You don’t have to be a frequent flier to have noticed the personal touches that continue to creep into the airline experience.
In fact, before you even know where you want to go, the industry is tapping into your intent with some shrewd interventions. ‘Liking’ a far-flung destination on Instagram will routinely trigger suggestions by an app with options to get you there, not to mention itinerary recommendations, based on your preferences and budget.
Of course, such providers aren’t mind readers. Data analytics are working their magic in the background on the gigabytes of intelligence gathered across the social media feeds and other online activity. From this insight, preferences can be better anticipated and catered for with interest and innovation, a trend facilitated further by the greater industry-wide collaboration and improved sharing of this intelligence.
The reliance on analytics is evident elsewhere in the cycle, most notably to provide a detailed picture of the inner workings of the aircraft, with the aim of keeping it airborne, rather than out of service on the tarmac. In an industry where optimal reliability and uptime is a prerequisite just to break even, predictive algorithms are a staple tool for squeezing every drop of efficiency from key assets, whether to optimize fuel consumption or to calculate the propensity for component failure.
Both examples illustrate how digital technologies have become firmly ingrained in pockets of the travel ecosystem, addressing specific challenges and adding value to the overall proposition. However, with heightened customer expectations and tighter margins, we are now seeing this approach penetrate all links in the travel chain, taking root more deeply within the airport itself to transformative effect.
It’s a move prompting significant re-evaluation of the airport’s role and scope. No longer a giant holding bay with snaking queues and chaos as par for the course, today’s smart airport is rebranded as a digital hub with the potential to add value, both to the operator and the passenger experience.
Furthermore, nailing a slick and seamless experience even before customers board their flight becomes a strategic advantage to stay competitive, particularly when airlines are having to look to additional revenue streams, such as on-site retail outlets to boost profits and meet the heightened expectations of today’s passenger. And it’s a challenge that will only intensify; with air traffic predicted to grow at a projected 4.6% annually and flight delays and disruption set to rise. A digital solution that can bring greater efficiency and integration to the myriad of operational systems is non-negotiable for today’s airline operator.
At the heart of the approach is technology to address many of the inherent silos within the airport’s organisation structure. Interconnecting all processes with a solution that combines and augments business intelligence is critical to generate greater visibility on the inner workings, as well as bringing more flexibility and collaboration to the decision-making around the best action to take.
The resulting stream of actionable intelligence enables those on the ground to respond with speed and agility to capacity constraints or crowd fluctuations, and customize their systems accordingly.
We see how this reaps dividends when applied to the daily movement of the millions of passengers across the site; from the gate holding area and passport control to the baggage collection point, via toilet, retail, and refreshment facilities. These potentially complex journeys offer vast swathes of valuable information that demand astute management and monitoring, via geospatial solutions and real-time analytic tools.
Armed with a visual snapshot of crowd pressure points, as well as insight on the facilities with the heaviest footfall, the operator can start to alleviate passenger bottlenecks and capitalise on customer behavioural trends in mobile commerce with timely interventions. Mobile alerts to retail offers in their vicinity can help to convert a sale, while the provision of mobile apps that allow people to preorder items in the terminal for speedy collection avoids another queue and a potentially negative customer experience.
Similarly, digital solutions have a key role to play in supporting that Holy Grail of airport service - communication. From bag tracking apps that estimate collection time, to direct and regular updates on waiting times in the gate holding area in the form of personalized boarding time notifications, such measures are a must for passengers who expect to be treated as individuals, rather than a generic mass, herded around the terminal forecourt and kept in the dark.
Today’s smart airport has seen the light, shaking off some past baggage and enjoying a digital future.