COVID-19 made passenger health protections within airports a top priority for the air travel industry.
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Nataliia has a solid track record of leading large-scale cross-national deliveries for clients operating multimillion businesses in Europe and the United States. In addition, she continuously contributes to internal and external knowledge sharing initiatives to grow product expertise.
Touchless experiences have since become a critically important method of interaction from the terminal to the tarmac, facilitating social distancing and eliminating the need for passengers to engage with equipment for greater personal safety physically.
Since the onset of the pandemic, companies have revisited their IT&T investments to adapt to the new realities of air travel. According to a report by SITA, an IT provider for the air travel industry, mobile applications for airline passenger services have become a top industry priority, with 97% of airlines placing commitments to major programs and additional R&D by 2023.
Here are three main digital travel industry trends that the pandemic has accelerated:
1) Automated self-service replacing human interactions
Social distancing and the urgent need to limit human interactions turned tried-and-true self-service equipment into 2020’s top trend. Kiosks, mobile apps, and web-based online services have long been demanded by passengers worldwide. As governments and passengers reacted to the evolving threat to public health, airlines and airports ramped up efforts to support the contactless travel experience. To ensure a safe passenger journey from start to finish, AirAsia introduced fully contactless kiosks that included an electronic Passenger Reconciliation System (PRS), contactless airport payments, and an enhanced mobile application. Changi Airport went one step further, equipping check-in kiosks with infrared proximity sensors that enabled touchless screen interactions.
Avinor also rolled out an end-to-end touchless travel program across 44 airports within its network, eliminating interpersonal contact and the need to touch physical machines from the entire airport journey, from check-in and drop off to security and boarding.
Self-service will become the most frequently used interaction method at airports
In the coming years, self-service will become the most frequently used interaction method at airports around the globe, streamlining the entire passenger experience while minimising the vulnerability to possible infectious diseases of the future.
2) Facial recognition and biometrics for boarding
As part of a seamless airport journey from check-in to boarding, many airports incorporate facial recognition and biometrics into self-service devices. As an example, this would be allowing passengers to use their face as a boarding pass. The technologies can increase passenger safety and convenience while also reducing airport checkpoint times.
One shining example of the potential for facial recognition is at the Beijing Capital International Airport (BCIA), which deployed an extensive biometric screening program in August 2020. Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru (BLR Airport) introduced another comprehensive automation program, which uses facial recognition to identify passengers at check-in, bag check, security, and onboarding. Tokyo airports are currently experimenting with a similar end-to-end boarding program known as ‘Face Express,’ with an anticipated full launch date of July 2021.
3) Additional health screening
To cover required medical tests in response to COVID-19, several airports have utilised thermal cameras to perform quick passenger temperature checks. But while temperature checks have remained an essential public safety measure throughout the pandemic, they aren’t the only health screening procedures being deployed throughout airports worldwide. In April 2020, Etihad became the first airline to test a technology that can monitor any person’s temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate through an airport touchpoint, such as a check-in gate or information kiosk.
Another dimension of addressing public health is making tests more accessible to airport staff and travellers. At the beginning of 2021, Riga airport introduced a portable, contactless COVID-19 testing station to reduce human interactions during testing to an absolute minimum. The entire testing procedure can be completed by users at a contactless self-service point, confirming a user’s identity, providing instructions for delivering a sample, and showing testing results via email.
Going forward, airline companies will continue to explore additional digital health certifications to restart international travel. One primary focus will be providing governments and passengers with verified COVID-19 vaccine and testing data, ensuring a high confidence level throughout the travel experience.
Not only airline travelling
COVID-19 became a challenge for the whole travel industry, not just for airlines and airports. Many throughout the industry have used the disruption in everyday travel as an opportunity to reassess the old way of doing business.
TUI, a world-leading integrated travel business, is committing the new normal of air travel by accelerating its digital transformations and staying on top of global technology trends. In the environment of rapid changes, the speed of the reaction to market trends became even more crucial than before. That is why TUI and Ciklum have been working on shortening time to market and enabling scaling opportunities for its applications. In particular, the company has been highly focused on cloud strategy, shifting from monolithic to microservice architecture, reducing release cycle and significant improvements of A/B testing. All these initiatives allow TUI to react faster to market changes and the opening of new travel destinations.
Despite the fears that travelling will never become the same again, digital technologies allow us to return to our travels. Moreover, there is large delayed demand: in 2019 market volume accounted for $1.7bn and decreased to $1.5bn in 2020. After national vaccination programmes travelling will reactivate fueled by mutual interests of governments, businesses and tourists. Thus, there are a lot of reasons to keep a positive forecast for the industry!