Airports of the Future

How Do Airlines Transform ... Today? ... Tomorrow? ... In The Future?

Reimagining the airport of the future is a continuation of something the airline industry has been doing for a long time. In fact, many facets of the airport of the future are already here, but are being advanced through reimagining. Carriers will be adapting (and further adapting) for years to come, to the betterment of airlines and, more importantly, for their customers’ benefit.

“Reimagining” something may call to mind “redoing,” but that definition really only begins to scratch the surface of what’s been happening at airports around the world.

The airport of the future has actually been in the making for a number of years. But many of the changes at the airport have been gradual and have, therefore, sometimes been taken for granted by passengers and airlines as changes have occurred.

This is one of the reasons that it may at first seem odd, at the current juncture, to already be “reimagining” the airport of the future.

Regardless of the fact that many elements of the futuristic airport are already developing at airport facilities and properties of today, the overall current airport experience is nonetheless hindering airlines’ growth.

This was at least part of the topic in "Airport Reimagined,” which appeared in Ascend 2015, Issue No. 2. The article outlined the ever-growing demands for airlines and airports to operate more efficiently, and to evolve in response to growing demand and passenger needs and expectations.

The author wrote, “A recent 20-year outlook from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has projected that by 2034, passenger numbers will reach 7.3 billion annually.

US$15.5 Billion Investment

Doha, Qatar’s new US$15.5 billion 600,000 square-meter Hamad International Airport opened in April 2014 after a five-year delay. Its sail-inspired Emiri Terminal features 138 check-in counters, 14 seated check-in areas for Qatar Airways’ first class passengers, 16 check-in counters for its business-class passengers and another 108 counters for its economy passengers and all other airline passengers.

“Such sustained long-term growth will continue to pressure all providers within the transportation value chain to deliver new solutions to improve efficiency, eliminate stresses and challenges for customers, and significantly revamp the customer experience.”

At the same time passenger demand has been increasing, airport infrastructures around the world have been aging, thus requiring billions of dollars of investment from government entities, taxpayers and airlines.

    Examples of these ongoing investments include:
  • A new Hamad International Airport in Qatar (US$15.5 billion investment),
  • Expansion of Midfield Terminal in Abu Dhabi (US$3 billion investment),
  • A new airport for Mexico City (US$11 billion investment),
  • Expansion of Los Angeles International Airport (US$7 billion investment).

Additionally, intense competition (with few opportunities to differentiate) and hectic operations are creating further significant challenges for airlines. As passenger volumes are increasing globally, airlines are now faced with the need to become much more focused on the customer’s end-to-end journey, including everything related to check-in.

    Today, the epicenter of poor customer experience revolves around four primary (and readily identifiable) problem areas:
  • Disruption events and flight problems,
  • Baggage handling (lost baggage, bag fees, confusion around baggage policies),
  • The reservations and check-in experience (the traveler’s experience at check-in can be seriously daunting — being placed on hold, or being pushed from one queue to another),
  • Customer-service failures.

Last year, Sabre Airline Solutions partnered with The Economist in a thought-leadership study that revealed the interesting insight that over the next decade, airline executives expect to be focusing on the primary objectives of reducing operating costs, building customer loyalty, improving the customer experience and maximizing revenue.

Effectively addressing these complex market problems will require a resoundingly new approach. But where do airlines start? Technology.

Without question, a critical component in helping airlines focus on their top strategic initiatives is technology. Breaking out the business challenges into three principal areas—streamline operations, improve the customer experience and generate greater amounts of revenue—could spotlight a path to transforming the problems into real solutions.

The end result will encompass the process of streamlining the check-in procedure, reducing costs and increasing revenues while offering a personalized customer experience throughout the airport.

Abu Dhabi Invests US$3 Billion

The new Abu Dhabi Midfield Terminal Building offers 65 gates and space for 30 million passengers annually, which will transform the passenger experience for its principal tenant, Etihad Airways, when it opens in 2017.

Airport Reimagined Solutions

Clearly, technology, in part, drives the airline industry forward. Airlines and airports alike are likely already leveraging today’s technology to provide a smoother transition from the airport to the airplane for their customers. Naturally, at the rate of progression, technology will continue to advance the aviation industry, but what should airlines and airports look for in the technology they implement today, tomorrow and in the future?

Today

Once again, the airport of the future is, in many ways, here today (or is in the process of arriving).

For example, there has already been heavy investment in bringing advanced solutions to market around the globe that are specifically intended and designed to help airlines modernize check-in, thus increasing throughput and focusing on customer-disruption management and reaccommodation, while ultimately reducing wait times for airlines’ customers.

