Are We There Yet? Smart Travel Needs Smart Airports
Getting on an airplane needs a lot of prep. Plan your trip, book your ticket, get to the airport, queue up to check-in or drop you luggage off. Then you go through security, grab a coffee or browse the shops, and then you finally arrive at the gate.
And at any point in this process, including when you’ve boarded, you might hear, “Your flight’s been delayed.” That’s what happened to me recently in Germany – after an hour’s delay, the captain explained that we’d missed our take off window, as airports have a schedule for when and which airplanes can use the runway. If your plane is late, then sorry, you go to the back of the queue and need to wait until all the other airplanes have taken off.
Sure, a force majeure can keep you on the ground and that’s understandable, but delays happen every day.
In June 2018, for example, every second flight in Frankfurt, Barcelona and Jakarta was delayed.
And even in the globally best-ranking Tokyo airport, just 9 out of 10 airplanes took off on-time, with only about 3% of all delays caused by weather. While the weather plays by its own rules, what about the things that we can control? Is the industry moving forward?
The Need for Speed
What we care about in airports is speed. If things are done on time, passengers don’t need to loiter around in duty-free stores (unless it’s a deliberate revenue strategy). I sometimes enjoy being in an airport, as I have a lot of time to think and I know this chunk of my time is owned by the airport. But it bothers me when I wait longer than is written on my boarding pass.
One of my best experiences was at Incheon – the airport in the Korean capital Seoul. I almost teared up when I saw 30 Mbps Wi-Fi. And I’ve never since seen such speeds or ease of connection since. Most other airports are only remarkable only for their overpriced cafes and lack of drinking water.
The Need for Smart Security
Airports need security everywhere, including the technology for airport staff to react in seconds. I’m not sure we can always rely on humans. A smart airport hall with sensors and smart devices will be able to create an alert and fire up a contingency plan with lightning speed.
Sometimes batteries go up in flames. Sometimes viruses, such as SAR, flare up. Airport management is full of challenges and unresolvable conflicts between security and convenience. Is there any magic wand? No. Are we doing all we can – I would say no again.
I’m an advocate of increased security. But, I still can’t accept continuous delays that happen more often than not when I board a plane.
You may have seen Dave Carroll’s “United Breaks Guitars”, chronicling United Airline’s response when one of Carroll’s more valuable guitars was broken on a flight. Fifteen million likes on YouTube later and the airline’s stock had fallen by 10 percent and some employees said goodbye to their jobs. Technology can prevent this from happening and the other more serious problems I’ve mentioned.
Innovation isn’t just about technology, it’s much more than that. It’s about keeping a hand on the pulse of the industry and listening.
What’s the Problem?
Airports often use outdated IT infrastructure that’s neither secure nor adequate to the task. When you feel you’ve paid through the nose for a ticket and the Wi-Fi quality is worse than McDonald’s, you tend to forget about the calories. Many airports lack the expertise in IT that they need to let the customers know they’re valued. While the path of innovation is ever-evolving, the first steps to the future are very practical.
Strong Networks & AI
Step 1: Build a strong network, starting with fast and stable Wi-Fi. It’s that simple.
Step 2: Make the airport smart. Adding sensors and meters can improve the efficiency of things like trolleys, lamps, elevators, and screens. Connecting these to a single command center is what can make the building breathe, see, hear and speak as one organism.
Step 3: Optimize the operations of internal IT systems, including the work stations of security personnel, logistics specialists, and managers.
Step 4: Apply ICT to make things faster smarter and safer in the airport as a whole by connecting all the vehicles, cameras, buses, engineers, and lighting. A wealth of data can be fed into to a real-time analytics system, so that an airport’s management team can always stay one step ahead and either deliver a real-time response when things go wrong, or prevent them from occurring in the first place with predictive capabilities.
The AI Flow
Starting from check-in or even earlier, facial recognition can identify passengers. This can form the basis of automated and personalized services, and provide an extra layer of security without the lengthy queues. Lounges would open their doors automatically, recognizing VIP guests, and timetables would customize content for you, again based on facial recognition. T’he boarding process would occur without human assistance or repeated checks of boarding passes and passports.
The technology a company adopts works as a litmus paper to check where that company is at. Making airports smart and customers happy is certainly possible with the right partners and solutions.
Let me know about your flight stories – both good and bad – in the comments section below.
And make sure you click on the link and check out this video about Huawei’s smart airport solution.