Virtual reality

Beacon signalling mobile phone

According to SITA’s latest technology report, airports and airlines are busy building out physical and virtual infrastructure to tap into the potential of passengers’ multiple mobile devices in order to improve their services. Gary Mason reports.

Beacon signalling mobile phoneWithin three years, airports and airlines will be routinely using the multiple connectivity provided by the Internet of Things, to significantly improve the passenger experience of their customers, according to a new report published this month.

These services will go beyond simple self service functions such as bag drop, ticketing and labeling to cover almost every service than an airport or airline could offer.

The report states: “As Fast Travel continues to drive improvements to the passenger journey, airlines and airports are already looking beyond these self-service concepts to further enhance the experience for passengers and to better optimise their operation. The advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) promises to enable new services for passengers and give air transport stakeholders a holistic, real time view of their operations.”

Already airlines and airports are starting to use IoT to maximise the use, performance and management of their own infrastructure for operational and passenger benefits, the report concludes. The beacons installed across Miami International Airport for example, include temperature gauges and one operational function currently being considered is viewing and monitoring the temperature throughout the complex. “This would allow us to follow trend fluctuations, work towards normalising the levels, and help reduce energy consumption. We are continually evaluating prior to implementing,” said Maurice Jenkins, Director, Information Systems & Telecommunications.

The SITA report on the use of technology “The Future is Connected” found that there is currently a stronger aspiration among airports to leverage beacons at each stage of the passengers’ journey. Over half or more of airports expect to be using them at check-in, bag-drop, security, in dwell areas, and boarding by 2018.

This compares to broadly two fifths of airlines that have plans at check-in, bag drop, boarding and bag claim. There is also a lack of clarity about which are the most important journey stages to use beacons, the report warns. The top two journey stages for airports are check-in and security; whereas for airlines it is bag-drop and bag claim.

Over 90% of passengers expressed interest in using new mobile services such as flight updates, bag collection updates, scanning their mobile phone for access, using their phone for ID, airport maps and directions. Broadly 60% or more said they would definitely use these services.

The SITA report predicts that real-time assistance, on passengers mobile devices, to find their way around the airport to shops, restaurants, departure gates will be available at airport by 2018 – most airports plan to offer this beacon-enabled wayfinding information, as do more than half of airlines.

Mumbai’s GVK Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport launched an advanced indoor navigation app in October 2015, complete with augmented reality features, for passengers using its Terminal 2. The T2 App offers an interactive walk- through experience where passengers can locate any outlet in the terminal. Passengers can input their flight number to also keep updated on their flight and future feature updates include international arrivals, domestic flights and taxi booking services.

Rajeev Jain, Chief Executive Officer, Mumbai International Airport Limited said: “We constantly endeavor to provide world-class facilities at T2, and always strive to make it as easy as possible for air travelers to discover them. With the Mumbai T2 app, travelers can design their own customized experiential tour with a single click. Moreover, being a ‘silent’ terminal, cutting down on public announcements, the app will be a very handy tool for passengers to keep track of their flight schedule through constant notifications.”


United customers flying through its New York Newark
Liberty International hub can immediately view their location within the Terminal C complex via the airline’s app for iOS devices. The airline is piloting Bluetooth beacon indoor location technology to help customers find their way around. “Travelers are accustomed to using maps and navigation apps throughout their daily lives – and that shouldn’t end when they walk into the airport,” said Scott Wilson, United’s Vice President of eCommerce and Merchandising. “These new features of our app will make travel easier and more personal for our customers.”

Nice Côte d’Azur Airport is leveraging beacon technology to put personalized information at passengers’ fingertips through the airport’s new multifunctional app.

Using SITA’s beacons installed throughout the terminal, passengers who are using Nice Côte d’Azur Airport’s app will receive retail information and offers relevant to their specific location. The Airport Premier Club passengers using the app will automatically earn points as they pass through the airport.

Using beacon and sensor infrastructure to deliver relevant and timely travel information to passenger’s mobile apps will be a key feature for the air transport sector to create seamless travel experiences for passengers and maximize their own resources to avoid congestion.

Passengers who enter their flight details into Berlin’s Tegel Airport app receive a push notification the moment they enter the terminal building with instructions on the fastest route
to their gate, while arriving passengers are welcomed at the baggage carousel and receive tips on free Wi-Fi services or information on using public transport.


