts reg­u­lar ex­hi­bi­tions in part­ner­ship with the city’s Ri­jksmu­seum, pre­sent­ing works by some of the coun­try’s fore­most artists. Seoul In­cheon has an ice rink, a cin­ema and an 18-hole golf course a fiveminute shut­tle ride away, while Hong Kong has an in­door golf sim­u­la­tor and an IMAX screen ac­com­mo­dat­ing 350 peo­ple.

Main: KLM’s ro­bot, Spenc Spencer, at Am­s­ter­dam S Schiphol Above: BA’s bio­met­ric gat gates at Heathrow T5 Left: Gatwic Gatwick’s aug­mented r re­al­ity route plan­ner

Clock­wise from above left: Changi air­port’s but­ter­fly gar­den; first aid for lug­gage at Frank­furt; Nine Hours ho­tel at Tokyo Narita Be­low: JAL’s ro­bot at Tokyo Haneda

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