The traveller experience in tomorrow’s airports
By Margaux Cervatius - 13 January 2022
The aviation industry was one of the most affected by the Covid-19 crisis. Air traffic came to a standstill and passengers deserted airports for several months. However, since the summer of 2021, air transport is well on its way to recovery. In August, 478,900 commercial flights took off in the European Union, up 48% compared to August 2020.
The crisis in the aviation industry was initially expected to end between 2023 and 2025 but this could actually happen sooner. Industry players are looking for innovations to attract more passengers to their airports and boost their business. What solutions can they implement to improve the traveller experience?
Simplifying the organisation of the trip
First of all, there are solutions that facilitate the organisation of the trip before the passengers even arrive at the airport. Many mobile apps now offer real-time flight tracking. Travellers simply enter their flight number to obtain up-to-date information. This way, they are quickly alerted to delays or terminal changes, for example.
Various mobility solutions can also be integrated to improve the journey to the airport. Some startups offer mobile apps to book short helicopter rides, for example from a passenger’s workplace to the airport. In a few years’ time, air taxis are also expected to launch and reduce the travel time between city centres and airports.
However, a 2017 survey revealed that almost half of all passengers get to the airport by car. Airports, therefore, need to optimise parking-related services to increase passenger satisfaction. Many startups are operating in this sector, including several that have been rated by Early Metrics:
- Parking.AI’s* software allows parking managers to aggregate all booking platforms and optimise parking spots to save at least 30% of space.
- Stanley Robotics* is developing an autonomous, 100% electric valet parking robot that allows more vehicles to be parked in a given area.
- Mob-Energy* has developed an autonomous robot for charging electric vehicles. Scheduling algorithms determine which car to charge first and the robot plugs itself to the car.
Ensuring the health and well-being of passengers
Once at the airport, passengers will be reassured to see solutions to improve hygiene on the premises. Hygiene has become a crucial issue in the current pandemic context. In addition to the classic hand sanitiser dispensers, airports can deploy innovative solutions to ensure a high level of hygiene at all times. Oxy’Pharm* developed machines that automatically disinfect the air and surfaces of a room using biodegradable products. Biovitae* integrates technology that emits specific frequencies of light in standard light bulbs and panels. This innovation can reduce the number of viruses and bacteria present on the exposed surface.
Airports need to put the well-being of passengers at the heart of their concerns, including in the design of spaces. For example, they can incorporate living green walls. These walls improve environmental quality and acoustics, reduce carbon dioxide concentrations, and increase passenger well-being. Malaga Airport decided this year to install four green walls with more than 10,000 plants. Other solutions can be deployed to reduce noise pollution. Airports can offer better soundproofed spaces through innovative materials. DeNoize is developing a smart window technology that turns any glass facade into a noise barrier. It can reduce external noise (road traffic, aircraft, etc.) by up to 90%.
Let’s not forget that air travel is a source of anxiety for many people. Airports can therefore provide passengers with equipment and devices to reduce their stress levels. Nap&Up* offers pods to take power naps in complete tranquillity. The pod is connected to a mobile app that includes a relaxation module. Even without a nap pod, airports can offer meditation apps such as Mindable* to anxious passengers.
Keeping travellers entertained
Improving the traveller experience also depends on the quality of the entertainment offered within the airport. Recent technological advances have made it possible to create more interactive and immersive experiences. Through virtual reality, passengers can do physical exercises between flights or discover a destination. The startup INDE* has deployed a screen that displays augmented reality content at Whitsunday Airport in Australia. While waiting to collect their luggage, travellers can discover Australia’s wildlife.
Culture in the broadest sense is increasingly present in airports. Airports regularly organise art exhibitions on their premises. Instead of traditional photo installations, some startups are displaying digital art on screens.
Shopping is another way of entertaining passengers at the airport. It is estimated that the average traveller spends $145 at the airport in Europe. Airports are therefore looking at ways to improve the shopping experience to increase this average basket. Contactless payment is on the rise and new technologies are making it possible to do without a credit card:
- PayByFace* is developing a facial recognition payment app. Using biometric technology, the user’s face is analysed and their identity verified.
- SensePass* offers merchants a web app and a payment terminal to accept a greater number of payment methods (PayPal, Coinbase, etc.).
In the future, some shops could even become entirely autonomous, like the cashier-less shop recently launched by Carrefour in France.
Assisting airport staff to provide a better quality of service
Finally, let’s look at solutions to improve the airport’s core services. These are not directly aimed at passengers, but the optimisation of internal processes improves the quality of service, and therefore the traveller experience.
Better guidance for passengers
Several large airports have already deployed software to optimise passenger flows. Such software makes it possible to monitor the number of passengers in some strategic areas (boarding gates, toilets, checkpoints) and to alert the operational teams in the event of excessive crowding. Passenger movements are thus smoother and their waiting time reduced.
Thousands of passengers go through airports every day and there may not be enough staff to handle all their requests. Virtual assistants or robots can be deployed to answer passengers’ questions or guide them through the airport. Advanced technologies such as holograms can be used to display the image of an employee in multiple locations simultaneously. The hologram makes the interaction more lively than a simple screen.
More inclusive airports
Other startups are helping airports to improve the quality of service provided to a specific audience: persons with reduced mobility (PRM). Many solutions aim to make it easier for PRMs to move around the airport and to offer them more independence:
- Location sensors to prevent PRMs from being lost or to assist them if needed
- Alternatives to wheelchairs, such as the products developed by Nino Robotics*
- Voice guidance solutions to help visually impaired passengers find their way around the airport
More efficient baggage management
Lastly, one of the determining factors for the traveller experience is baggage management. Once they have arrived at their final destination, passengers expect to get their luggage quickly, without loss or damage. Some startups are developing robotic solutions to optimise and accelerate aircraft unloading, such as Orok*. This startup is developing Orokart, a mobile, electric and autonomous cart to replace the traditional baggage tugs that tow luggage between the plane and the airport.
For a long time, airports were conceived as mere infrastructures for air transport. Today, they are living places that are seeking to offer the best traveller experience. The more time a passenger spends in an airport, the more likely they are to spend money. This explains why some of the most grandiose airports in the world were built in recent years. Singapore Changi Airport and its 40-metre waterfall set in the middle of an indoor forest is a perfect example of this. Airports can count on the contribution of innovative startups to differentiate themselves from their competitors and attract more travellers.
*startup rated by Early Metrics