OPINION: Four ways that data can bolster airport operations and traveler experiences

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When Covid-19 restrictions ended last year, air travel was finally able to start getting back on track. And, for the first time since 2020, air passenger demand is predicted to grow beyond pre-pandemic levels later this year, the UN Aviation Agency has recently reported.

Although positive, the industry continues to face issues – from staff shortages through to operating under tighter budgets. So, the pressure will be on airports to cope with this influx and protect the customer experience, while also navigating these existing challenges.

A major area that airports will need to get right is ensuring that passenger flow through the airport is frictionless – from check-in and bag drop, to passing through security and departure halls, and boarding. Essentially, the full journey from curb to gate. And if one falls, then it’s quite literally a domino effect that can lead to long queues, delayed flights and disgruntled passengers.

So, what can airports do to set themselves up for success as air travel demand increases?

Data, data and more data
The answer to seamless operations and a frictionless passenger journey is data. And lots of it. Small to mid-size airports often use manual processes to monitor vital information, such as passenger queue data, flow patterns, and the time it takes for an individual to move from zone to zone.

This is resource heavy, slow to conduct and can deliver inaccurate information to the airport operation and management systems. In turn, this can skew predictions and planning decisions, for instance on resourcing needs. Manual processes also don’t give a centralized, real-time view of what’s happening across the airport, which means decision making is made in silo and doesn’t necessarily deliver the optimum outcome.

However, airports now have the option to use technologies to automate this process, tapping into computer vision to intelligently and anonymously track passengers accurately as they journey through the airport, while being compliant with local privacy legislation, such as GDPR. When this data is combined with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), airports can spot trends, draw learnings, and predict future scenarios to inform more accurate decision making.

Four ways that data can improve the airport operations and experience
So, we know that having data is good but what does this mean in practice? Here are four ways that airports can use data effectively:

  1. Improved operational decisions: With real-time data, staff can be alerted to the unexpected and fix bottlenecks in operations quicker and more effectively. For example, they’ll be notified when travelers have been stood waiting at a check-in desk for over 20 minutes, which may mean they need to make the immediate decision to open additional desks to fix the backlog.
  2. Better resource planning: By combining data insights with AI and ML, airports can also maximize resourcing by redistributing employees based on operational needs. So, if they know that every Friday afternoon departure halls are extremely busy between 2:00pm to 4:00pm, they may consider adding extra maintenance checks on the bathroom facilities or more regularly empty the bins.
  3. Frictionless passenger experience: Having the correct number of staff on duty according to passenger demand helps to deliver a better experience for travelers, such as limiting the likelihood of queues and ensuring facilities are up to standard. For passengers that have access to a few different local airports, a good experience will also help to nurture loyalty and encourage them to return to fly from your airport when their traveling plans allow.
  4. Maximize concession revenues: For UK and European airports in particular, getting passengers through security and into departure halls to spend is a key source of revenue. Having data on passenger movements will provide more commercial value to concessions partners like duty free, retailers and hospitality providers as they can use insights to maximize spend. For example, if there is an influx of passengers at a certain time of day, they could consider running promotions or setting up a pop-up to entice sales. From an airport perspective, it also helps when considering layout changes, such as moving a seating area if it is stopping travelers from walking past shops.

It’s crunch time for airports’ innovation
It’s an exciting time for the industry as travel finally has started looking like it’s ‘getting back to normal’. However, the game is different to what it was before March 2020, with tightened budgets and staff shortages just two of the many challenges airports must navigate. Those that weren’t previously investigating new technologies like computer vision, AI and ML – and the data and insights they deliver – will no doubt be saying this year that they can’t survive without them. My advice? Get on the front foot now and use technology to drive better operations, frictionless passenger experiences and, ultimately, healthier bottom lines.

If you’d like to discuss how you can better utilize technology and data to improve your operations, visit AeroCloud at booth 3305 at Passenger Terminal Expo in Amsterdam on March 14, 15 and 16!


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