Flying is exciting if you’re going on holiday, stressful if you hit delays, and just a drag if you’re travelling on business. But airlines and airports all over the world are using new technologies to improve the experience and help ease customers on their way. Here’s seven innovations to look out for the next time you fly.
Voice technology is coming to the fore
easyJet have just rolled out a ‘Speak now’ function on their app, enabling people to search for flights using just their voice. The app will ask questions about date, destination and departure airport before serving up the relevant information. easyJet hope it will be particularly useful for visually impaired customers and it apparently speeds up the booking process too. If you’re flying with United Airlines you can use Google Assistant to start your check-in, and if you’re flying from Heathrow you can ask Alexa for live flight information, gate details and updates on all arrivals and departures.
Autonomous vehicles are coming for your baggage
Airports are perfect for autonomous vehicles as they can take set paths and only have to negotiate a limited number of other road users. At Rotterdam The Hague, individual vehicles each carry a single bag and take it on the quickest route through the airport using 50% less energy than the current system. Across the channel at Heathrow the airport has been trialling an autonomous ‘dolly’ that can move baggage on and off planes and to the terminal building: a first step on a journey which may lead to all dollies being retrofitted with self-driving technology. At Gatwick autonomous vehicles are being trialled for a different purpose: using them to shuttle employees from one location to another. Gatwick’s CIO sees it as eventually becoming an Uber-like service that can be hailed when needed.
Enhancing the airport experience with beacons
iBeacons can help passengers passing through the airport in many different ways, linking with smartphones to provide information on everything from timescales to wayfinding. In Miami, Mumbai and Hong Kong you can use them to get help with navigation, including check in, gates and baggage claim. Nice airport sends customers promotions based on where they are in the terminal and also collects points for those in the Airport Premium Club. easyJet are also trialling the technology across Europe, notifying customers to take action at key points in their journey in a bid to speed up their progress through the airport. Across the world in Tokyo, iBeacons are being used for a different purpose: to assign tasks to staff based on their location.
Your face will see you through
Airlines and airports worldwide are trying out biometrics as a way of improving the customer experience and speeding up the flow of customers. British Airways has run trials with both domestic and international travellers, using facial detectors to match people to their ID on file, so their faces become the key to moving through the airport. Aruba’s ‘Happy Flow’ project works in a similar way, with your face allowing you through border control and on to your plane without having to show your boarding pass and passport again. At Dubai Airport, Emirates is testing a biometric path for check-in, lounge entrance, passport control and boarding. They hope it will eventually reduce queuing, improve security and help them deliver more personalised services to customers, combining it tracking so they can, for instance, warn anyone who looks in danger of missing their flight to get a move on!
The rise of the robots
Look out for the robots the next time you’re jetting off somewhere! Friendly robot Josie Pepper answers questions for customers at Munich Airport, while a Schiphol airport trial saw a robot called Spencer scan users’ boarding passes and show them to their gates. You might have to prepare to face a rather more disconcerting presence at Shenzen Airport in China. AnBot the police robot is equipped with facial recognition capabilities and can alert its human overloads to any potential security issues – It can even chase wrongdoers at a reasonably fast pace and wield a taser. At Edmonton in Canada, birds are warned off the dangers of arplane turbines by the Robird, a drone that looks like a Peregrine Falcon, and over in Seoul, Jumbo is polishing the floor while Troika provides information and directions. Britain’s first airport robot was Gladys in Glasgow, who was there simply to entertain by dancing and singing during the festive season. And now at Gatwick, a valet-parking robot called Stan might be helping you if you’re driving in.
Wi fi on planes is becoming the norm – at a price
According to a 2018 report 82 airlines now offer in-flight wi-fi, but it doesn’t have the speed and bandwidth we’re used to at home, and customers often have to pay for it. For instance, on British Airways, after one free hour it’s £8 for an additional hour or £24 for the whole flight. Emirates give all their customers a free allowance, after that you have to pay unless you’re in business or first class. Wi fi installation on airlines is expensive and unfortunately for customers, at the moment it’s mainly seen as a way to generate revenue. Hopefully as technology improves, airlines will rethink their strategies and start offering the free service that customers really want.
Better customer service for delays and cancellations
One of the biggest problems for travellers is what happens when there are delays and cancellations. Customers often complain of a lack of information and assistance on the ground as well as finding it impossible to get through to the airline on the phone. Then there’s the issue of customers being told one thing by staff on the ground – only to be refused a compensation claim weeks later by customer service who tell them something different. To help improve the situation on British Airways, The BIO Agency added a new disruption feature to the app so that customers can be notified automatically and choose new flights if their original one is cancelled. However, there’s still much more that could be done by many airlines to smooth the way and lessen the stress of disruption, for instance by automating extra hotel bookings and expenses for customers. With mass disruption often making newspaper headlines, we’re crossing our fingers that more airlines start joining up their systems and using new technology to help passengers when things go wrong.