5 Ways Location Technology Can Transform The Airport Experience

Ben Howden /

It’s no secret that airports around the world are competing with one another to deliver the best possible passenger experience. Safety, convenience, choice and efficiency are key factors that impact customer satisfaction, and airlines are quickly recognising that technology has a large role to play in influencing these factors.

With the launch of Apple’s iBeacon protocol in 2013, location sensors such as beacons have been a hot topic with airport executives and a number of pilot programs have been conducted at airports including Nice, Côte d’Azur, Miami, Hong Kong, Hamad, Tokyo Haneda, Bologna, Heathrow, JFK and San Francisco. The pilot use cases vary, however a key theme is enhancing the passenger experience through location specific content and functions. Think flight updates, wayfinding, service information and promotions.

Tip: if you're not familiar with beacons, read our Beginner's Guide to Beacons or Guide To Location Technologies

Whilst enhancing the passenger experience through location technology is an exciting proposition it comes with some major challenges. Examples include:

  • App dependency: users must already have your app installed to receive location alerts and content
  • App penetration: your app must have large install base in order to make the return on investment compelling. You should seek to understand how many users with the app installed are likely to visit your location at any given point in time
  • Opt-in: once installed, users must give your app location and push notification permissions for the technology to work
  • Bluetooth: users must have Bluetooth turned on. Note: this is specific to the use of Beacons
  • Multiple stakeholders: it’s likely that there are multiple stakeholders that will want to take advantage of location technology at an airport. Examples include airport operators, airlines, service providers and retailers. Managing the content delivery process amongst multiple stakeholders is a challenging process.

What’s interesting is that if you switch the focus from customer experience to operational effectiveness many of these challenges no longer exist.

What do we mean by operational effectiveness? In short, we’re talking about internal facing applications of location technology. Think improved visibility of your workforce/assets and improved delivery of services such as cleaning, security and maintenance. Think mobile workflows to streamline operations and real-time communication between staff. All of these things have the potential to deliver significant returns for an airport without the challenges that exist for customer facing applications.

We’re not looking to discount customer facing applications altogether, but we think it’s important to understand and acknowledge that there are significant barriers to overcome to deliver successful outcomes.

So with this is mind, let’s explore 5 key ways that location technology can transform airport operations:

1. Improved service delivery

Location technology like beacons has the potential to significantly improve service standards across an airport. We can use them to understand whether service standards are being met and answer questions such as are employees arriving on time and completing required tasks? Are contractors completing the work they are being paid for? Are bathrooms being cleaned regularly? Are security checks being completed? Is equipment being serviced on time? Where are our luggage trolleys or transport cars located?

By adding a location layer over your workforce and assets you are able to access a wealth of data that can improve service delivery. In addition, you can trigger mobile alerts and workflows, proactively maintain quality standards and address service failures.

2. Improved safety and security

Safety and security is paramount in airport environments and coordinating these functions across airlines, ground handlers, border protection agencies, retail tenants and contractors is challenging. Location technology helps you understand the real-time and historical movement of all workers making it much easier to identify safety and security issues. Here are some examples of how the location data can be used to improve safety and security:

Know when contractors arrive and depart different locations
Trigger safety information when employees enter dangerous work areas
Trigger alerts when an employee doesn’t have the necessary qualifications or training required for their current location
Empower employees to quickly report safety issues using their mobile device and trigger automated workflows
Leverage mobile devices for distress alerts and automated check-in prompts

3. Improved productivity and reduced costs

If we were to audit the entire workforce across all functions at an airport, how many paper-based processes do you think we would find? The answer is typically a lot. We’ve seen first hand paper based task lists, log books, maintenance reports, incident reports, warning signs, shift reports, audits, inductions and the list goes on. The amount of non-productive time spent completing forms, entering data and managing related processes is enormous.

What if all of these forms and related content lived on a mobile app carried by all employees? Better still, what if relevant forms and content were presented at exactly the right time and place? Mobile apps combined with location technology can significantly enhance productivity and reduce costs by eliminating time wasting processes. What’s more, employees are demanding devices, apps and processes to help them be better at their job.

4. Enhanced passenger experience

Enhancing the customer experience is the most obvious application of location technology within airports. But don’t forget you’ll need a solid plan to address the challenges mentioned earlier on. Let’s tell a story to help paint a picture of how location technology can enhance the passenger experience.

As you arrive at the airport a nearby beacon detects your presence and automatically pulls up your flight details and gate number. You head over to the check-in counter and as you approach the service clerk your details are automatically presented on screen, making for a speedy and seamless check-in process. Immediately after checking-in you’re presented with a notification saying “5 minutes until boarding time.” You hit the “directions to gate” button under the notification and are presented with turn by turn directions to your boarding gate. As you get to the front of the boarding queue your mobile boarding pass is automatically presented on screen. Finally, you’re in your allocated seat and ready for take off.

This story demonstrates just some of the ways that location technology can be used to remove some of the stress out of navigating the airport experience.

5. Contextual content and offers

Airports around the world are increasingly focused on developing retail precincts to drive additional revenue streams and improve the passenger offering. And let’s face it, shopping is a great way to pass some time when you’re waiting for a flight. We believe that airports have the opportunity to drive additional revenue by setting up a beacon network and leasing it out to partners and retailers. I have no doubt that retailers, food operators, car hire businesses, transport services, tourism operators etc. would love to tap into the huge amount of foot traffic that passes through an airport each day.

Content and offers could be triggered based on factors such as current location, profile, time of day and even time to departure. We’ve even explored an auction based model (similar to Google AdWords) where partners and retailer's bid to have their content or offer displayed to passengers who match their target profile.

However, whilst this all sounds great in theory, effectively managing multiple retail vendors, messages and mobile applications is no easy task. Content and offers must be relevant, timely and deliver value to end users or they run the risk of doing more harm than good.

In summary, we believe location technology has a significant role to play in enhancing airport operations and we’re excited to already be working with major airports to deliver operational improvements.

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