Luis Felipe de Oliviera, the director general of ACI World, once said: “ACI World projects that global air travel will nearly return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023, with all regions expected to reach this milestone by 2024…” Airports Council International (ACI), is a global organisation which represents the interests of airports and also promotes airport standards and excellence in the aviation industry.
The optimism about the growth of the industry going forward calls for airports to embrace innovative strategies that will make passenger experience smoother and more enjoyable as the passenger numbers continue to increase. Very long waiting times at airports are a source of frustration for travellers. Some airports, however, have engaged in various uses of technology to deal with this challenge. This has involved digitising procedures and introducing cutting edge technologies.
Simpleflying.com predicts that in the year 2024: AI integration in airports will most likely rise, improving decision-making, personalising experiences, and optimising resource planning; airports will focus on sustainability efforts; and, there will be increased attention on accessibility, with initiatives to facilitate travel for passengers with reduced mobility and hidden disabilities.
To reduce the conventional queues at check-in counters is the introduction of online check-in. It is now possible for passengers to check-in and print their boarding passes from the comfort of their homes or through self-service kiosks at the airport. This not only reduces waiting times at queues but goes a long way in reducing anxiety on the part of the traveller. At times arriving at the airport when the check-in procedures have closed, evidence of online check-in can be a saving grace so one does not miss that flight.
Advanced security technologies are speeding up security checks. In this way there have been next- generation scanners, automatic detection systems for undesirable items, and biometric checks so that there is a faster and more efficient security procedure. In some airports, you are asked for liquids, aerosols and gels and given transparent bags to pass them through the scanner if they are within acceptable quantities. It can dampen the morale of a traveller to have to part with items not allowed in flight. So travellers should take time to read and find out what is not allowed in-flight before they set out for the airport.
Ensuring that baggage arrives at the same time with the passenger is a very important part of the passenger experience. Same applies to the wait time for baggage collection. There have been significant improvements in automated baggage handling in recent times. Technologies like RFID tags enable real-time tracking of luggage, minimising the risk of losses. Also, automated sorting systems reduce human errors, and improve the chances of baggage arriving with passengers.
Another game changer in reducing waiting times at airports is the mobile apps of airlines and airports. This is one area airports in Africa can leverage on as the continent continues to increase her use of the internet. According to a report by Statista, the number of internet users in Africa has more than doubled since 2015, reaching around 570 million in 2022. Nigeria is said to have the largest number of internet users in Africa, having over 100 million users as at 2022, followed by Egypt with 76 million and South Africa with 41 million. So, passengers can receive real-time notifications about gate changes, delays, or other relevant information, and as such, unnecessary waiting times in airport common areas are minimised.
Another area that will help in managing congestion is integrating automatic people counting systems to optimise passenger flow management. These are technologies that use advanced sensors, cameras, and intelligent algorithms to monitor the number of people in different airport zones in real-time. As a result of these systems, teams can anticipate potential congestions, adjust resources accordingly, and ensure a smooth flow of passengers. These automatic counting systems enable better human resource planning, reduce waiting times at strategic points such as security checks and boarding gates, and facilitate proactive crowd management. They are often integrated into airport mobile apps, allowing passengers to check real-time congestion in different areas, plan their routes, and avoid the busiest spots. Such makes for a personalised experience for travellers, reinforcing satisfaction and operational efficiency.
These technologies not only contribute to improving the overall passenger experience but are also crucial for ensuring compliance with safety standards.
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