From a passenger’s perspective, time in an airport should be stress free, comfortable, quick and simple. From check-in, through the passenger terminal and to the gate – each stage should ideally be handled seamlessly, safely and smoothly. Ensuring that happens is increasingly difficult, especially at major hub destinations.
It is therefore essential for airport managers to be able to map and understand the passenger journey, as this can be used to improve their experience and also to improve overall operability. The good news is that the growing digitization of the airport space is enabling the implementation of Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, which can blend technology, processes and people to deliver a flawless air travel experience.
Of course, from an airport’s point of view there are a number of factors that a passenger typically may not even notice. Heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC), early smoke detection and security systems, including voice alarms and sensors, are an essential part of the terminal IoT infrastructure and can have a major impact on a passenger’s journey, although day-to-day they remain invisible. Think for instance of an airport’s air quality, which needs to be adjusted to the expected passenger flow, which can be mapped to historic and real-time data. A range of everyday applications can be incorporated to create an interactive environment that can plot, analyze and direct the movement of passengers as they travel from passport control to embarkation.
People use their smartphones as navigation aids and sources of information daily, and the range of apps specifically developed for these purposes is large and growing. Leveraging this readiness to interact and share data is clearly beneficial for airports and passengers alike; it is also relatively straightforward once the benefits have been explained.
The benefits of shared information
A fully featured IoT installation is therefore not just about passenger-approved data and analyzing it for the benefit of the managers that deployed it. It can also share information in a targeted, location-specific way that can provide passengers with access to detailed flight updates, waiting times, gate information and even information about the location of their luggage. This will help influence how travelers move around an airport and relate to their environment.
This level of interaction is part of a wider discourse that will deliver services that are relevant to a passenger’s context. Personalized, location-specific information can help improve transit times, minimize hold-ups and deliver a bespoke travel experience that improves customer satisfaction while also maintaining the overall efficiency of the airport.
The bottom line is that a properly designed and implemented IoT platform offers a range of opportunities for airports and airlines to create ancillary products and services that are relevant to their customers during their stay on the ground. This could include lounge access, quick passage through security, or flight boarding using sensor technology.
The airport experience has traditionally been systematic rather than proactive, which can waste resources, create unnecessary delays and result in a less than optimal passenger experience. That’s why airports around the world are increasingly using wi-fi networks to track passengers and low-power transmitters to offer location-based services across their entire airport experience. This approach isn’t just about regulating queues and minimizing bottlenecks – it can also be deployed to help retailers target their goods and services to travelers based on their location, and possibly even their destination.
Real-time monitoring and passenger integration is highly beneficial but this is just the beginning of the connected airport story. Over time, an IoT implementation can help spot trends, especially when combined with big data analytics. This data can then be used to further refine airport operations and detect potential failures before they occur. Necessary maintenance can be scheduled around times of lowest occupancy, airport staff can receive timely alerts on restocking consumables, and routine operations can be arranged to happen when they’ll cause the lowest levels of disruption.
Developing a holistic view of airport operations across its three major flows (passengers, cargo and aircraft) is essential. It should be driven by the airport masterplan, not least because the airport is the first and last impression that travelers have of a country they visit or transit through.
Concluding the journey
The IoT is a tool that helps maximize the exchange of information in order to facilitate enhanced decision making, support collaborations, improve efficiency and develop better service. It also enables airports to place passengers front and center during their journey from check-in to take-off. To deliver all these benefits, airport managers need to work with technology partners that understand the complex ecosystem of airports and have the experience to design, implement and install an IoT platform that works best for their environment, now and in the future.