Improving the airport experience through intuitive technology


The following article, written by SITA staff, first appeared in Momberger Airport Information as part of the Momberger VIEW Points series of interviews, commentary and articles.

The Moodie Davitt Report and Momberger Airport Information have agreed to cooperate more closely and take advantage of business synergies between the two specialist media houses for the development of future information services and other ventures.

INTERNATIONAL. Today almost every passenger expects to manage their travel using a smart device and this is dictating the services they expect from airlines and airports. The good news is that when passengers use technology the investment pays off as their satisfaction levels rise.

In the recently published 2017 Passenger IT Trends Survey, passengers were asked to rate their satisfaction at every step of the journey. The results paint a picture of tech-savvy travellers who are more satisfied with their experience than those who use face-to-face services.

Intuitive tech services can dramatically reduce complexity and simplify the journey for passengers, which increases satisfaction. This in turn leads to a greater level of willingness among air travellers to use new and emerging tech services to have a more enjoyable trip. In particular, baggage and biometrics are two areas where investing in technology can deliver a better passenger experience.

Bag tagging is set to undergo a self-service revolution, according to SITA

Taking the stress out of baggage

Technology is already supporting passengers through the baggage process in many ways. Bag tagging, bag drop, and bag collection are all benefiting from emerging technologies and evolving mindsets, as passengers take more control of the end-to-end process.

Self-service technology is driving efficiencies across the entire passenger journey letting airport staff focus more on customer relations. Whether it’s check-in, border control, or security, the overall passenger experience is being enhanced by the convenience of self-service. Bag tagging is the latest stage of the journey that is set to undergo a self-service revolution with the technology ready for mainstream acceptance.

Tag and drop

In some regions passengers have the option to download and print their own bag tag as part of the online check-in process. In parallel, many airports are rolling out self-service kiosks for passengers to print out tags to attach to their luggage. In fact, nearly half (47%) of all passengers took advantage of a self-service tagging option on their most recent trip, which is a healthy increase from 31% in 2016.

The most enthusiastic self-tagging adopters take more than three trips per year and are predominantly younger travellers, between 25 and 44 years old. This hints that there may be an issue to be addressed around familiarizing travellers about new technology processes. Doing so is bound to increase uptake of these services which will improve passenger processing at the terminal and deliver strong returns on investment.

While many passengers are willing to tag their bags, most continue to drop off their bag with an airline agent. Use of this face-to-face service is decreasing slowly (down to 82% from 85% in 2016), with almost a fifth of passengers (18%) using a self-service bag drop during their most recent trip (up from 14% last year).

But passengers may be more willing to use self-bag drop than the current adoption level suggests as 43% say they would use it on their next flight. Lack of availability is an obvious element holding back widespread adoption. As self-service bag drop stations are not at all airports, there is a ceiling on the percentage of passengers who can use the service.

However, as the air transport industry continues to roll out the technology, it is also evolving to become more user-friendly, requiring minimal input from passengers. The latest bag drop stations, for example, automatically detect and scan bag tags and dispatch luggage into the bag handling system. The combination of ubiquitous availability and increasing usability should lead to higher levels of adoption over the next few years.

Control at collection

From the passenger’s standpoint, the baggage stage most in need of a technological boost is collection. It is a traditional pain point in the eyes of air travellers, with anxiety probably exacerbated by the fact that control of the process is out of their hands. When asked to rate their satisfaction at each stage of their journey, passengers are most satisfied with the pre-travel steps from booking to bag drop. Satisfaction at other steps is also high, for example 90% are very, or extremely, satisfied with their boarding experience. The stage with the lowest satisfaction level is consistently bag collection.

Technology can relieve the anxiety of waiting for bags to arrive by actively providing baggage collection information to passengers. On their last flight, over half (58%) of passengers who checked in bags received real-time bag-collection information upon arrival. This improves satisfaction levels, especially if that information includes an indication of how long they would have to wait.

Some 22% of those receiving information about their bag details did so on their mobile phones. This more personalised service bumped up their satisfaction levels by an extra +10% compared to the rest of the group who accessed real-time bag collection information via airport screens (56%) or public audio announcements (36%). Giving control and putting the information into the hands of the passenger clearly improves the collection experience.

Better with biometrics

Identity checks are a vital element of the passenger journey and another traditional bugbear for travellers. In fact, passport control has one of the lowest satisfaction ratings of all the stages of the passenger’s journey, according to the SITA 2017 Passenger IT Trends Survey.

Biometrics technology is capable of delivering a more seamless journey

Boost satisfaction

However, the same survey shows that automated identity checks which use biometrics boost passenger satisfaction at passport control and boarding. It is encouraging that when passengers use biometrics they are even happier with the experience. This demonstrates passenger acceptance of biometrics as a secure technology capable of delivering a more seamless journey.

Technology and self-service solutions are being rolled out for automated ID control at more airports as the improvements to the passenger experience become clear. In fact, 37% of passengers took advantage of an automated, self-service solution for identity checks on their last flight.

Self-service tech gives passengers more control over ID checks throughout their journey, helping them avoid slower queues and the unpredictability of dealing with border agents. The majority of passengers already using automated ID control are either ‘pampered’ travellers, who can afford a high standard of service, or ‘hyperconnected’ digital natives, who want to maintain control and place a high priority on efficiency.

Of the 37% using a self-service solution for identity check, just over half used automated ID control at departure security (x-ray checks), a third at boarding gates, and 12% at international arrivals. Satisfaction levels are high among passengers using any biometric options (8.4 out of 10). Passengers using biometrics during departure security feel better about their experience, expressing on average 4.6% more satisfaction than those using face-to-face controls.

Despite this enthusiasm for automated ID controls, 33% of passengers still express privacy concerns about biometric recognition at airport borders. Interestingly, the proportion expressing concern is higher among those already using automated ID control. While it seems initially surprising, it could be because people who are more comfortable adopting new technology are also more aware of its potential pitfalls. Reassurance that this technology incorporates all the requisite security standards is paramount if adoption is to continue to grow at the same rate as it has been. Education will be key.

Single token travel

Airport operators should also take note that a majority of passengers are open to the idea of using a single biometric token to expedite their way through the airport without having to show their passport or boarding pass. This technology is currently transitioning from an experimental to a live process. However, the numbers are already very promising. If the service was available on their next flight, 57% of passengers say they would definitely use a biometric token.

Easy tech for an easy trip

It is very clear that most passengers are no longer deciding whether they should use technology but which technology they should use. Understandably, they want to make each step of the journey as easy as possible. Results from the SITA 2017 Passenger IT Trends Survey highlight where airlines and airports can offer services that will improve the passenger experience but ease of use is a priority. Airports should look to services which make the most of emerging technologies while still being intuitive enough to be embraced by most of their passengers.

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