In October of 2017, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the Airports Council International (ACI) launched the New Experience in Travel and Technologies (NEXTT)1 initiative. The aim was to address a projected doubling of air travel demand by 2036 by encouraging innovative solutions that would enhance the on-ground experience and guide industry investments. One of NEXTT’s key areas of focus was to increase off-airport activities in order to streamline the airport experience.
Today we see a significant uptick in off-airport initiatives. Many airlines and airports allow passengers to book flights, check-in, and arrange for parking online before they reach the airport. Third-party off-airport services help passengers upgrade seats, pre-order meals, pay for extra baggage and purchase lounge passes. New mobile and logistics technologies are opening even more off-airport opportunities. Lesser congestion and better passenger experience are the top two benefits of these initiatives, according to a poll at a recent IATA & ACI webinar2.
Adopting technology to reimagine off-airport processes is a win-win for all involved in the travelers’ journey–airlines, airports, partners, concessionaires, security, and immigration and border control authorities.
Here are 10 examples of when airlines and airports can benefit from an off-airport approach:
1) Simplify the booking process
Airlines have many options for simplifying the booking process. They might use data about the preferences of their frequent flyers to make it easier for these passengers to book a flight through the airline’s app/website by offering personalized travel assistants or allowing customers to use Siri or Alexa to make the booking. Ryanair has offered express booking for some time. The closest thing to an Amazon one-click flight purchase experience available today, express booking allows customers to book a flight in three web pages—the home, express booking, and confirmation pages. Flipkart, a major online retailer in Asia, now offers airline tickets through the large online travel aggregator (OTA )–MakeMyTrip.
2) Improve web check-in for passengers
Most airlines encourage web check-in and prompt passengers via email/SMS/notifications to check-in prior to arriving at the airport. SeatAssignMate (the winner of the 2017 Travel Innovation Competition) goes one step farther. Passengers can complete the web check-in (or even purchase upsell ancillaries) through the same email, rather than having to go to the airline website or mobile app.
3) Automate check-in
Although loyal to one or more airlines, passengers often book on other airlines due to availability, price, flight times, or wait times. What if a passenger could automatically check-in to any airline worldwide, without having to download multiple airline/airport apps or visit multiple websites? Passnfly (one of Europe’s Top100 startups) can do just that. This service reduces hassles for the passenger by allowing automatic check-ins for 200 major airlines worldwide. AirlineCheckins offers a similar service that also offers inflight Wi-Fi.
4) Provide customer service on the go
The use of toll-free numbers is declining thanks to newer and better ways of providing customer service. Travel chat-bots like Destygo use NLP and AI technologies to address customer problems, act as personal travel assistants for booking destination tours and hotels, as well as providing last mile services such as taxis and trains. Such services make a great addition to an airline mobile app.
5) Engage with passengers with the airport mobile app
Airline/OTA mobile apps provide primary functions such as booking and check-in while IATA NDC offers ancillaries such as seats, meals, and baggage. Because airlines operate in multiple airports, it is challenging, if not impossible, to address the last mile. Passengers need an airport app to support parking, wayfinding, taxis, duty-free shops, and food and beverage at the airport. Such an app could not only encourage loyalty to the airport, it could engage customers after their trip by soliciting feedback and delivering personalized content to encourage loyalty.
6) Improve no-show forecasting
Combining knowledge of passengers’ real-time locations, current check-in statistics and airport queue times with forecasting techniques could help airlines manage their no-shows far better. If airlines can determine that the passenger will not make it on time for the flight, they can re-accommodate him to another flight, and accept a standby/go-show passenger instead.
By capturing and analyzing no-show data over a time, airlines could better predict when flights will be over capacity. With this knowledge, airlines can more quickly find alternative flights for passengers or inform them that they will be bumped earlier so they can better plan their arrival to the airport and subsequent journey. With the US Department of Transportation laying out rules and compensation amounts that the airline needs to pay for bumping, airlines need this information more than ever.
7) Enable self-tagging of bags
IATA and industry innovators such as Eezeetags have made it easier for passengers to correctly tag bags themselves with minimal instructions and no agent supervision. Self-tagging gives passengers greater control of their bags and reduce queue times at check-in. To further speed the process, almost six out of 10 airlines plan to allow passengers to print bag tags at home, according to research3. The Unisys Home Printed Bag Tag SaaS solution easily integrates with any airline’s web check-in system to provide a flexible and cost-effective way to tag bags from home. Airlines like Lufthansa and Qatar use electronic bag tags like BAGTAG, OneBag Tag or Rimowa for smart luggage.
8) Install off-airport baggage drop
Many airports/airlines have already installed baggage drop facilities in metro/train stations and hotels near the airport. Research states that six out of 10 airports plan to roll out assisted bag drops at hotels and transport hubs. Virgin Australia is planning a pop-up check-in and bag drop service to allow passengers to drop off bags at locations such as cruise ports, conference venues and hotels. While these facilities pose some logistic and security challenges to the baggage handler, they improve convenience for the passenger and can reduce delays due to passengers carrying their own bags.
9) Deliver baggage door-to-door
Research shows that many travelers and markets don’t mind paying a fee to transport their bags from their home/hotel to the airport and back, rather than carrying them themselves. Many traditional logistics companies, such as AirPortr, My Baggage, Luggage Forward, and bob.io are leveraging their existing logistics networks and partnering with airlines and airports to offer this new service. PostNL, the Netherlands postal service offers the Baggage Service for Schiphol airport passengers, which collects bags at home and delivers them to the airport. Optionally, passengers can drop bags off at the nearest PostNL office location where they are sealed and checked in.
10) Use biometrics as travel documents
Document checks at the airport are a huge hassle for passengers, especially international travelers. For security purposes, governments require airlines/airports to clearly identify passengers arriving and departing from their country. Until recently, passport and visa checks had to be completed on-premises in dedicated zones with calibrated equipment. Many governments have strict requirements for these checks, as well as for the biometric mode (face, iris, finger) and quality of biometrics captured.
IATA’s NEXTT and One-ID initiatives aim to reduce or eliminate the need to present passports and boarding passes by combining a trusted digital identity (ePassport), face biometrics and a trust network to exchange this information with airlines, airports and governments.
Advances in mobile technology mean that it is now possible to capture good biometrics off-airport using passengers’ mobile devices. Such early capture simplifies document checks at the airport, provides early knowledge of the passenger to assess risks, delivers flexibility to use different checks for different nationalities/visas or risk. Optionally, an off-airport process can serve as a pre-check with a final check done at the airport in countries that mandate manual immigration clearance.
Dubai Airport implemented an innovative check-in facility in that lets travelers capture their passport and biometrics in Tesla taxis and zoom through the smart immigration gates at the airport without taking out their passports.
Airports and airlines have a host of off-airport opportunities. Those considering taking the leap should naturally consider the impact it would have on their passengers, employees, partners and operations. However, with continuous improvements in mobility, supply chain and other technologies, there will surely come a day when the passenger will be able to proceed from the curbside to the boarding gate of the aircraft without queues, ID checks, or immigration.