It’s the summer holidays, you’re about to jet off to an exotic destination and the excitement is building. As you approach the airport, you notice a long queue of passengers outside the terminal - it's pandemonium.
This scene was reminiscent of the past six weeks at many airports across the world.
Your heart sinks as you realize it might be a few hours before you even reach check-in and bag drop. Unfortunately, this is an all too familiar experience for thousands of travelers this summer.
Staff shortages impacting the global aviation industry, coupled with an influx of passengers desperate to go on holiday, have seen unprecedented levels of disruption.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) June passenger data reflected strong recovery leading into the summer travel season. The total traffic in June, measured by revenue passenger kilometers, was up 76.2% compared with June 2021 — global traffic is now at 70.8% of pre-pandemic levels.
Meanwhile, European carriers reported May traffic rising 412.3%, while capacity rose 221.3%.
In North America, airlines experienced a 203.4% traffic rise and a 101% capacity increase.
This rapid recovery has had a profound effect on airports, airlines and passengers. Labor shortages have made it challenging to deliver a consistently high level of service at some airports.
For travelers, this means longer wait times and increased chances of luggage being lost. And it’s not just baggage reconciliation that’s being impacted. Employee shortages at check-in, security and immigration have added hours to each airport journey.
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Now is the perfect time to leverage technology to support and empower teams to do their jobs better. Many forward-thinking airports are already embracing self-service technology, from off-airport check-in to self-service bag-drop units and these airports are reporting increased efficiency and better passenger experiences.
Improving airport capacity through process efficiency
Disruption isn’t a new phenomenon - airports have long been looking for ways to reduce congestion and speed up passenger servicing. Off-airport check-in offers a chance for hubs to manage traveler check-in and bag drop from anywhere. From sporting events and business conferences to railway stations and cruise ports, there are endless possibilities.
The rise in cloud-enabled passenger processing solutions means off-airport check-in desks can be highly portable, connecting directly with an airline via an internet connection in place of a dedicated server that is tied to one location.
The technology proved pivotal during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, in helping a major airline quickly arrange repatriation flights when nationals were left stranded overseas. The airline was able to deploy portable check-in kiosks at cruise terminals to deal with the sudden influx of travelers requiring flights home.
Ultimately this dramatically reduced congestion in the nearby airports. Of course, there must be provisions for self-service check-in and bag drop in terminals too.
Empowering passengers with the option to be in control of their time and service interactions should be a priority for the airports of the future. Realizing this, Isavia - Iceland's national airport and air navigation service provider - is modernizing its self-service bag-drop units and kiosks.
The move supports closer collaboration between airport and airline partners, including Icelandair, to deliver significant improvements to the passenger experience.
Cloud computing has provided its partner airlines the option of deploying off airport check-in and bag-drop technology. Keflavik airport will adopt the baggage reconciliation system, already used by Icelandair, so airlines and the airport can work from a common data source to improve bag management.
There are immediate benefits for passengers using these new self-service units, including more convenient ways to pay for ancillary options such as excess baggage without having to queue at another airline desk.
For airports, many of these units are built with remote monitoring, meaning issues can be detected and actioned upon quickly to ensure high operational availability.
Leveraging biometrics to reduce queuing
Biometrics will play a significant role in the future of self-service technology. For example, biometrically enabled eGates automate passenger handling at security and boarding, reducing bottlenecks and eliminating human error.
Relying less on agent-assisted checkpoints in these areas will also free up staff to be allocated to other tasks.
For passengers, replacing paper-based boarding documents and passports with biometrics means they can quickly pass through the airport with minimum face-to-face interactions with staff, removing the need of presenting their travel documents at each airport touchpoint.
Recently Houston Airports embraced cloud-based and biometrically enabled self-service passenger servicing technology, opening the door for its airline partners to implement biometric check-in and boarding functions.
In 2021, Narita International Airport Corporation introduced Japan’s first end-to-end biometric boarding process, enabling passengers to travel through the entire airport without using paper documents or touching screens.
Travelers can check-in and enroll at the biometric kiosks, where their facial image is captured and verified against their passport. When this process is complete, they can drop their luggage at an auto bag drop unit, with passengers automatically recognized by the embedded camera as they approach the auto bag drop unit. The process is simple at security and when boarding the aircraft - Narita’s e-Gates are equipped with cameras that automatically validate the passengers’ identity and permission to fly.
With IATA predicting that overall passenger numbers will reach four billion in 2024, exceeding pre-pandemic levels by 103%, airports should urgently consider increasing the use of the self-service technology that works best for them and their passengers. Technology has a proven track record of dramatically improving passenger process efficiencies, enabling airports to divert much- needed resources to dealing with exceptions and ultimately serve their travelers better.