While vendors built these touchless and automated technologies before the pandemic to increase speed and efficiency, airport demand for these tools is showing early signs of surging since the outbreak upended the travel sector.

Airport adoption of touchless technologies has sped up, as a frightened world craves keeping a safe distance between workers and travelers. But revenue shortfalls are making airport operators selective about what tech to prioritize. Airports must, of course, focus on tech that supports newly mandated requirements by authorities. 

Before the day of travel 

Instead of requiring travelers to stand in a queue with others and use a touch-screen kiosk or an eGate, why not allow them to enrol their information in advance of arrival at the airport, on their smartphone, and grant access to all necessary touchpoints (check-in, bag drop, security, border control, and boarding) based on a touchless facial match? 

The enrolment may require air travelers to sign in with a biometric system. Then, booking air tickets online may include some options for door-to-door baggage service. With this add-on service, they are allowed to ask the airline staff to collect their baggage for further cargo’s sanitizing and disinfection protocols. It also helps them feel a little relieved as they do not necessarily stand in an endless line, waiting to check their baggage in at the airport anymore. 

After booking, passengers can also use their private device to schedule their appointments for check-in, security and lounge. 

Arriving at the airport 

Thermal cameras may be installed at the gate area so that everyone’s temperature can be checked automatically right at the moment they are entering the airport without making any interpersonal contact. If any potential issues to be found, security guards may escort those passengers to an isolated area so that they can run a secondary test. 

The thermal scanning technology is still uncertain, though. London Heathrow Airport began thermal screening trials last month in the immigration hall of Terminal 2, but it’s waiting to know how accurate the machines are.

Another way to reduce face-to-face interactions is to replace workers with robots for initial screenings. South Korea Incheon International Airport intends to test later this year a robot that claims to tell if passengers are wearing masks and flag those who aren’t to authorities.

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There may be a great number of vending machines offering medical kits equipped in each area around the airport so that passengers can purchase some hygiene kit without touching the machine via mobile app or Bluetooth.

Dufry, the travel retailer, will begin rolling out this month vending machines offering personal protection equipment (PPE), such as face masks and hand sanitizer gel, to 27 North American airports under the Hudson brand name. In a similar move, Dubai Airports has introduced two vending machines selling personal protective equipment at Dubai International Airport. 

Check-in 

Interaction within the airport environment represents a more complex challenge. Check-in counters will probably be gone and changed into check-in kiosks instead. Passengers can do the self-service bag drop by using touchless processing with electronic bag tags or automated bag tag attachment.

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After weighing the baggage, passengers can select and pay accordingly for extra weight to check their baggage in with mobile pay. They can also select their seat on the plane when checking in via mobile phones.

Security check 

To avoid making a crowd at the security check, the airport may apply reservation software, allowing passengers to choose a specific time to get to this area after checking in. For example, Britain’s Manchester Airport has begun to give passengers the chance to pre-book a 15-minute security slot to reach the departure lounge quicker via dedicated lanes. 

Passengers may also self-scan for security access validation. An advanced bag and body screening booth can be built in each counter so that passengers will not have to take electronic devices and liquid out of the bag anymore. Passengers can also send satisfaction feedback via automated anonymized AI sentiment analysis. 

Departure lounge 

To kill time before boarding, air travelers may spend some free time shopping without touching anything thanks to digital fitting and virtual shopping walls. They can also have a look at some digital menus and catalogs for food, drinks and services. Food courts and sit-down dining could be a thing of the past, replaced by grab-n-go meals and smartphone payments to minimize interaction with waitstaff or retailers. 

For example, Grab’s “virtual kiosk” is being installed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport right now allows passengers to scan a QR code or tap an NFC chip on their smartphone to order from their own device without needing to download an app.

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Boarding

Airline staff may call passengers to board by each seat row or else, the individual boarding notifications will be sent to each passenger at the scheduled time so that they can avoid queueing and gather at a mass. Moreover, air travelers can self-scan their boarding passes as well as travel documents and then proceed to move to the plane within seconds. 

Onboard 

Passengers will be provided with a digital seat-back pocket so that they can still enjoy reading magazines, checking through the inflight menus or entertain themselves with various options. Airlines may support cashless payment only for their in-flight food and drink services. 

Arrival airport 

When arriving, passengers will be automatically scanned by vital sign detection and then get their personalized notification for baggage claiming via mobile app. Passengers may fill in electronic customs form instead of using provided pens to write their information on the paper form. The immigration procedures can also be done in a touchless way by using advanced information and biometrics. 

Pros and cons of touchless travel 

These touchless travel sets may ease passengers’ fear of safety and improve their flying experiences. Air travelers probably do not have to touch anything at the airport during their flights in the future except for the mobile phone. The possibilities surrounding biometric technology are extremely promising, and how these concepts can impact air travel screening and safety is exciting. 

However, there are a few issues to consider – data protection and civil rights. The concept of “safe and touchless” travel crosses many divides, one of those being privacy. 

A successful rollout of a biometrics program requires consensus and data sharing among airports, airlines and authorities but they should be careful to choose a reliable technology partner and a solution that is proven in the real world at high volumes and a high level of identity assurance. 

Furthermore, although technology companies hope to profit by selling software, sensors, and other tools as many airports expect to ramp up automation during the coronavirus outbreak as employers seek to cut costs and boost productivity, some airports and airlines can’t afford significant expenditures right now. Some processes could slow down workflows while adding operational costs, presenting a threat to profits. 

Source: Destination Review

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