Rethinking an airport’s relationship with technology

Rethinking an airport’s relationship with technology | The Seamless Travel Series.

How is technology reshaping the way in which airports interact with their passengers and vice versa?


In an interview for International Airport Review, Sarah Wittlieb, Head of Innovation at Munich Airport, and speaker at Passenger Terminal Expo 2017, speaks to our Digital Editor, Roy Manuell about the ways in which technology aids, and also creates challenges, for modern day passenger experience.

Your speech here at Passenger Terminal Expo focused on ‘megatrends’. Could you provide our readers with an introduction to this topic?

It shouldn’t be a surprise to the aviation industry that it’s very important, crucial even, to deal with megatrends, especially as technology and customer needs evolve. Megatrends, while slow evolving, can influence aspects and processes within our lives, and the perceptions held by government and society, perhaps even for decades. To give fairly recent examples, many people have bought Apple watches or begun car sharing when making journeys. What I am going to present is how an airport can use those megatrends to identify what the main issues for the coming years will be and what an airport could do in order to be prepared for them.

I think that, typically, the new technological innovations that our passengers use don’t usually come from the aviation industry; they come from companies like Google, like Facebook, and also from the automotive sector, from mobility companies. However, we still need to identify what is likely to happen and how we could be prepared for that, in order to save the business model or create a new one.

So this is essentially a question of how your airport can adapt to the rapidly changing world of technology?

Yes, technologies, and also for changing customer needs. If you told everyone 15 years ago that today they would have an iPhone or smartphone they wouldn’t have believed you! You have to think about what is happening in the market and not only in the aviation industry, and also about what we, as an airport, do.

The megatrends – and also the microtrends – that we are looking for, are not only concerning aviation. We look at what is happening in different sectors all around the world. We are constantly scouting for likely or emerging trends.

Could you give a specific example of how one of these technologies is, or will, adopt itself towards that kind of technology?

I will give two examples; I guess many people are familiar with Google Street View. There are so many people who, before they book a vacation or trip, will go online and look how at where the hotels are and how they could get from A to B. They will see what’s around, where the nearest restaurants are, and get a feel for how the place looks and feels.

We know from research with our own customers that there are many people who would like to know more information about the terminals, before they arrive at the airport. Even, simply, how do I get from parking to the terminals?

So, in light of this, we are working with a start-up company, called Navvis. They developed a type of a camera wagon system which created 360 degree views of our airport. Our passengers can view this on our website homepage, on our app, or within different channels. The system benefits not only people who would like to prepare their route before beginning their journey, but also those who are already inside in the airport. Passengers can see how to get from A to B, which kind of restaurants you have, the retail and shopping facilities you offer, and we feel that it’s a very good reaction to finding an answer to this question.

Nonetheless, you always have to look at the security of the data, and that is why I’m so pleased we chose to work with a start-up company.

Another example is a project which is due to be online in two months’ time, called ‘Mobility as a Service’. We know that many of our passengers, many of whom are not originally from Munich, arrive at Munich Airport wanting to know how they will get from the airport to their final destination. Developed in cooperation with Siemens Mobility, ‘Mobility as a Service’ is an online service, whereby people get real-time information, showing the possible routes and means they have to get from A to B. It is not only for those who have used their own car and parked at the airport, it also provides information about trains, car sharing, taxis etc.

‘Mobility as a Service’ doesn’t just provide the same information that you can get already through other mediums. We have information that some others don’t; We know how long people have to wait to get through security checks, or how long they have to wait to collect their luggage, and this  real-time information is included in our service.

It’s real-time information which means that if there’s a problem with, for instance, their intended train journey, passengers can directly see what they could do instead, and also ticketing as well.

That’s very exciting. Going back to the issues you mentioned regarding big data, and holding data, firstly what are the precise dangers?

We always strive to see things from the perspective of the customer. This is always at the forefront of our minds in any issue. And our customers, especially in Germany, generally dislike showing their data like they do, for example, in the US. So, naturally, we have to deal with this aspect, while always being mindful of what is and isn’t allowed. A large company who is, for example, known for selling that data to different companies, would not be of interest for us to work with, for that very reason. Yes we are an airport, but it’s no longer only a question of infrastructure.

