Internet of Things will make airport experience more profitable for operators and fun for passengers, say experts in the sector

As a child, going to the airport and catching a plane was a fun and joyful experience. I remember friends and relatives could walk you almost to the departure gate in a carefree atmosphere. I am in my mid-forties so I am not talking pre-World War II or TV sitcom Happy Days era.

In most cases today, as a result of security threats and surge in the number of airline passengers in recent decades, going to the airport is best defined as a hassle—when traveling with children less nicer words come in mind. You need to head to the airport hours before your flight is scheduled to leave to face line after line, from security checks to gate-waiting. The experience is mostly stressful.

Airports appear to be all about waiting: to park; to be checked in and bag processed; to be screened; and to board. A sense of frustration often prevails.

That may all change in the not too distant future. The bygone era of a pleasant airport experience could make a comeback thanks to leaps in technology and new functional concepts.

The benefit of using new technology, with wireless data exchange, I.D. recognition, artificial intelligence, biometrics, will boost automation so as to make the visitors’ time efficient and stress-free. Technology is clearly set to have an impact on airport experience.

“A fully realized seamless passenger journey, with identity documents, tickets and bag tags virtualized, presents an opportunity to streamline process, improve security whilst making the experience outstanding for the passenger,” said Don Grose, Integration Architects Lead and Airport Passenger Experience Strategy Lead at Capgemini U.K.

The latest technology and efficient processes will slash time needed for travel formalities. Iris and palm scans, or fingerprint recognition may replace paper and mobile phone boarding passes. The new technology may streamline the whole process and make it simple to navigate inside the airport.

The progress of interconnected devices makes it all easier. The process uses advanced technology and interconnected devices to start from when you begin heading to the airport as your mobile app will let you see the route with the faster traffic lanes and locate availability of parking spots. At the airport you can drop off your luggage as it will be tagged with I.D.s that can be traced real-time until it returns to your possession at the end of the flight.

As you head over to the security checkpoint you walk through a tunnel that uses facial recognition and scans your belongings for forbidden items to determine if you can walk through or need a manual check. Security will aim to become discreet and non-intrusive. Let’s not forget that the vast majority of travelers are genuine and don’t pose a security threat. Your mobile app will give you terminal directions to your gate and tell you how much time you have before you have to board, based on seat position and row. As you enter the plane, cabin crew great you by name and are aware of any special needs.

The wide use and technological advances in interconnected devices will help make the above scenario a reality. According to consulting firm Roland Berger in 2016, some 83% of air passengers carried a smartphone, 46% a laptop and 39% a tablet.

“Automation will become the rule rather than the exception,” said Rico Merkert, professor of transport and supply-chain management at Australia’s University of Sydney. “This is happening as we speak.”

Most experts predict that in the future passports and boarding passes will take a backseat in favor of digital and interconnected applications and other technology.

Biometric identification of passengers is coming to airports in the next few years, said Matti Lehto, Head of Ops Digitalization at Finavia, Finland’s biggest airport operator. “All airports share the same goals: to simplify and improve the flow of the passengers’ journey using biometric identification.”

The potential of artificial intelligence as a key tool for both operational efficiency and customer experience is very appealing, and the aviation industry is already striving to unleash its potential, said Arturo Garcia-Alonso, a senior airport management consultant.

According to a Deloitte report, the internet of things, or IoT, — networks of sensor-equipped, intelligent, exponential technologies that can gather data, interpret it, and take action — has the power to transform the curb-to-gate-to-destination experience and create valuable new revenue streams for operators. It said that IoT can increase revenue, while simultaneously improving the passenger’s overall experience.

With the time saved from automation, visitors’ time can be devoted to enjoying the airport experience. They will have more time to shop, eat and work.

Airports want visitors to have more time available to shop at the retail options as they rethink how to offer the best airport experience. This means offering a place with quality entertainment and retail opportunities, in comfortable surroundings, friendlier and leisure-orientated environments.

The airport experience will target one of ease and enjoyment, and not frustration and bottleneck. They become inviting spaces and visitors will feel as if they are travelling first class.

Airports will aim to have a sense of community. Architects expect airports of the future to become a place where people want to go for the experience rather than being a place where you have to be to commute by air. It will be a venue where people would want to spend time in, which means bigger profits for operators.

Airports could become destinations in their own right.

More dining and entertainment, such as cinemas, ice-skating rinks and indoor forests, relaxation, with spas, massage and yoga centers, as well as commercial office space for non-airport businesses to relocate represent  a way for airports to develop a more diversified revenue base.

“Airports are trying to pitch themselves as destinations in themselves even for non-flyers, e.g. Zurich as a shopping centre and Frankfurt for business and office space,” said Andrew J. Timmis, a lecturer in transport at Britain’s Loughborough University. “They want the airport experience to be as important to the flying experience as the flight itself.”

Terminal designs will target passenger comfort and wellbeing to make available more sophisticated and innovative airport offerings, recreational and interactive amenities. Airports will be more like upscale hospitality facility.

“Airport terminals are being designed and redesigned to be attractive to the passenger and to accommodate efficient processes giving rise to a strong passenger experience,” said Mr. Grose of Capgemini.

In recent years we have witnessed a record number of large-scale airport projects undertaken globally, many of which in Asia and the Middle East.

For an idea how things are likely to become in the next decades it is probably best to take Singapore’s Changi Airport as a pioneer. It has set the airport experience standard for the last decade. It opened its futuristic Terminal 4 late last year with technology to allow for face recognition for immigration and boarding, and automated bag tagging. The new “Jewel” facility, with a 40-meter high indoor waterfall and five-story garden, is set to open next year.

Airports desire to lift the visitors' quality experience by giving them a glimpse of the country as soon as they set foot in the terminals. For example, Aeroporti di Roma's new international (non-Schengen) terminal at Fiumicino, opened around 18 months ago and tailored to deal with an additional 6 million annual passengers, aims to offer an opportunity for visitors to pass their time by experiencing a blend of Italian fashion and food specialities.

Concerns when it comes to technological issues include data protection rules, such as the European Union’s GDPR, to limit any abuse. One of the biggest challenges and question marks centers on information security and the key concern of balancing the great potential of data connectivity with enhanced protection against security breaches.

Flying is estimated to be one of the most popular ways of traveling in the future, with forecasts pointing to an annual increase through 2040 thanks mainly to an expanding global middle class, emergence of low-cost airlines and more efficient planes. Estimates from the Airports Council International predict passenger traffic will double in 2031 from 2016.

To remove the pain from travel and have a future where the experience is considerably different from today, the evolution--driven by technology--aims to make the airport experience better, quicker, safer and much more fun.
The travel slogan “getting there is half the fun” looks on schedule for a rebound.