Airport operations across the globe are set to be transformed over the next two years thanks to new technologies that aim to make journeys user-friendly rather than frustrating.
Mobile technology and self-service applications have started to change the "eco-systems" of some airports in Europe and Japan, with self check-in, self-service bag drop and even self-boarding gates becoming more common.
"We envision that the future airport would be hassle-free while all the check-points at the airport will be seamless," said Mike DiGeorge, managing director of Arinc Asia Pacific, an aviation technology consultancy which has helped to set up 60 per cent of the world's self check-in kiosks. It is advising Hong Kong International Airport on the adoption of the so-called fast travel experience programme, an initiative to promote quicker passenger movement through the terminals.
Fast travel experience means 10 minutes from the first checkpoint at the airport to the airside duty-free shop, according to the vision set out by the International Air Transport Association (Iata). It predicts that 20 per cent of global passengers should enjoy the experience this year and 50 per cent by 2015. By 2020, 80 per cent of global passengers will be covered by the fast travel experience. "It will create a natural growth after passing through the 50 per cent threshold," said Iata, which also set a target for arriving passengers to reach the airport taxi rank in 30 minutes.
Eighteen months ago, Qantas introduced a new check-in system which enables frequent fliers to check in at the podium simply by swiping their frequent flier card, which automatically uploads the passenger information to the system.
Japan Airlines (JAL), the pioneer in introducing self-boarding gates, has operated the gadget in 55 airports in Japan. The boarding gates, which resemble those at subway stations, allow streams of passengers to be processed, said Andrew Wang, JAL's manager of planning group web sales. The machine can read all types of electronic boarding pass, including codes downloaded to mobile phones or near-field communication devices, like an Octopus card. "It could also distinguish luggage from a child," he added. "It can even stop a passenger who wants to crash the gate by tailgating the passenger in the front." But JAL has not yet used the gates for international flights due to the need to check travel documents. If a passenger travels without a valid visa, the airline will get fined.
Self-service applications are welcomed by travellers. Some 86 per cent of passengers want to use e-passports to avoid passport check-in at the boarding gate, a survey conducted by Iata found recently. The survey also found 76 per cent of passengers preferred self-tagging their luggage at home or at an airport's kiosks, and 71 per cent of them preferred using self-boarding gates.
One of the core technologies used to facilitate these functions is a system called Customer Management powered by Amadeus, an airline technology consultant.
The system is already used by 120 airlines and could be used to deal with service disruptions more efficiently, said John Chapman, vice-president of the airlines group for Amadeus Asia Pacific.
"Rebooking of the passengers could be done easily by just one button, compared with rebooking one by one manually at the counter," said Chapman. Within a minute or so, a summary of the schedule change and the next connecting flight for transferred passengers could be generated, he added.
With the help of mobile technology, airlines could also track down passengers. "The airline could send the passenger some prescribed message when they approach a certain point and show him the direction of the gate," Chapman said.