How Airports are Using Technology to Reopen During COVID
This article was originally published in AviationPros
Although all industries have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, travel and hospitality were the most changed, and may take the longest to recover. Globalization has necessitated international travel, which has contributed to the rapid spread of the virus across the world. There have been cases reported on every continent, with few countries managing to avoid the virus. This has forced airlines to suspend flights, airports to change their protocols and hotels to reimagine their services. It has also led to a decrease in public trust in the hospitality industry. In order to recover, and to improve health and safety, airports are relying on innovative solutions to get them back to normal.
As domestic and international travel reopen, airports have once again become busy. From checking into flights, to moving through security, to finally arriving at the gate, there are many touchpoints — and many instances where the virus can spread. Some policies have been updated to help improve health and safety, such as the requirement to wear face masks on flights and the closure of lounges. Yet there are many points where crowds and lineups are inevitable. That’s where technological solutions can benefit the industry.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been plenty of stories emerging about public services employees testing positive for the virus. Airports have not been immune to this, and it stands to reason due to the high volume of traffic and confined spaces. That’s why many airports have begun implementing line management systems to control the number of employees entering areas and the flow of traffic.
In one international airport, line management systems have been put in place for employee security evaluations and badging processes. With over 18,000 active employees, 18,000 active security badges, and a variety of employees coming and going — including contract workers, vendors and airline personnel — the badging office saw over 100 people per day. They needed a more structured system to improve the health and safety measures for all employees. In order to facilitate a safer badging process, and to streamline operations, they implemented a line management system where customers could enter a virtual queue. When they needed to go through the badging security process, they could enter the line virtually from their phone or from a kiosk. Instead of waiting in crowded lines and waiting rooms, they would receive text alerts when they were at the front of the line so that they could receive instant service.
Solutions for Travelers
The same methods used for airport employees can also be used for travelers in order to limit interactions and improve safety. Before arriving at an airport, passengers typically know their route and who they will interact with. Some will have to check in, others have to check bags, and everyone will have to move through security to their gate. By knowing these steps in advance, people can prepare for lineups, and can use virtual queues to avoid them. For example, on route to the airport, passengers can virtually enter the lineup for baggage check. Instead of entering the crowded airport, they can wait outside or in their car. When it is their allotted time, they can check their baggage and move to security. By creating a single lineup for all necessary actions, crowded lines and waiting spaces can be avoided.
Virtual queues also allow for improved communication. If there is a delay in the security line, travelers can be notified and will be prepared to wait longer. This can also help mitigate delays, as people will know approximately how long the wait for security is, and can arrive and move through in a timely manner. If passengers are late, lineups can be shuffled to get them through security sooner to make their flights. Security lineups are one of the longest and worst waits for people, and having increased communication and flexibility can help to make it a more positive experience.
The same can be done for boarding. Although lines are frequently limited at boarding due to specific zones and priorities, line management systems can further ease constraints. The ability to communicate over text messages can ensure people don’t miss the boarding announcements that are typically announced over the intercom. The line management clock that notifies passengers of wait times could also be used to count down the time until boarding closes. Priority and zone boarding can also be announced over text, ensuring people know what is going on at all times. The benefit to line management software is that it’s extremely versatile and can be tailored directly to the needs of each airport.
As health and safety standards change, increased sanitation measures will also be needed. In already busy airports, getting the necessary supplies can be a time-consuming task. It can also be dangerous for drivers during the pandemic. Using line management software for logistics can help to alleviate those concerns, as well as conserve time and reduce the impact of idling trucks on the environment. With vehicle booking systems, trucks can check in ahead of time, letting the airport know when supplies will be delivered. The airport can then prepare for their arrival in advance, and if trucks are forced to wait, they can see updates on queue times on their phones. This allows them to wait at a safe distance with their trucks off to reduce the environmental impact. Instead of large lineups of idling vehicles waiting to drop off supplies, truck drivers can receive notifications as their turn approaches. It can also be integrated with a visual board, allowing truck drivers to see when it’s their turn.
Although it may take awhile to renew public trust in airports, people are eager to travel again, which means that airports will once again be busy. In order to provide the best experience for passengers, and to ensure health and safety, technology solutions need to be leveraged. This includes solutions for every aspect of a traveler’s journey, from arrival to departure. It also means protecting all employees that work within or around the airport. By reducing crowds and lineups, airports and travel can be more secure during and after the pandemic.