In Europe especially security is at the forefront of people’s minds at the moment, how might this affect passenger experience? How do airports ensure a very high level of security without compromising passenger experience?

In my opinion, you always have to look at a passenger’s journey as a whole, not just at particular points. There may be some touchpoints where safety and security need to take priority, but I think that most passengers would appreciate this, and therefore not be expecting to get the best entertainment in that situation. I think that most of us are very happy if we experience a secure airport in which we feel comfortable. You should never only think about when the customer is at one place or point in the airport because for us it’s the question of the whole journey from when the customer starts to plan their trip or vacation to when they arrive home again.

Generally speaking, which new technologies in the aviation industry are you most excited about?

First of all, new mobility or connective mobility. I think it’s no longer a question of which kind of mobility provider will be the one who sells the product, for example, a car. I think in the future passengers will expect to only buy one ticket for their whole journey, across different transport modes, where first, for example, they take a car share to the airport, then fly to a different destination, arrive get out and take a train, or a bus, or a taxi. I don’t believe passengers will be willing to buy separate tickets for their transport. I think it should be one ticket and that means cooperation, so new mobility is very, very important for the future.

Another would be the best combination of online to offline, because I don’t think that online alone is the best solution. There are still moments when people love to see each other.

Of course not everybody is online, though the majority of us are. How do we connect with those who are not online, who don’t have a smartphone or internet devices?

Actually, I don’t think it’s a key question for airports, or for mobility, because research from speaking to our passengers has shown that on average every person has more than one smart device with them during their journey, for example a smartphone and/or a tablet.

What about the elderly passenger, who doesn’t have a tablet or a smartphone at all?

We did a workshop with what we call the ‘Silver Generation’. For us, the results were really surprising because whilst we had assumed that the majority of them didn’t use or have an iPhone or a tablet or device, most of them said that they do own one, but just that they weren’t willing to use it for all processes. So I guess it would still be a question of a good combination; You will always have some people to help those who need it at the airport. And it’s not just a question of age either, there will also be people with special needs, lost baggage, or incidences where our passengers will still prefer to talk to a person.

If you had to name the biggest threat to passenger experience, what would you say that is?

The biggest threat might be that people who are always online are not able to fully experience the situation where they are at that moment. If you look at the way people move, and it is not just in airports, even when people walk through cities for example, with a smartphone in their hand, they’re walking around and they’re not really feeling or engaging with what is happening around them. It’s a real challenge to catch them, and which channels to use.

Our own digital unit are really successfully looking at how we can reach these passengers at particular touchpoints, but it is a huge challenge. For example, if you look at passengers who are standing in the duty free shop, they can open their smartphones and look up the prices for the same products if they were to buy them online.

Imagine we’re having this conversation in one years’ time, what will have changed?

Actually, it is possible that there could be a main change in how an airport is used. At Munich Airport we carry out a lot of testing of new prototype products with like-minded companies who realise it is a question of cooperating and co-creating. Together with those companies as a partner, we develop new products which we test at the airport. Munich Airport creates a great test environment because there are so many people here every day who are interested in trying something new and seeing a product they have never seen before.

What sets Munich apart from other European Airports?

For me, Munich Airport is a perfect combination, it’s a really unique place because if you arrive at Munich Airport you instantly recognise where you are. You could not mistake us for any airport anywhere in the world, because we have the perfect combination of premium, 5 star luxury products, and the really good services that we offer, but in combination with what we call the ‘Gemütlichkeit’, people coming together and having fun together, and that’s very unique. We have many people who go to the airport just to experience that, just to go at the weekend, to do some shopping, see the people who are travelling from all around the world, sit together and share a conversation with them. For us, it is more than just an airport.

The Seamless Travel Series so far

The conversation is shifting. It is no longer a question of passenger experience. Air travel is now defined by ensuring seamless travel. In this new online series, International Airport Review will explore different perspectives from industry leaders such as SITA, Munich Airport, ACI World and many more to consider the ways in which the concept of seamless travel is now defining the changing world of air travel.

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Personalisation and a new proximity with the modern passenger

Just how important is personalisation for an improved passenger experience in the modern airport world?

