Martin Bowman, strategy director of global aviation at Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Solutions, discusses strategies for optimizing passenger throughput and satisfaction
Left: Gatwick Airport has installed new security lanes to improve the checkpoint experience for passengers
As hundreds of thousands of passengers around the world are expected to fly this summer, airports face the growing challenge of improving passenger throughput at security checkpoints while ensuring a positive experience. Several top-performing European airports – some of the busiest in the world – have overcome these dilemmas by confronting them on a micro-level rather than macro-level.
Instead of looking at security as a single issue, for instance, these airports recognize security as a process that contains many parts. They analyze each step of the checkpoint progression to identify opportunities for optimization, acknowledging that incremental improvements can have a significant positive effect on the whole operation. The resulting process changes help employees work more efficiently, and give passengers a faster and more pleasant experience.
Nimble, data-driven operations are another commonality among progressive airports. Traditionally, airports would establish operational plans based on historical benchmarks and would attempt to follow it regardless of unforeseen events. By transforming existing data – like live road traffic statistics, predicted passenger show-up times and wait-times at security – into actionable information, airports can adjust resources to handle the ever-changing environment throughout the day.
As airports worldwide continue to explore ways to enhance the passenger experience, they may want to consider adopting some of these simple-but-effective strategies.
Right: Gatwick has invested £36m (US$47.6m) in ‘next generation’
security lanes to offer faster screening processes that will halve passenger
time through security
Perhaps one of the most significant adjustments airports can make is to eliminate the bottlenecks caused by legacy linear procedures. For example: consider just how much throughput slows at many airports’ security checkpoints as a single line of passengers approaches and prepares their belongings for screening.
After carefully analyzing traditional queueing methods, some European airports such as London Gatwick in the UK now ask passengers to spread out in multiple lines. Employees helpfully educate the public about the screening process and offer “prep areas” where they can ready their belongings and coordinate the traffic flow by directing passengers to as many as six or seven stations – clearly designated by numbers on the floor – where they can place their trays simultaneously.
This workflow enables greater efficiency, thanks in part to longer prep stations that passengers can access earlier. Extending the preparation time in this way not only helps the security checkpoint process move faster, it also can reduce the anxiety and confusion caused when passengers feel rushed through the process. Already a proven solution in some airports, most others could emulate their success with relative ease.
Left: Using data from boarding pass scans can help airports predict
passenger wait times later on in the security process
Studying data and communicating adjustments
Even with workflow changes like these, security checkpoints and other terminal areas still require adequate staffing resources based on fluctuating passenger volumes. Because planes don’t always take off or land exactly as scheduled, adjustments to a daily operational plan are crucial. To do this, however, requires the ability to analyze numerous data sources throughout the day and shift resources accordingly.
Tracking readily available data through operational databases offers insight to many leading airports. Other significant forecasting data factors – such as weather, traffic flow leading to the airport, or even what passengers are posting on social media – may also impact an airport’s various department staffing needs. Monitoring and analyzing this real-time data throughout the day and promptly communicating relevant findings to department managers and the wider stakeholder community helps airports deploy the staffing resources needed to ensure smooth passenger flow.
Communicating pertinent data to passengers is also essential. For example, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in the USA displays running wait-time updates at each open security checkpoint – along with directions so passengers can locate lines with the shortest waits. Airports can offer this information on smartphone apps as well. App usage, in addition to smartphone Bluetooth and wi-fi signals, then contributes to the airport’s incoming data stream that is used to calculate wait time estimates.
Airports can leverage passenger profiles to determine current and future travel patterns. For example, Heathrow and Dublin airports scan passengers’ boarding passes and use that information to help predict when passengers will arrive for future flights.
Building this historical database can help with increasing accuracy of wait times and staffing predictions by providing a benchmark to measure against. In addition, using robust forecasting tools and ‘What-if?’ analysis, airports can generate highly flexible daily plans based on this pool of accurate data to more accurately predict what will happen over the course of a day.
As passenger traffic continues to increase, airports worldwide should consider new strategies to speed and smooth the traveling experience. Equipping passengers with proactive information about security wait times, allowing employees to screen more passengers in less time, and using real-time data to staff more effectively, are just some of the ways leading European airports already are maximizing both passenger throughput, which leads to a more enjoyable terminal experience.
About the author
Martin Bowman is Lockheed Martin’s strategy director for the global aviation sector. He harbors a long-standing and deep desire to deliver true collaboration and innovation in aviation by obliterating the outdated paradigms maintained by legacy aviation IT vendors.
July 18, 2016