At New York’s John F Kennedy Airport, passengers do
not have to use an app to benefit from beacon updates. In Terminal 4, from August 2015, they have been able to keep track of accurate wait times via screens positioned at TSA Security and Customs and Border Protection checkpoints, as well as the indoor taxi queue. The wait times are driven by beacons that anonymously monitor passenger’s mobile devices as they move through the airport. The data also enables staff to identify and rectify bottlenecks before they escalate.

Gert-Jan de Graaff, President and CEO of JFKIAT. Said: “We’re probably reaching 19.5 million passengers this year
in total. It’s a big operation, which is why we’re introducing innovations to enhance the operations of the building. This new system will help us manage and eliminate problem spots within the facility, and sharing the processing time with our travelers will provide them with peace of mind so they may continue to expect a pleasant travel experience. Additionally, data from travelers’ phones could eventually influence future airport design.”


In Singapore Changi Airport Group is developing a new Terminal 4 that will make extensive use of technology to improve passenger experiences and enhance operational efficiency. When it comes online in 2017, it will feature a complete suite of self-service and automated options from check-in and bag-drop to immigration clearance and boarding. These initiatives will be supplemented by facial recognition technology to eliminate manual identification and fully automated processes and checks from check-in to boarding the aircraft.

To prepare for wider use at the airport, Changi Airport Group is working with its ground service and airline partners to implement self check-in self bag drop and self boarding at its other terminals.


For airlines and airports, the focus will be to manage all the physical (and virtual) “objects” that comprise their business ecosystem. For connected travelers, the Internet of Things (IoT) offers opportunities to link with the air transport industry’s IT ecosystem to manage and personalise their journey from their own smart mobile device, on the ground and in the air, the report says.

Airlines need no convincing that IoT will deliver improvements to their operations, according to the report. Over a third have already committed budget to implement IoT projects and about two thirds recognize that IoT presents clear benefits today. Over the next three years more than half of all airlines expect to have IoT initiatives up and running. Thinking about the passenger’s journey, over half of airlines predict that check-in is one of the three stages in that journey that would most benefit from IoT. Bag-drop and baggage reclaim are also in that top three. __

Airports are concentrating on building out the physical and virtual infrastructure to support IoT. Communications from local event sensors, processed by cloud servers, can help airports to measure passenger flows and prevent queues
or to monitor equipment usage. Most will be investing in sensors (beacons, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi etc.,) and cloud services and around half will be using beacons for locating resources, physical environment sensors and providing operational information to passengers.


Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and other partners, has invested in a Dutch start- up, Undagrid, whose technology supports the tracking and tracing of non-motorized vehicles or those not connected to the power grid, such as aircraft stairs and baggage carts. Devices on these objects transmit their location to nearby devices to communicate their position to each other, while the operator can check their location remotely via the cloud or a dashboard. “This ensures optimal use of the vehicles, so we also need less of them. Hence, it enables us to cut expenses considerably”, said Erik Swelheim, Managing Director & Chief Financial Officer of KLM.

European low cost carrier easyJet partnered with London’s Gatwick Airport in April 2015 to launch Mobile Host, an app that combines live data from the airport’s systems with Google indoor maps, passenger booking details, location and flight time to provide personalized instructions and updates for passengers. In November 2015, the airline appointed its first Head of Data Science, Alberto Rey-Villaverde, to assess its use of artificial intelligence (AI) to improve efficiency, revenue and customer satisfaction across areas such as flight schedules, fleet reliability, in-flight food and drink and its loyalty program. The airline will be using AI to harness the data already generated by these operations to predict and provide for future events, for example, demand for certain items of food and drink on each flight so that supplies match customer demand without running out or carrying an excess amount.

“To date analytics has been about diagnostic capability and looking backwards. Now advanced AI is more focused on predictive capability so we can better understand the future and plan for it,” said Rey-Villaverde.

Gatwick is also using a system called MFlow developed by Human Recognition Systems which helps the airport use information to understand passenger movements and to personalise their journeys.


UK airline passengers are among the highest users of technology to manage their travel experience, with the overwhelming majority using self-service booking options and approaching three quarters using self-service check-
in channels. Their favorite tech tool is the desk top device
for both booking and check-in; mobile is their second most popular check-in option. Many UK passengers say they would welcome more information on their mobiles about their journey. More than half “definitely” want flight status updates and alerts, and also information on baggage collection, such as which carousel to go to and how long it will take for their bag to arrive.