Mexico City’s Beautiful Airport Design

Construction on Mexico City’s new international airport, which was designed by world infamous architects Lord Norman Foster and Fernando Romero, commenced this year. The new facility will stand 45 meters high at its highest point, featuring up to four levels. It will cover approximately 470,000 square meters, as well as feature 5,000 parking bays for airport passengers.

    A complete solution should enable carriers to maximize efficiency, enhance the airport experience and increase customer satisfaction by:
  • Better servicing customers with automated and optimized seating algorithms and priority classification for boarding, as well as ensuring that most-valuable customers are offered the seats they want;
  • Automating check-in, calculation of excess-baggage fees, ticket validation, document checks and provision of lounge passes;
  • Reducing wait times (at least partly by automating airport processes through self-service airport/check-in solutions), and providing opportunities to make the process considerably more palatable for customers by offering up-sell for faster security, higher-priority boarding and/or onboard services;
  • Automatically prioritizing customers for reaccommodation during irregular operations, while also focusing on the best operational solution to ensure that minimal passengers are stranded;
  • Enabling service vouchers and rules-based monetary compensation for irregular operations (such as flight compensation for service events through business rules to help an airline keep its service-delivery guarantee).

Tomorrow

Roadmaps for planning purposes are being loaded with innovative solutions intended to enable airlines to deploy a customer-centric airport experience, from arrival at the airport to baggage claim, or basically the entire airport journey.

The focus for tomorrow is centered on four main business challenges: recovering from flight disruptions, reducing queue times, improving baggage handling and maximizing revenues.

For example, a new mobile-agent solution could bring staff out from behind the check-in counter, fundamentally transforming them into roving customer-service concierges.

    Mobile concierges can then be enabled to drive productivity efficiencies while delivering personalized service and ancillary up-sell opportunities throughout the airport by:
  • Proactively assisting customers who are queuing throughout the airport terminal by printing and sending boarding passes, printing bag tags and changing seats on demand, thus reducing congestion.
  • Empowering airline agents to operate more efficiently, and to quickly resolve any flight-departure exceptions on demand through flight alerts.
  • Leveraging mobile technology and customer data to enable airline agents to identify customers, and to deliver a personalized service that is contextually relevant throughout those customers’ airport experience.
  • Delivering a personalized check-in and lounge experience for high-value customers through contextual personalization across different touchpoints at the airport.
  • Enhancing customer experience by offering a personalized procedure at check-in, boarding, transferring terminals, onboard and essentially throughout the entire airport journey.

    Furthermore, flight-disruption problems are closely tracked by the U.S. Department of Transportation. A new solution is required that will focus on solving this most-often-voiced complaint by travelers, which centers upon flight disruption. The solution would:
  • Allow customers to choose from various reaccommodation options that suit their specific needs.
  • Provide significant cost savings for airlines, because customers will be able to assist themselves, and thereby will not have to bombard call centers or check-in agents with rebooking requests.
  • Drive a reduction in ticket refunds from loss in demand by allowing passengers to update their flights to fit their specific unique requirements.

LAX Bigger And Better

Los Angeles International Airport, the United States’ second-busiest commercial airport and leading international gateway on the West Coast, will get a US$7 billion facelift to expand and modernize its current facilities, as well as handle the steadily increasing capacity. The airport handled more than 70 million passengers last year, and it is expected to reach 100 million passengers a year by 2040.

Additionally, the home-printed-bag-tag procedure will enable customers to print their own bag tags at home, and to proceed directly to bag-drop locations, thus reducing queues and costs for the airline.

Also in the works is enhanced baggage management, which is intended to enable airport agents to quickly trace baggage, and to resolve baggage inquiries.

And being conceptualized are standard check-in interfaces for third-party automated bag-drop providers.

In addition, an extension of the customer-centric retailing platform is dynamic retailer check-in, designed to create up-sell opportunities for both flight-related and non-flight-related ancillaries, thus enabling personalized offers at check-in through configurable rules for items such as pricing discounts, bundled ancillary offers and waived ancillary items during the check-in process.

The Future

While everything is currently growing, changing and evolving at a very rapid pace, it’s necessary to think even further ahead, and to constantly be working to produce the required technology to support these changes at the airport.

Sabre Airline Solutions is laying the groundwork for the emerging trends of shifting activities away from the airport, as well as leveraging customer data (location, profile, segment, etc.) to deliver a transparent and complete airport experience in which the customer controls interactions with the airline.

In ongoing discussions with the airline community with regard to the continually evolving airport experience, solutions are being developed for today and tomorrow, with even larger and bolder plans for the future.

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