How are airports adapting to the greatest disruption to air travel since 9/11?
In recent years, considerable attention has been devoted to transforming airports into contemporary civic icons and commercial centers. Now airports must reinvent themselves once again — and fast.
The just-in-time airport.
The COVID-19 pandemic has at once exposed significant structural fissures in the aviation industry, while accelerating many of the productive changes already underway, including customer experience innovations, passenger processing technologies, and systems automation improvements.
With the current dearth of capital (and demand) to fund the conventional airport expansion paradigm, airports are looking to do more with less to deliver great customer experiences. Airports can leverage their soft “virtual capacity” to improve facilities performance and provide significant efficiencies for travelers, taking advantage of ubiquitous smartphone technologies to deliver seamless, IOT-powered passenger experiences. Pre-mapped passenger journeys, already in use at many airports, can direct passengers exactly where they need to go using beacon technology to reduce crowding and confusion while incubating new business opportunities. From “virtual queues” for security screening and boarding to delivering concession offerings to your gate, the just-in-time airport is now becoming a reality.
The touch-free, seamless airport experience.
While nobody likes airport lines, in this new travel reality long lines and congestion aren’t simply an inconvenience — they erode precious customer confidence. This is the time for airports to accelerate their automatic revolution. In many places these efforts were already underway. Prior to COVID-19, US airports were testing passenger processing automation in large-scale domestic and international operations, including biometric-based verification at security screening checkpoints at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s Delta International Terminal. Singapore Changi International Airport’s Terminal 4 is the airport’s first fully-automated terminal, providing a seamless experience from curb to gate and back. Besides crowd management, airports are leveraging technology applications to improve health, wellness, and hospitality offerings that help ensure customer confidence. From virtual information to health-screening kiosks, technology has helped passengers and airport staff connect safely and efficiently.
Personalization as the new premium.
Airports can buck the “one-size-fits-all” challenge by harnessing technology to help enable passengers to curate their own uniquely personalized travel experience. With health and wellness at the forefront of passengers’ concerns, choice and personalization are the new premiums for which customers are willing to pay more at the airport.The airport of the future is also leveraging technological solutions to enable a significant travel demographic — the elderly and those with restricted mobility — to successfully navigate the terminal. Airports have been exploring driverless electrified wheelchairs among other strategies to ensure safe and efficient movement from the curb to the gate.
Technological disruption is no longer an airport's only challenge in the post-pandemic travel environment. Airports are now confronted with the need to do more with less, and envisage emerging opportunities to better serve their customers and business partners. The only way to meet the uncertainty of the near future is to keep agility and adaptability at the forefront of airport planning and design.