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SITA’s Day of Operations platfom. Image via SITA

APEX Insight: While airports serve as gateways to adventure and fun, they are also hurry and worry hubs. Sensor technology is helping airports around the world reduce security wait times, and beacons are making airport terminals more user-friendly, giving travelers less to be stressed about.

Security screening is the number one stressor for travelers, accounting for 36 percent of negative emotions along the journey, according to SITA’s The Future Is Connected 2016 report. Airlines and airports are investing in technology to improve the travel process, and have succeeded at points along the journey, but there is a self-service technology gap when it comes to passenger security screening.

Passenger emotions SITA

Passenger emotion graph from SITA’s The Future Is Connected 2016 report. Image via SITA

Pax Tech Engagement SITA

Technology engagement curve from SITA’s Passenger IT Trends Survey 2016. Image via SITA

Smooth Travel With Sensors

SITA’s Day of Operations BI (Business Intelligence) solution gives airports a global view of all facets of operations – including where passengers wait, walk and dwell. It supports airport planning by gathering data in real time, compiling historical data and making predictive analyses. Sensors measure passenger devices as they go by, keeping accurate tallies of foot traffic. SITA reports that 95 percent of airline passengers carry at least one personal electronic device when they fly, which helps to make these counts reliable.

SITA says its Day of Operations technology, including passenger movement data gathered by sensors, has proven to improve efficiency at security. “Passengers at Orlando International Airport (MCO) have enjoyed shorter wait times in recent months since the introduction of SITA’s technology. MCO introduced the intelligent queue management technology from SITA, and its partner iinside, at the airport’s east and west checkpoints nine months ago. SITA QueueAnalyzer now provides the airport with a real-time view of TSA checkpoints, enabling rapid response to unexpected conditions. It also provides historical wait-time data to establish wait-time profiles for different times of the day, days of the week and seasons,” says Matthys Serfontein, president of SITA Airport Solutions.

Danish firm BLIP System has also helped airports deploy sensor technology to manage queues and publish waiting times on airport displays. The sensors work by detecting Wi-Fi or Bluetooth devices, like mobile phones and tablets. With each device’s unique signature registered on multiple sensors, the system can measure travel times, queue times and movement patterns.

“The data helps airport managers and travelers to put queue lines … in perspective, eliminating guesswork about how long the process will take.” – Christian Bugislaus Carstens, BLIP Systems

“The raw data from the sensors is transferred in real time to a secure data warehouse and analyzed and visualized. The data helps airport managers and travelers to put queue lines – such as at check-in, security, border control and taxi rank – in perspective, eliminating guesswork about how long the process will take, so travelers know exactly how long they have to wait,” says Christian Bugislaus Carstens, marketing manager at BLIP Systems.

BLIP’s sensors and displays are in use at airports including JFK, Amsterdam Schiphol, Barcelona El-Prat, Brussels, Dublin, Auckland, Copenhagen, Oslo, Helsinki, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International, Keflavik International and San Diego International. The company recently introduced predictive algorithms that can integrate with an airport’s existing IT systems to help plan for growth. This predictive software is currently on trial at Copenhagen Airport, where passenger numbers have reached historic highs.

Better With Beacons

Airports have also improved passenger engagement by installing beacons that help passengers find their way and enjoy their time at a terminal. Miami International Airport (MIA) is among the airports paving the way with beacon technology, and was the first airport in the US to use technology enabled by Bluetooth beacons to give passengers contextual information, based on location, with enhanced terminal mapping on its new mobile app.

MIA’s app can update passengers about their gate, flight times and baggage collection. It also highlights nearby food and retail, prioritized by their location, on up-to-date indoor maps. “With blue-dot functionality, map rotation, turn-by-turn directions, walk times and a ‘near me’ feature, they allow passengers to quickly locate virtually anything inside the airport,” says SITA’s Matthys Serfontein.

Nice Côte d’Azur Airport used SITA’s beacon technology to personalize the travel experience for frequent flyers. Its app gives Airport Premier Gold members access to Fast Track Security and lets them use their frequent flyer card automatically. The airport has also turned beacons into revenue-builders by letting passengers know when concessionaires near them are having special sales. “Increasingly passengers are demanding more control over their airport experience. They want to personalize the services they receive from the airport to their own requirements or needs,” says Jean-Pierre Torres, head of IT at Nice Côte d’Azur Airport.

SITA’s 2015 Airport IT Trends Survey shows that, by 2018, 80 percent of airports will use beacons for way-finding services, and 74 percent will use them to send notifications to passengers. More than half of the airports are expected to have sensors in use at various points of the journey, including check-in, bag drop, security, dwell time and boarding. Mobile services will also increase, with 91 percent of airports offering an app to navigate the airport, and 83 percent planning to offer real-time notifications on day-of-travel information such as local traffic or queue times at the terminal.

Marisa Garcia was once locked in a hangar in Oberpfaffenhofen while fine-tuning Gandalf’s new seats. Seriously. The firemen got her out. Writing is less confining, but she has lovely memories of those hands-on days.