Editor’s comment: The seamless smile

Regional Gateway editor Chloë Greenbank summarises the latest happenings across airports serving business, regional and low-fare routes.

With aviation industry leaders gathering in London this week for the Aviation Festival, one of the hot topics of discussion has been how airports are addressing the seamless journey for passengers.

Driven by a shift towards more passengers becoming digital travellers, the demand for automation and hands-on-control over the passenger journey is on the rise.

Speaking at this year’s Aviation Festival, Barbara Dalibard, SITA’s CEO revealed that the company’s report ‘2025: Air Travel for a Digital Age’ found that by 2025 68% of all passengers will be digital travellers who will expect to manage their travel using mobile phones. The report also found that “83% of airport and airline IT leaders surveyed believe that this demographic shift will be the most important influence on their passenger solutions strategy by 2025.”

One of the key enablers for delivering more automation and linking the various touch points within the passenger journey is biometric technology.

Gloria Guevara Manzo, president and CEO World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) agrees saying: “The whole journey from start to finish through the airport, the hotel, the return journey and onward travel should be seamless.” She added that “biometrics and facial recognition are vital in achieving this”. She also warned that while the US is leading the way with biometrics, there are too many silos. Airlines, airports and authorities across the industry and the globe “need to come together to overcome the challenges in offering faster and more convenient processes for passengers”. She also stressed that while she understood passengers’ privacy concerns, she felt the majority of travellers would be happy to use biometrics and facial recognition if it meant simplifying their journey and avoiding queues when proceeding through airport security and checkpoints.

Fraport’s CEO, Stefan Shulte, offered his support for eliminating queues, saying alongside security “this should be a priority for airports”. He added: “We need to address how technologies, including biometrics, can help with efficiency in passenger processing, but also how they will help passengers themselves and enhance their overall experience.”

Meanwhile, Chris Garton, Heathrow Airport’s COO, highlighted that while a 2016 report revealed that the global travel retail market was worth £52 billion globally, passengers were reporting that they were spending 50% of their dwell time in non value-added services, including queues at security checkpoints.

Heathrow has already embraced automation and biometrics to improve the customer experience, investing £50 million in end-to-end biometric testing technology. Over 65% of its customers are now able to use an e-gate on arrival, which has resulted in “tremendously positive feedback from passengers.”

Speaking from a software supplier’s perspective, Julie Shainock, global managing director, travel and transportation industry, Microsoft concluded that “the long-term goal for airports is all about frictionless travel from curb to gate and hyper-personalisation.” Underpinning that biometrics and digital identity is the future she stated this “will overlap beyond just airports, airlines and border control and will be integral across different industries, such as healthcare and retail.” It’s set to become very much part of day-to-day life and if airports don’t embrace it they’ll be left behind.

Just don’t forget to smile for the camera!

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