Seamless travel, the idea of a smooth journey from your home to your destination and back uninterrupted by multiple process and identity hurdles, is evolving from a lofty concept to a near-future reality.
Airlines and airports around the world are looking for ways to apply technology to break down barriers using cloud-based solutions for continuous journey management which is transferred from device to device.
Holger Mattig, head of Airport IT product management Amadeus IT Group, believes the industry is moving away from travel which pivots around hardware, the location of counters and kiosks and baggage check-in areas, which force a choppy queue-to-queue experience. He says:
"Self-service initiatives are really growing. If you look at recent terminal designs you see that. The traditional airport counter is virtually disappearing.
"At Sydney Airport terminal you see that it's just kiosks and self-service bag drops and passengers go straight to immigration."
The introduction of cloud-based common-use infrastructure, and improvements to mobile platforms, allows airlines and airports to extend that seamless experience beyond the terminal to home, to the hotel, to the rail station, or the cruise terminal; virtually anywhere the journey begins.
This creates new opportunities for pre-travel services like baggage delivery and door-to-door transport, which have become a rich competitive field for established travel brands and start-ups. Mattig says:
"You are going to extend your common-use infrastructure into hotels, into homes, into cruise terminals. It's the cloud-based system which allows you to really go mobile. It allows travel companies to move away from immobile fixed assets like check-in counters or check-in kiosks towards mobile."
Mobile touch-points can be consumer owned or airport/airline owned.
For example, Amadeus offers check-in and passenger verification scanners which allow airport staff to verify passenger identity anywhere an internet connection is available.
According to Mattig, travel will break-through into true seamlessness as these interconnected mobile systems evolve to the digital experience of every-day life. He says:
"As services go mobile they need to be provided anywhere, anytime. That's what a cloud environment really allows you to do, versus the traditional queued systems with on-site deployment in an airport, where the all the common use infrastructure sits at the airport.
"Common use doesn't really mean what you usually see: e-gates, bag drops, self-service kiosks. That is only the hardware you see at the airport.
"Common use goes way beyond that to the home. We support this by connecting our systems to modern messaging platforms like WhatsApp and 'Facebook Messenger which allows us to provide that type of service.
If you are using Google Home you could request a baggage pickup, or fast-lane. Any service that is available at the airport can be sold through this cloud platform."
Biometric technology is an essential component of seamless travel, simplifying identity verification and allowing travellers to flow through the process uninterrupted.
Andrew O’Connor, vice president Airport Portfolio at SITA believes the technology is evolving to the point where biometric ID will be persistent, without requiring a new sign-in at each leg of the trip.
"You'll enrol once on biometrics.
"Maybe you've done it via an app on your phone, by taking a selfie which captured your face biometrics and it's securely held using according to an international standard.
"Maybe that's something like blockchain, or some other technology which ensures nobody can grab the biometric data and that it can be shared securely through all the parts of the process that need it: an airline touchpoint, an airport touchpoint at security, or even a government border touchpoint.
"In fact, the technology for biometrics will have improved in a couple of years' time to where you've barely broken a stride, you haven't really stopped.
"By the time you've stood in front of the bag-drop unit, it knows who you are, it's retrieved your booking for the right airline. It prints a tag and you put it on your luggage, then you walk to security without breaking your stride, and the camera knows it's you.
"It knows you're good to fly that day. It knows you're in the right terminal and that you've got a FastTrack pass to go through the FastTrack lane. The self-service gates will just open up in front of you as you get through security and as you get to the aircraft."
There are governance issues to overcome in personal data management and sharing. But Mattig also believes that ultimately biometrics will become ubiquitous in our daily lives, with all the travel benefits that entails.
"This is going to happen. We need international standards, for sure, but you will see one identity and other initiatives growing really fast. There is a lot of attention on them. It will take some time but you will see this coming.
"This will be the underlying framework of governance that allows the technology to kick in. This is not a technology topic. We as a technology provider are already preparing the solutions. We're just waiting for the government legislations to set-in and this will come for sure."
O’Connor also believes it’s important for the industry not to let the regulatory hurdles stifle adoption of technologies which could improve the travel experience right now.
"A lot of the things that are going on so far, what we are doing in Brisbane Airport and others, for example, is one-time enrolment at the airport.
In our case, it’s at check-in kiosks. You're checking-in at the airline and, as part of the process, we’re capturing that biometric data at the airport or each journey. We destroy the data afterwards. It's going to be an evolution.
"The end-game is that you're not enrolling biometrics each time, and that requires standards to get that process adopted, but in the mean time there are a lot of benefits of the intermediate stages to the passenger experience."
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