Sarah Samuel, Head of Airport IT, Amadeus Asia Pacific, shares why airport operators need to invest in a touch-free future to cater to evolving passenger demands and drive non-aeronautical revenues.
How the global travel industry will recover from the current situation is unclear. However, we are witnessing some early signs of recovery in China. Slowly and cautiously, bookings are seeing a small increase, with the recent five-day holiday bringing a jump in travel and hotel bookings.
We are seeing industry players rethink how they should be managing unforeseeable risks. For airports in the region specifically, during this period, we saw operators increasingly look to technology to ensure a hygienic and frictionless passenger experience.
For example, Hong Kong International Airport deployed several self-driving robots to clean public areas as part of its measures to protect against the spread of Covid-19. In the long term, the utilisation of technology is crucial for airports with regards to meeting the needs of passengers and driving non-aeronautical revenues.
Automation to streamline the passenger journey
To adapt to changing passenger flows, airports are implementing automation across all touchpoints in and around the terminal. Automated bag drop units are one way airports can streamline the process of check-in, allowing a fast and efficient way for travellers to check in luggage, independently. For example, Tokyo’s Narita International Airport is installing 72 Auto Bag Drop units to create a more seamless experience for passengers.
In the long term, by automating the airport experience, travellers can have more time to relax and unwind before a flight. With the time they save, travellers can further explore the airport and its retail and food and beverage outlets, making airports more experiential, rather than purely functional.
Biometrics will be more prominent
To further manage passenger flows across the terminal, airports can invest in biometric technology to adjust throughput while streamlining the passenger journey.
Biometrics are being widely implemented in airports across the Asia-Pacific region. Australia’s Qantas Airways is an example where an airline tested the technology for all touchpoints across the terminal at Sydney Airport, including check-in, bag drop, lounge access, and boarding processes.
Ultimately, biometrics are a key component in enabling frictionless travel, allowing passengers to enter a lounge, check-in, and board their aircraft all via facial recognition. The technology can also be helpful in the current environment.
Wuhan Airport, which has recently reopened to the public after the city lockdown, is piloting the AI-powered biometrics scanner that does temperature checks on passengers. It can measure up to one hundred people in just two minutes.
As passengers become more conscious of touchpoints at the airport and feel confident their privacy and security are not compromised, biometrics can also facilitate contactless travel. Imagine replacing traditional touch checks such as passport and boarding pass scans, with a touchless scan of a passenger’s face.
Off-site passenger handling will become the norm
Airports can also explore off-site passenger handling to offer a seamless airport experience; this can be done through pop-up check-in and baggage drop services. Off-site processing can be deployed in more convenient locations away from the airport, such as railway stations, cruise terminals, conference venues, sporting events, and hotels.
Not only does off-site processing reduce the number of passengers at the terminal, it also works to personalise the journey for the traveller as it offers more choice in how, when and where they check-in and drop off their bags. It can also assist airports in meeting new passenger expectations surrounding social distancing by dispersing traditionally crowded terminals and checking in passengers at strategically placed off-site locations.
Mega airports will become destinations in themselves
Competition for passengers, airline routes, and non-aeronautical revenues are already driving innovative players to rethink what the airport of the future could look like. Looking ahead, we’re going to see the expansion of airports in China to be more competitive against airports elsewhere in Asia, as well as to meet new customer demands.
As travellers are offered more choice, airports will have to become more experiential, and ultimately, a destination themselves in the upcoming future. As airports look to utilise their existing infrastructure, terminals will begin to see automation, biometrics and off-airport check-in as viable solutions to address evolving passenger expectations.
The good news is that airports are seeing the benefits of these new efficient technologies, and the technology itself will only get better to continue to improve the traveller’s journey – ultimately, allowing airports to lead in providing a frictionless travel experience.