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From slotting your mobile phone at the self check-in kiosk (as an identity marker) to self-tagging and e-gates, contactless tech has proliferated in the world of aviation since the pandemic. And it’s here to stay.

Other innovations include ‘scan and fly’, self-baggage drop and self-boarding, biometric face recognition, e-boarding passes, on-board e-library and e-menu, and digital health declaration.

The aviation sector, one of the worst affected by covid-19, has in the last few months seen several innovations, which seemed impossible to execute before the pandemic. These found traction as social distancing or contactless approach for taking flights became the norm. For instance, online check-in was encouraged by airlines much before the pandemic. But only 30-40% of passengers preferred this, and there was no let-up in long queues and delays.

“The pandemic brought forward some of the technological innovations, which would have otherwise taken several years to achieve," said a senior official at the country’s largest airline IndiGo, who spoke under the condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

“Airlines were earlier finding it difficult to get most of their passengers to follow simple things like online check-in, and self-baggage tagging/drop-off and self-boarding. Now, most passengers are doing it—not only because of the existing rules but also because of their fear for the virus," the official added.

A recent global traveller study commissioned by travel technology firm Amadeus discovered that mobile applications that provide on-trip notifications and alerts are the most appealing technology for 56% of Indian travellers to increase their confidence to travel in the next 12 months.

“Access to technology that reduces human contact, queues and physical touchpoints were the ultimate factor for getting Indian people travelling again (40%)," the Amadeus study said. “This was followed by the need for effective test, track and trace programmes to contain infections (40%); visibility to and assurance of sanitization, hygiene and safety measures in hotels and accommodations (39%) and limiting the number of passengers on flights (38%)," it added.

The study was conducted among 6,000 travellers globally, of whom around 1,000 were from India.

Airlines lobby group International Air Transport Association (IATA) is in the final phase of developing a Travel Pass, a digital health pass that will manage and verify the secure flow of testing and vaccine information among governments, airlines, laboratories and travellers.

Internationally, some of the biggest airlines and airports have invested heavily on automation and artificial intelligence. Recent examples include a self-driving guide robot which helped passengers carry small luggage and navigate through Frankfurt Airport’s busy terminals.

Back in India, Vistara has fast-tracked its technology deployment plans—“touchless solutions... which have been helpful in re-building confidence in flying again," said a company spokesperson.

Budget airline SpiceJet Ltd has introduced a portable ventilator for patients with mild-to-moderate breathing issues. Dubbed the ‘SpiceOxy’, the ventilator was designed by engineers of SpiceJet Technic, a subsidiary of SpiceJet.

“Every crisis has also a benefit," said IndiGo’s chief executive Ronojoy Dutta during a post result analyst call in June.

“We jumped in one go, one or two steps ahead in the development of how we deal at the airport with passengers and how much more optimized we are getting," he added.

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