CHECK IN TO THE FUTURE
From robot assistants to augmented reality, Marisa Cannon rounds up the latest advances helping to smooth your journey through the airport
From robot assistants to augmented reality, Marisa Cannon rounds up the latest advances helping to smooth your airport journeys
n 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 locations and opening times, while tech giant Hitachi trialled a roller-skating robot guide. Seoul Incheon is trialling the use of 15 robots – to clean floors, handle baggage and provide directions. The airport plans for additional robots to eventually perform security checks and serve food and drink in airport lounges.
Airport innovations aren’t just restricted to passenger processing. 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
Left: Gatwick’s augmented reality route planner
Main: KLM’s robot, Spencer, at Amsterdam Schiphol
Above: BA’s biometric gates at Heathrow T5