PTE interview: Innovation for modern airport teams

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Mike Byrom, vice president of airports and crew services at Spirit Airlines, discusses key techniques to help airports use technological innovations like biometrics and self bag drops to improve the passenger experience, support staff and reduce costs – ahead of his presentation at Passenger Terminal Conference 2023.

What’s your presentation about?
My presentation is about innovation and technology, but at its core, it’s really about people. It’s about investments that aim to enhance the airport experience for our guests and airport staff. There are so many areas where we can support the airport workforce through technologies that help them with their everyday operation. At the same time, these innovations benefit our guests. That’s a win-win from my perspective, and something I’m passionate about because it’s good for our people and good for our business.

What are the key innovations available to support airport staff and simplify the passenger journey?
Let’s look at this from the perspective of getting travelers through the airport quicker while giving them more control over their journey. My presentation will cover three recent innovations that achieve these goals while also helping airport staff.

We have introduced self bag drop with biometric photo-matching capability in the lobbies of five major airports across the US. Our guests can conveniently check bags without the need for agent assistance. However, airport agents are available to interact with guests if needed, and the bonus is agents have fewer bags to lift.

This innovative mindset continues from the ticket counter to the gate, where we are now using a turn-time management system in many airports we serve. This new tool provides agents with additional support through a virtual coach to help them manage the dozens of tasks that need to be executed on each flight.

We are also enhancing the baggage service experience by going virtual. Guests who need help can scan a QR code that takes them to an app, instead of a baggage service office. There’s no need to search for the baggage office or wait in line. This improves efficiency and creates a better experience for our airport teams, who no longer need to staff a small baggage office. This enhancement was made possible through a major system upgrade that gave us better real-time visibility of our baggage operations.

How can airports enhance the passenger experience in a cost-effective manner?
The airport experience is ripe for innovation. There are opportunities out there to reduce costs and enhance the experience at the same time within the existing airport infrastructure. In the US, airlines are driving a lot of innovation right now. I’d encourage airports to continue listening and collaborating with airlines for mutually beneficial projects. While some airports globally have been eager to help fund these enhancements, that’s not always the case in the US. Consider partnering with airlines and providing funds so we can work together on projects that benefit us both.

In your view, what are the three key principles that airports should include in their airport experience strategy?
Don’t allow a new opportunity to pass by simply because an innovative idea doesn’t fit into the current technology infrastructure. Some airport infrastructure has been around for a long time and serves key functions, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. This requires an open mind. Be willing to consider new technology and explore the potential benefits. Also, consider supportive partnerships with airlines that want to enhance the travel experience. There are so many opportunities to work together, discuss ideas and look for paths to make innovative ideas a reality.

How might these goals be achieved?
Think more like ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCCs). They move fast when they come across a great idea, and they are quick to adopt and implement new technology. This mindset supports further innovation and growth that ultimately benefits staff and travelers.

To hear more valuable industry insights from top aviation executives, be sure to book a conference pass to Passenger Terminal Conference, which will be held on March 14, 15 and 16, in Amsterdam, Netherlands. 

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