Three Ways To Restore Confidence In Post-COVID Airport Travel
The aviation industry has never experienced such a global pandemic and the resulting impact on air travel – with passenger traffic at airports declining as much as 90 percent in some locations. COVID-19 has not only brought travel to a halt, but it has also impacted every region around the globe.
In the post-COVID-19 world, air travel recovery will require a phased approach to boost confidence in the passenger experience and ensure health and safety. To do that, we need to restore trust, beginning even before the passenger even enters the aircraft – at the airport.
To achieve this goal in airports, we’ll need to consider three tiers of implementation:
Tier 1: Building on Biometrics for the Contactless Passenger Journey
In a post-COVID world, passengers will be wary of human-to-human contact and touching too many surfaces. Enabling a contactless passenger journey should be a top priority, and biometrics are the key.
In airports, a single token-based journey takes a passenger’s biometrics – typically a facial image – and ties it to the passenger’s boarding pass or passport. Once enrolled, facial recognition allows the passenger to securely move through each touchpoint of the airport using their biometric as the travel token, enabling passengers to flow seamlessly through airport touchpoints that are susceptible to long queues and congestion.
Integrating biometrics into self-service kiosks and self-bag drops – along with new mobile applications – will allow passengers to minimize contact with kiosks and other airport processing surfaces and allow them to use their own device to journey through the airport, eliminating the need for travelers to hand over documentation to airport personnel. Using their own mobile device to hold their single-token ID or take control of the functions of a check-in kiosk empowers travelers and directly addresses their wariness from the moment they enter the facility, from bag drop, through security, to the gate, all the way to boarding.
While there are several forms of tokens and biometrics, facial recognition software solutions will need to adapt to today’s challenges and address passengers wearing protective facemasks. The industry will quickly develop new solutions to address these and other limitations, but these solutions will need to be rapidly deployed to gain passenger acceptance of safety and security within the aviation industry.
The good news is that many airports have already explored biometric solutions, and groups like IATA, ICAO, and ACI have already recommended the single-token biometric as part of the vision for the future to increase airport throughput capacity, enhance security, and improve the customer experience. Now, the need for contactless validation adds another justification for that single-token biometric journey–and it applies to the airport crew, staff, and vendors that also need to move safely throughout the facility and grounds.
Tier 2: Health Monitoring and Alerting
The health of passengers and that of their fellow travelers will be top-of-mind for passengers in the post-COVID world. Demonstrating effective monitoring of passenger’s health is a paramount issue for us to boost passenger confidence.
The same units that scan the biometrics can integrate thermal temperature check cameras relatively easily and quickly, scanning for elevated temperatures or other symptoms. As it scans, it will alert the passenger and staff members via mobile devices if a temperature threshold is detected, allowing the passenger to be diverted to a designated spot for additional testing.
Our health experts’ quickly advancing understanding of COVID-19 could lead to additional markers beyond travelers’ temperatures, which could also be measured and assessed. Triangulation of different biomarkers could provide airports and passengers with a layered approach to better detect illnesses and ensure passenger safety
Phase 3: Managing Airport Traffic and Congestion with Artificial Intelligence
Even as biometrics enhance contactless movement through the airport, the additional space required for social distancing in airport areas already prone to congestion – like baggage check, security and immigration lines, boarding gates, and baggage claim areas – can quickly exacerbate travel pain points.
Soon we will be able to address those pain points through artificial intelligence and business analytics. Using the wealth of data generated by passenger movements and systems, we can gather data across all airport systems, allowing airport management to better anticipate and adjust to congestion by opening new pathways and improving the overall flow of traffic.
Not only can airports use this for planning and diverting traffic, ultimately, this technology could even be integrated into a “stop light” system for passengers. This system can identify when an area is at capacity, is getting near capacity, and while areas are clear for passing through.
Other ways to reduce queuing within an airport is to move some of the passenger processing off-airport, such as check in and bag drop. The transition to off-airport passenger processing has been a slow evolution, but it has begun to accelerate. The ability to have a bag drop at a hotel, train station, parking garage or rental car facility allows the passenger to bypass traditional airport check-in and bag drop processes and move directly to security and boarding, alleviating the need to process passenger’s bags in the facility. The passenger then collects their bags at their destination airport.
There’s no question that the arrival of COVID-19 has caused severe disruption for air travel and the passenger experience. However, it’s also sparked creativity and innovation from across the industry.
While some of these technologies were in development, the pandemic has helped us look at them in an entirely new way to make them work for air travel recovery in a post-COVID time. It is critical that the solutions brought forth minimize any adverse or costly impacts to airport and airlines applications and processes.
The current situation facing the industry is requiring innovation, determination and cooperation. We’re proud that, even in an industry deeply impacted by the pandemic, many industry stakeholders are rising to meet that challenge.
Dive deeper into the contactless passenger airport experience: