Whether it’s biometrics to get through security, an airline app that tells you if your flight is delayed or free Wi-Fi and charging areas for all travelers, there’s no doubt technology this past decade has helped enhance the airport experience for fliers around the world.
How exactly will it continue to make a difference in the 10 years to come?
In fact, the better question may be: how won’t it?
The future is nigh
«Technology is going to play a much bigger role at airports than it ever has in the past and will be the key driver in creating every facet of a seamless travel journey,» says Sherry Stein, head of technology for SITA, a technology company providing IT and telecommunication services to the air transport industry.
Nina Brooks, director of security, facilitation and airport IT for Airports Council International, the trade association for the world’s airports, agrees and adds that technological innovations today are especially critical to how an airport runs because the number of global passengers is expected to more than double by 2040.
According to ACI, 2018 saw 8.8 billion fliers; in 2040, that number is expected to jump to 19.7 billion fliers.
«Airports are settings that involve so many different parties including airport and airline employees, security personnel, national aviation authorities and outside vendors,» she says. «Adopting new technology helps them operate more efficiently and sustainably.»
Below, a sneak peek of what fliers can expect at airports on the technology front between 2020 and 2030.
As of today, according to Brooks, around a few hundred airports all over the world are testing out biometric identification, a technology that verifies a flier’s identity through fingerprints or facial features and speeds them through an aspect of their journey such as security or boarding.
Going forward, however, the use of biometrics will grow exponentially, she says. «More and more airports and airlines are collaborating to try out the technology for the first time or are expanding the programs they already have in place.»
Singapore’s Changi Airport, for example, recently started a trial in Terminal 4 which allows Singaporeans to walk through arrival immigration without showing their passports or scanning their thumbs. Instead, they can clear immigration by going through an automated lane where they’re identified through an iris scan or face capture.
Singapore’s Immigration and Checkpoint Authority hopes to implement this clearance for all eligible passengers by 2022, according to Ivan Tan, the group SVP of corporate and marketing communications at Changi Airport Group.
On the airline side, British Airways has just installed biometric boarding for all domestic flights out of Heathrow Terminal 5.
For international flights, Raoul Cooper, British Airways’ Senior Digital Design Manager, says that self-service boarding gates have now been installed at the terminal, allowing customers to scan their own boarding cards to get on their flight. «This is the first step towards biometric boarding on international flights from the UK,» he says.
Biometrics is also a big focus for American Airlines this decade, according to spokesman Ross Feinstein. «We are already testing biometric boarding at some airports for international departures,» he says. Feinstein expects that biometrics will continue to be expanded throughout the next decade, to include the check-in process, security checkpoint and domestic boarding.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which includes Newark Liberty International Airport, LaGuardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport, has the same idea.
«We are currently building areas in all three airports where we can roll out more biometrics that customers can use in every part of their journey,» says Director of Aviation Huntley Lawrence. «By the end of this decade, it will be the exception for us to not offer the technology everywhere.»
As biometrics becomes more prevalent, passengers may be even able to use it to shop duty-free, predicts Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and founder of Atmosphere Research Group. «It’s going to take over the airport,» he says…