Bangalore: From before arriving at an airport to boarding a plane and reaching a destination, an array of electronic devices and systems are transforming the way people experience flying.
Some of these services such as remote check-in and faster turnaround of aircraft are already up and running, and many more, led by information technology (IT)-led integrated systems, are set to arrive soon.
Breezing through: Passengers at the Bangalore airport. By 2013, as many as 12% of all air passengers will check in through cellphones, up from 2% now, according to the Airline IT Trends Survey 2010. Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
The day is not far off when tagging luggage at home, faster and more efficient security checks, personalized updates, and even a custom-made shopping experience would be just par for the course.
As many as 12% of all air passengers will by 2013 check-in through cellphones, up from 2% now, predicted the Airline IT Trends Survey 2010. About 70% of airlines already sell or plan to sell tickets through mobile phones by 2013, it found.
The survey was conducted by Airline Business magazine and SITA, an air transport communications and IT firm.
The air transport industry will have to “rely on advance technology and communications solutions to handle the steady rise in passenger traffic and to resolve many of the challenges it faces today, such as congestion at check-in and security, lack of predictability, flights delays and mishandled baggage”, Ron Reed, director of airport services at SITA, wrote in the report.
“The adoption of new and proven technologies will not only address these issues, but will fundamentally change the way airports operate,” he wrote.
“Airlines and airports face escalating costs, revenue growth constraints and an increasingly dissatisfied customer base,” said Sameer Batra, vice-president (distribution sector) for India and South Asia at International Business Machines Corp. (IBM). “Airports need to find a very fine balance between cost and attractiveness to users while considering any technology.”
IBM has identified five innovations that are driving change, which include self-service solutions, integrated baggage management, shared services, intelligent and flexible airport operating systems, and new security technologies.
On security, Batra said, “Widespread adoption of emerging identity management solutions will change how passengers are screened and ease security processes.”
He anticipated fingerprint recognition, automated document identification systems, Web and wireless technologies that connect customs, airlines and airports, iris scanning and facial recognition to be more widely adopted by the industry.
Imagine a scenario where you purchase a ticket through your mobile phone, tag your luggage on your own and complete check-in formalities at home. The airport would be dotted with self-service kiosks and bag drop-off stands. Or, there may even be a mini virtual airport nearby.
You drop your bags, get your travel documents validated and complete security screening. Biometrics will identify you with iris or fingerprint recognition. Radio frequency identification devices (RFID) attached to your bag will identify your baggage and a tag on your ticket will enable you to walk straight through to the airplane, the information on the ticket read by reading devices on doorways and boarding lounges.
At any given time, the airline would know who has checked in and where they are. GPS (global positioning system) devices on buses that take you to the aircraft, linked to the RFID tags, all provide the information.
You will get used to being personally greeted by screens or voice-enabled devices as you walk into your favourite duty-free stores. You will receive buying suggestions and tailor-made discounts (35% off for you, our regular customer).
Flight information display systems placed at different locations in the airport would read the RFID tag on your ticket and automatically display information relevant to your flight. This would be besides the updates delivered to your cellphone.
A big social networker? If you have enabled it, you could get a message pointing to a classmate from ages ago flying on the same plane.
Boarding times for individualized batches would be communicated to you, making boarding a breeze. Expect more personalized attention and greetings once you are seated.
While not all these services may be available at all airports all the time, the technology enablers are already here.
Infosys Technologies Ltd, for example, has already identified sensor technologies as a key driver of IT systems in the future.
Many of these technologies are already being offered to airports and are being implemented, said Ankur Bhatia, executive director of Bird Group, a diversified travel and information technology company.
Take links to social network sites, for example. “Ninety-nine point nine per cent of the time you are seated next to an unknown person. Maybe you will want to sit next to a friend, or maybe someone in a similar field to yours or with similar interests,” he said. “If you have shared your itinerary, it is possible, with systems integrated with boarding at airports, to be seated next to such a person. From flight information display systems, gate management, gate allocation for flights, everything is getting integrated.”
However, Bhatia said there are no uniform standards across airports and this will prove a barrier in the initial stages. “You have to get systems talking to each other seamlessly,” he added.
“The world is getting more instrumented, interconnected and intelligent,” said IBM’s Batra. “For airlines and airports, there is an opportunity to create a more seamless and interconnected travel experience by connecting data and systems.”