The COVID-19 pandemic has posed serious challenges for airlines, airports, and their ecosystems. Airport authorities prioritize the importance of aspects like improving efficiency, avoiding bottlenecks, quality of services, safety and security, and many more. However, several other questions need to be answered within the airport. In the long term, airport authorities are going to reshape the industry by introducing new technologies with minimal human interaction and maintaining precautions based on the number of passengers entering the airport.
They are exploring possible pathways to facilitate the resumption airline operation. To ensure the continuation of flights, airports have had to make major operational adjustments such as airport passenger capacity, controlling of passenger flow movement, check-in counters accessibility and their queue design, processing times, and wait times. This in turn impacted terminal performance, level of services, and the overall passenger experience. Enforcing the maintenance of minimum social distance and security-screening operations needs to follow certain criteria per specific rules set by governments across the world.
This article focuses on the current pandemic situation, in addition to how passengers are going to encounter difficulties at all stages, from entering to boarding, and how we are going to solve these issues through digital simulation. It allows airport authorities to make required decisions that can quickly evaluate the impact of changes on the airport level of service.
Check-In / Kiosk (Self) Check-In
Check-in is the first process for a passenger when arriving at an airport. Based on the flight schedule, passengers enter 15 min to 2 hours in advance, depending on the destination and airlines. For each airline, the check-in counters are categorized (such as Economy Class, First Class, Business Class, and so on). Apart from check-in at the counter, the passengers can also check-in through airline kiosks. For each passenger, the process takes around 5-10 min of service time. Therefore, there is a logjam of passengers at the queue. Due to the pandemic, social distancing needs to be maintained between the passengers as much as possible, and guidance around the ideal distance ranges from 3-6 feet. Gradually, passengers will begin to move out of the queue line.
Nowadays, the biggest challenges for airport authorities include:
- Per the passengers’ arrival at the airport, how can we estimate the number of check-in counters / airline kiosks that are required for each shift / to cater to those many passengers without moving out of the queue line?
- How efficiently are resources from the check-in counter / airline kiosks utilized?
- How to accommodate a certain number of passengers within the current queue line by maintaining social distance or do we need to change the queue design based on the requirement?
- How many passengers are waiting in the queue line and how long have they waited?
Note: Per statistics collected between the years 2015 and 2020, the number of passengers worldwide using Kiosk Check-In has steadily increased from 12% to 18%.
This is the area where most bottlenecks are created, particularly at busy airports during peak season. Security teams need to monitor every miniature and all data to adjust how they respond to both passenger volume and flow. The gender of the passengers will determine how many male or female security staff members are required to facilitate screening procedures. The presence of very few staff members in a screening lane can cause bottlenecks and frustrate passengers. Knowing about these issues beforehand can ensure compliance and provide high quality of service. In trying to keep with pandemic guidelines by maintaining social distance, passengers tend to stray out of the queue line. In addition, here are a few other queries that the authorities need to address.
- How to accommodate a defined number of passengers within the queue line by maintaining social distance or do we need to change the queue design on a requirement basis?
- Based on the current availability of security checks, how many passengers can be accommodated within the queue line by maintaining social distance?
- What is the number of security counters required for each shift and what is the security staff requirement?
The Airport Lounge is an exclusive area for passengers to relax. It serves as an escape so that passengers can avoid the excessive noise and commotion at the terminal. The main issue in the lounge is overcrowding of passengers. Lounges are often so packed that customers are forced to stand at the counter. Oftentimes, the queue extends out of the lounge. Taking the impact of the pandemic into account, airports need to consider focusing on aspects like layout design, arrangement of seating location, easy accessibility of foods and beverages for everyone with minimal movement as well as the location of counters, by ensuring the least possible human interaction.
Passenger flow at Airports
An increasing number of flyers every day makes it challenging for airports to improve passenger flow movement and ensure everyone is moving efficiently within the airport premises. This situation is further amplified due to pandemic. Airports have failed to accommodate passengers by maintaining social distance and applying other policies within the terminals and beyond.
All the above questions can be answered with the help of the Digital Twin concept. It is a unique solution developed using cutting-edge technology and can help the industry mitigate the challenges posed by the pandemic. Discrete Event Simulation is one of the Digital Twin tools that replicates the real-world system in a virtual environment to predict the effect of changes on the existing system. Simulation allows the organization / airport authorities to analyze and trial the process in a virtual environment without affecting the real-world system and also reduce the time and cost associated with physical testing. Check-in counters, resources, security gates, lounge facility, conveyor design for baggage and passenger flow movement can be analyzed and tested within a simulation model, giving the airport authorities an opportunity to determine how to utilize and optimize their resources to the fullest.