Historically, when travelers entered an airport, their primary concern was leaving it behind as quickly as possible. This objective is now becoming less common. Today, the most valuable offerings an airport can provide are convenience, efficiency and experience. While airports strive to improve the in-airport experience, the landscape continues to change, driven by technology advancements and the increasing demand for seamless travel. Airports should embrace digital transformation to keep up with this evolving scenario.
The Airport Landscape is Changing
Passenger traffic is returning to pre-pandemic levels. JD Power’s 2022 survey on airport customer experience in North American airports highlights that fewer flights, more crowded terminals and lack of service offerings negatively impact travelers’ overall satisfaction. There are some inherent challenges that Airports are facing.
For one thing, airports face rising competition. With the growth in low-cost carriers and the globalization of travel, airports must find ways to differentiate themselves. Digital transformation enables airports to offer unique services and experiences that make them stand out. For example, some airports have been using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to enhance passenger experience by providing virtual tours or entertainment options.
Secondly, passengers' expectations and preferences have shifted significantly in recent years. Modern travelers have become reliant on digital devices and expect streamlined, personalized experiences throughout their journey. They seek self-service options, mobile capabilities, real-time updates and seamless interactions. To meet these expectations, airports should adopt digital technologies that enable self-check-in, mobile boarding passes, wayfinding apps, personalized notifications and other innovative solutions. For example, London's Heathrow Airport is known for its digital initiatives, including mobile apps for passenger services, beacon technology to guide travelers and intelligent baggage systems. These digital advancements have helped Heathrow maintain its position as one of the busiest and most preferred airports globally.
Another challenge for airports is operational efficiency. Airports are complex systems that involve multiple stakeholders and extensive coordination. Many airports can achieve efficiencies with improved coordination between all the stakeholders, including airlines, airports, security and retail. By leveraging digital technologies, airports can streamline operations, optimize resource utilization and improve passenger flow. For example, Singapore's Changi Airport has embraced digital transformation by implementing various cutting-edge technologies like biometric facial recognition systems, self-check-in kiosks and automated passport control. These advancements have significantly improved passenger flow and reduced waiting times, making it one of the world's most efficient airports.
Lastly, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for airports to embrace digital transformations. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of contactless operations, health screenings and other safety measures to protect passengers and staff. Digital solutions, such as touchless check-in, self-service kiosks, biometrics-based identification and advanced health screening technologies, have become essential to ensure safe travel experiences. Therefore, airports need to rapidly adopt and integrate these technologies to prioritize the health and safety of their passengers.
The Time to Act Is Now
There is a world of possibilities for airports to leverage different digital initiatives and realize the benefits. Without a doubt, digital transformation in an enterprise as complex and delicate as an airport will require investments of time, money and commitment. However, these necessary investments will only grow as airports delay taking action.
Soon, customers won’t be the only ones demanding state-of-the-art airports. Airport stakeholders will, too. International Air Transport Association (IATA) continues to release new resolutions, recommended practices and research. One of its resolutions, Resolution 753, requires airlines to track baggage at the four main points of contact (make-up, loading, transfer and arrival) and throughout the journey to help reduce the number of mishandled bags. Airports Council International (ACI), another organization at the forefront of airports’ interests, issued a member statement expressing support for the measure. This example shows how the alignment of the entire aviation ecosystem can provide optimal solutions for passengers, operators and regulators alike.
IATA’s resolution won’t be the only tech-driven initiative airports must consider in the coming years. There will be more in the future. When airports do not proactively adopt a digital transformation, the adverse effects include decreased customer satisfaction, operational inefficiencies and loss of competitiveness.
Airports cannot afford to delay digital transformations due to the evolving landscape, intense competition, the need for operational efficiency and enhanced safety and the global pandemic's impact on travel. Digital transformation is crucial to meet changing expectations, differentiate airports from competitors, optimize operations, enhanced airport security and adapt to new health and safety requirements. Acting now will allow airports to stay relevant, resilient and better serve the needs of travelers in the face of a rapidly changing world.