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The Next-Generation Airport

As Air Travel Rebounds, Airports Are Evolving To Do More With Less

BY Wendy Hageman, Nathan Sims and Abigail Zarate
Whether redesigning an existing space or creating an entirely new airport, key stakeholders must collaborate to develop innovative solutions that prioritize the travel experience and focus on long-term efficiencies.

Among businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, airports and the aviation industry have emerged among the most heavily impacted. Yet, as passengers take to the skies, airports are expected to enhance the passenger experience by minimizing congestion, streamlining wait times, and improving hygiene and safety standards.

Many of these challenges are not new. Security bottlenecks and lengthy boarding procedures have been stress-inducing experiences for decades. Add today’s intensified measures around safe travel, and passengers often endure further delays and increased stress.

Fortunately, digital and technological tools can help improve a passenger’s journey from start to finish. As airports couple these tools with freshly designed spaces, flexible environments can emerge that allow for innovation and efficient space planning for airlines and airports.

 

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Among businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, airports and the aviation industry have emerged among the most heavily impacted. Yet, as passengers take to the skies, airports are expected to enhance the passenger experience by minimizing congestion, streamlining wait times, and improving hygiene and safety standards.

Many of these challenges are not new. Security bottlenecks and lengthy boarding procedures have been stress-inducing experiences for decades. Add today’s intensified measures around safe travel, and passengers often endure further delays and increased stress.

Fortunately, digital and technological tools can help improve a passenger’s journey from start to finish. As airports couple these tools with freshly designed spaces, flexible environments can emerge that allow for innovation and efficient space planning for airlines and airports.

Gate Hold Areas and Counters

Most airports use signage to designate specific holding areas for individual gates. Some congestion can be relieved by adopting open floor plans that combine or eliminate such areas. In fact, some airports are already transforming such bottlenecks with a fluid mix of restaurant, shopping and device docking spaces.

Digital communication, meanwhile, makes it unnecessary for passengers to sit directly at their gate as they await their flight. Instead, passengers can sit where space is available, relying on an app notification from their airline to advise them when to make their way to the gate for boarding. Online ordering technologies also make it possible for passengers to order concessions from wherever they can comfortably find a seat. Using location-based services, vendors can dispatch automated guided vehicles to deliver orders to passengers awaiting departure.

To help maintain social distancing — even in years following the pandemic — seating will likely become more dispersed throughout the airport. This can enable airports to deploy plexiglass dividers and other cocooning techniques if extra protection is required. It also allows for passengers to have a bit of personal space while navigating to their destination.

Security Screening

As airlines evolve to handle most check-in functions virtually, today’s ticketing areas could become tomorrow’s passenger lounges, complete with dining and shopping options, where passengers can relax before heading to the security screening area.

The concept of relaxing before going through security is nearly nonexistent today. However, reimagined airport floor plans may allow passengers to take a deep breath and enjoy every stage of the journey. Already available in some airports in the U.S., passengers can take a seat instead of rushing to get a space in the security line because airports have virtual queuing, with assigned appointment times for security screenings.

Appointments could be prioritized according to flight departure schedules, rather than passenger airport arrival times, to help everyone board at the appropriate time. Like FastPass and similar technologies used at major theme parks, this approach alerts passengers via text message as to when and where to go for screening. This process change not only would minimize the time passengers spend standing in line, but also help minimize the space needed for security screening.

Biometrics Technology

Improving biometrics technology for identification verification is opening doors to modernizing operational and security processes in airports worldwide. Travelers increasingly use biometrics, such as fingerprint and facial recognition, to access mobile devices, apps and accounts. From baggage drop-o_ areas to security screenings and boarding, airports are striving to better leverage this trend and adopt passenger-friendly solutions to enhance security and address travelers’ demand for self-service options.

Biometrics technology adoption is expected to improve accuracy and speed of identity verification, making the passenger experience faster and more seamless, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Organizations and jurisdictions around the world are evaluating these technologies and exploring the most efficient and secure path forward for integration. This technology — currently being piloted for various use cases — will be used specifically for international entry and exit security processes.

Getting There From Here

Introducing new airport infrastructure and systems requires an integrated and holistic approach to operational readiness airport transfer — a series of processes where checks and balances are put in place to identify and mitigate project risks. Implementing new touchless technologies and newly designed spaces often requires changing the concept of operations and coordinating with multiple stakeholders.

The next generation of airports depends on the collaboration of these stakeholders, from airlines and government security to vendors, concessions and passengers. These all have a role to play in improving the passenger experience and need to be part of the conversation when discussing ways to rethink space usage in airports.

As this transformation occurs, airports must remember to bring the passenger along on this journey. Airports and their key stakeholders need to embrace strong change management because there is a responsibility to guide passengers through the uncertainties that exist with new systems, spaces and processes. A transition to a more relaxing experience should not be stressful. And when done right — and with keeping wellness of all passengers in mind — airports should be able to unveil a more enjoyable and safer passenger experience that brings efficiencies to the aviation industry as a whole.

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2021 Special Report


Authors


Wendy Hageman

Airlines Projects Director,

Nathan Sims

Project Manager

Abigail Zarate

Project Manager