US passengers also want to use technology more – in particular their mobiles – to get up-to-date information on such things as flight status and baggage collection. Only a small percentage of US passengers used a travel agent or airline call centre to book their last flight and a good majority used technology (web, kiosk or mobile) to check in. But more of them expect to be using their mobiles for travel related services for their next flight.15

Although Australian airline passengers are happy to use technology during their journey, overall the levels of adoption are not as high as in other parts of the world. However they are ahead of the global average in their willingness to use self-service bag drop with just over a quarter of domestic passengers processing their bag themselves rather than going to an airport counter. When it comes to their next flight, more Australians expect to use their mobile for travel- related services, in fact, the usage rate for mobile check-in is expected to almost triple.16

The next steps for the industry will be to provide travelers with a richer selection of travel information throughout their journey – not just at the airport. But with people accessing multiple travel apps on their devices, how can the industry ensure that passengers are not bombarded with offers
and that they are not overloaded with conflicting journey information? Collaborative initiatives are in the pipeline to ensure passengers receive messages about their journey that they actually trust.

ACI and IATA have collaborated to develop a joint Recommended Practice for beacons at airports, which should be formalized later this year. This document also includes the use of a centralized airport beacon registry to facilitate their access, usage and maintenance.

IATA‘s next ideas for Simplifying the Business (the umbrella program for change focused on the passenger), detailed
in a white paper issued last October,21 include looking at how travel communications can improve the passenger experience by creating a set of standards that will enable stakeholders to provide their customers with accurate, trusted and timely information for their journey in a cost- effective manner.

The idea is to define a data transmission standard, to be combined with a ‘trusted source’ certification, for multiple types of information, thereby enabling developers to incorporate the information into their mobile and desktop apps, customer service systems or any other customer- facing application. When the information owner updates the original source, it will reach the customer in their preferred communication channel, without the customer having to come to them.

IATA has established several use cases on information to be exchanged and conducted a proof of concept to demonstrate the technical feasibility and in 2016 will be working on the business case to demonstrate value to all stakeholders.

The key, at the individual app level, is to provide “a single point of truth at airports” according to Matthys Serfontein, SITA
VP Airport Solutions. For example, SITA worked with easyJet to directly interface departure information into its Mobile Host app according to the airport’s own business rules. This means the app delivers gate status and baggage reclaim information at the same time as it is available locally on airport screens. This service went live as a proof of concept at London’s Gatwick Airport in March 2015. Edinburgh Airport was subsequently added and the overall plan is to roll out the service at the airline’s top European airports.


IATA’s target is to achieve a self-service suite of services that ensures more convenience and control and a better travel experience to 80% of global passengers by 2020. These services cover six key stages in the journey: check-in, bags-ready-to-go, document scanning, self-boarding, flight rebooking and bag recovery.

Global penetration of this initiative reached 29.2% of passengers in 2015. This fell a little shy of IATA’s 35% target as a result of regulatory obstacles to introducing new services, such as home-printed bag-tags, in some regions. Consequently IATA has adjusted down its 2016 target from 50% to 40% global penetration, but says the overall vision for 80% penetration by 2020 is unaffected. It expects implementation to take off quickly once allowed by governments.

Today Alaska, Qantas, Air New Zealand, SAS and Hawaiian Airlines offer four or more Fast Travel options to at least 80% of their passengers, and more airlines and airports are planning a high level of activity, in the coming three years.

Looking at the various Fast Travel journey stages, airlines forecast continued growth for self-service check-in, with both airlines and airports predicting that mobile will be the key channel. Bag self-service options are also set to increase rapidly.

Self-service document check is already available from
most airlines and more expect to roll out this service, while airports are planning a swift deployment of information access services via kiosks. And over half of both airlines and airports plan to be using self-boarding gates by 2018.

Newer self-service processes are also likely to move towards the mainstream in the next three years. Right now, just a minority of airlines and airports provide self-service tools
to help passengers get their journey back on track during disruptions and flight delays, but most are planning to have these in place in the next three years. Airline baggage recovery services will develop rapidly with a particular focus on improving communications for both passengers and staff; while airports will start to establish self-service registration of lost bags.

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