The evolution of the airport experience.

Chris Sheldon, Client Solutions Director in London, UK
14 October 2019

As someone who has been lucky enough to travel to a number of places around the world for both business and pleasure, I’ve seen a large amount of change in the customer journey – from booking a flight to sitting down on the plane.

We’ve moved from booking over the phone or in a travel agency through to booking via an app and using our digital wallet to store our boarding passes. This journey, as with many others now, encompasses digital at every stage.

Whilst we’ve seen the airlines really push the digital agenda by creating a more efficient, engaging and seamless user experience, one area of travel that has not moved as quickly as some would have wanted is that of the airport experience. However, this is now set to rapidly change with a clear evolution of the digital technology used in airports, both for the benefit of staff and travellers.

SITA’s Passenger IT Insights 2019 found that by 2025, 68% of travellers will come from the post-digital era – those who would have grown up interacting with technology to manage their lives – compared to 32% from the pre-digital era. As a result, customers will be more responsive to artificial intelligence, IoT, and chatbots to assist them in their air travel.

IATA’s recent Global Passenger Survey found that millennials want to spend less than 30 seconds dropping their bags off, and 65% of passengers would be willing to share additional personal information to speed up the airport processes. The survey also revealed that – out of 11 elements of the customer journey – border control had the second-lowest satisfaction rating among all respondents.

We very often talk about the importance of seamless journeys in digital and that is echoed by the CEO of SITA, Barbara Dalibard, who said that passengers will “expect travel to be seamless, where every step fits neatly with the next, delivered as a single, unified experience.”

This is big news for the airport industry, who are going to see the digital expectations of their customers and staff rise in the next 5-10 years. 83% of airport and airline IT leaders surveyed by SITA believe that this demographic shift will be the most important influence on their passenger solutions strategy by 2025.

It’s key that airports have a defined, clear digital strategy that will ensure they are able to deliver these experiences. And the strategy should not be driven by what senior managers of the airport want, but by what their customers and staff want.

An example of an airport leading the way in digital transformation is Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (the busiest airport in the world). A new system at Terminal F offers passengers travelling through their international terminal the opportunity to opt-in to a hassle-free airport experience. If a customer wishes to use face recognition technology, they can check-in, drop off luggage, identify themselves at security and board the flight using their face as a form of identification. Face recognition helps airlines resolve delay issues by reducing the typical boarding time of an international flight by nine minutes, as passengers no longer need to undergo multiple identification checks using their boarding pass and passport. This is also being rolled out at a number of other airports across the globe including Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Another area that is going to be key to airports as they digitally transform is that of data. Airports have the ability to track and store huge amounts of data both from passenger, staff and airline perspectives. And the way they use that data can make a huge difference to its operations and efficiency.

Copenhagen Airport is currently using the Digital Twin concept to improve its knowledge sharing and decision-making processes within a number of projects. This innovative use of data will be essential as airport operations steadily move towards digital solutions. 

Michael Ørsted, Head of Department – Technical Knowledge and Data at Copenhagen Airport says “If the Digital Twin is a digital representation of the real world, by using data from sensors, asset behaviour and usage, we know what is going on, and we can tell the system to automatically react in certain issues. These links can be used in decision-making.”

To summarise, today’s airports are no longer just a place where airplanes take off and land; instead, airports are vital economic generators providing a gateway to their city, state, region, country. They need to keep pace with digital transformation and the accelerating customer expectations. As the aviation industry becomes even more competitive, it's clear that those offering a better, seamless journey stand to win and those that are standing still will lose.

At Somo, we design and build digital products and experiences that are aimed at serving both customers, staff and customer/staff collaboration, ensuring a seamless, efficient experience for all stakeholders in a customer journey.