I recently attended the ‘Future Travel Experience Europe 2015’ conference in London to find out more about where the travel industry is heading in the eyes of airlines and airport stakeholders.
I was particularly intrigued by two themes:
- How can airlines provide a tailored experience to passengers, before leaving for the airport?
- How can airlines - in collaboration with airports - provide a tailored experience to passengers, once they arrive at the airport?
What was interesting to me about these topics is that there was not enough discussion about them. Speakers mainly focused on how airlines and airports can use technology to offer a generic experience to passengers.
This is my take on the future pre-flight travel experience: before leaving for the airport
Show expected travel time to reach the airport
When planning a flight, passengers at some point have to calculate the best time for them to leave for the airport. This presents an opportunity for airlines to use a passenger’s current location, plus real-time traffic data, to alert them of when they should leave and the best route they can take to get to the airport on time.
They could further help passengers by allowing them to drill down into how that travel time is calculated; travel time to airport, walking to terminal, check in and boarding pass, security etc.
American Airlines for instance has developed an app for the Apple Watch that can send notifications to passengers to inform them when it’s time to leave for the airport. This enables individual passengers to get a tailored experience that is most relevant to them.
Provide flight information
There are passengers who do not have the time - or forget - to check flight status before leaving for the airport. Alongside providing passengers with the ideal time to leave for the airport, airlines can also inform them if their flight is on time or delayed. Providing such information can reassure passengers that the airline values their time. On the contrary, if passengers arrive at the airport to a delayed flight it can leave a poor impression of the airline.
Arriving at the airport
I think airlines and airports have missed the opportunity to collaborate in order to help each other’s long-term goals. Airports could for instance share information about when passengers have passed airport security to help airlines locate where their passengers are. In return, airlines can help passengers spend more time in the airport retail stores instead of waiting near their boarding gate.
Airlines could find out from airports which passengers have passed airport security. If a passenger has not checked in or passed through security they are either running late or not planning on travelling.
If the passenger is running late, airlines could reassure them by sending them a notification. The notification can inform passengers that the airline is aware they have not checked in/passed airport security and can help them make the flight in time by using the airlines Fast Track services (as long as it is not a recurring behaviour).
If the passenger is not able to make the flight, or is not planning on travelling, the airline can send them a notification on how to rebook the flight. According to Nuria Fermoso, Manager of Passenger Experience at International Air Transport Association, only 55% passengers in Europe and 62% passengers around the world are offered online means to rebook their ticket. There is an opportunity for airlines to help passengers rebook their flight online and as a result reduce their call centre traffic.
Arriving at the wrong terminal is a common problem for passengers and one that can leave them feeling stressed. Airlines can help passengers by notifying them that they are in the wrong terminal and whether or not they will make it in time. If they can make it in time, they can further help the passenger by providing turn-by-turn directions from their current location to the correct terminal.
Show how much time they have until boarding
Airlines can also help airports by making passengers feel they are more in control of their time by providing them with more information around what their gate number is and when they need to start walking to the gate.
Once passengers pass security they have to find a digital screen that tells them their gate number. Passengers have to keep returning to the screen until it displays their gate number. Update passengers with what their gate number is so they can wander off without having to worry about being near a digital screen.
Provide passengers with further real-time information such as:
- You have 18 minutes before the gate opens
- You are currently 6 minutes from your gate
- You should start walking to the gate in 12 minutes
- You will be sent an alert when you need to start walking to your gate
Informing passengers that they will be sent a notification can help them relax and spend more time in the stores.
Automatically open boarding pass
With digital boarding passes becoming more popular, airlines can reduce the time it takes at the gate by using iBeacons to automatically open the pass on a passenger’s phone. Even though this is a minor change, it could have a major impact as it reduces the time it takes to unlock the phone, navigate to the app and find the boarding pass.
New technology and air travel
Over the last decade, both airlines and airports have invested heavily in improving the experience for their customers. New technology can play a vital role in giving them a greater opportunity to collaborate and provide passengers with real-time contextual information.
The key will be conducting formative user research to better understand customer behaviour and the role technology can play in optimising the airport experience. By bringing the collective knowledge of airlines and airports onboard into this research endeavour, we can start identifying the gap between customer behaviour and the current role of technology, and subsequently find opportunities for further enhancing the customer’s experience throughout their airport journey.