International Airport Review interviews CHRISTINE FALZON, Business Development manager at ICON and discusses personalisation, technological solutions and how the aviation industry can better embrace new technologies. It’s no longer passenger experience… it’s now seamless travel.

The more we work with airports in Europe, the more we realise the necessity of crafting a solid passenger experience based on consistent and repeatable processes. In fact, we strive to place passenger experience at the very heart of the operating models we develop.

Making the experience personal is the element of differentiation which allows some airports to shine over others. Digital is undoubtedly transforming this sector and we can personalise messages, services and products in a way that was not possible only five years ago. We know that passengers take seconds to digest and decide on marketing messages or informational items. Personalisation allows us to increase relevance of the message and thus increase the propensity to convert the passenger into a customer within those very precious few seconds.

Done correctly, personalisation improves the customer’s engagement and builds loyalty with the airport while reducing acquisition cost.


How might digital solutions be essential to achieve this?

Digital gives us three new dimensions: scale, depth and reach. Scale since we can process huge volumes of data in real-time and provide instant personalised recommendations to all passengers at once. Depth since social media or previous use-patterns allows us to understand the inherent interest patterns that each passenger displays – subsequently we can craft experiences that suit them. Reach since with the plethora of digital channels available today we can touch our passengers wherever they are in a human way and can take decisions based on their location, emotional state or other factors.

At a very basic level digital also helps us understand what matters to our passengers and what doesn’t. Through advanced customer analytics we can track each step in the funnel and re-engineer it to be more effective and offer more value. Indeed, innovation in this section is achieved through a better and deeper understanding of the passenger’s feedback.

More specifically, what is ICON doing at present in this respect?

Our mission is to re-connect, in a meaningful way, the airport and its passengers. There is no single way to do this however the approach often consists of these clear steps:

  • We gather as much behavioural data as possible to provide us with “digital signals” about the present consumer behaviour. This allows us to identify any gaps between the activity and the desired positioning.
  • We articulate needs and the appropriate digital response to them. We think of needs as triggers and responses as messages. Thus, we develop libraries of messages matched with triggers and understand that messages may be personalised – on the fly.
  • We link the digital activity to operational processes within the airport to ensure that our activities are repeatable, sustainable – and most importantly – drive value.
  • We implement advanced analytics to ensure we’re checking the inputs and outputs of our service in real-time and can tweak when necessary. And we automate all business processes which can be re-designed to rely on artificial intelligence rather than human management.

Through these steps we have engineered multiple service lines including apps for wearable devices, way-finding systems, personalised flight-updates, better crisis management tools, fully automated smart parking systems, indoor gesture-managed screens, micro-location sensors, artificial-intelligence bots to take part in the customer service process and better buy-before-you-fly systems.


On a more general note, do you feel the airport and aviation industry is slow to keep up with new technologies?

Airports offer a great opportunity for innovation and digitisation. However, this should not be seen as a single task-layer but rather as a tool to gain strategic advantage. “Digital” therefore cuts through all the vertical processes of the airport and lifts them to a new level. Unfortunately, most airports still don’t have a digital vision and take daily disconnected decisions which treat specific operational requirements rather than create new cross-functional digital solutions.

There are exceptions. Some smaller airports are more agile and innovate more boldly. They are not complacent and experiment with digital. Often airport Boards need more exposure to digital transformation to understand its strategic importance. Likewise, digital skills are often missing at executive level, which make it critical to choose the right partners to assist in this process.


How might this reticence be resolved?

When the digital agenda is not deeply part of the airport’s culture, transformation is slow and often painful. We live in a world with reducing margins and soaring customer expectations thus airports which are rooted in the analogue world tend to create a deep chasm between themselves and their passengers.

Reticence is reduced by vision. A well-thought digital vision provides a compelling landscape which a Board can understand and endorse. It needs to be realistic and grounded in commercial requirements that rely on establishing quantitative metrics of growth.

Reticence is reducing by championing small, interactive projects which return immediate value. Innovation needn’t be inherently risky. It can be practical and process driven with clear governance rules and parameters. Successes are celebrated and any failures are considered as an opportunity to improve. This agile approach ensures that there’s an evolution of the business and technical model selected which will generally require dynamic adaptation due to the constant shifting of the value chain.

Reticence is reduced by simplification. Airports often revel in unnecessary complexity. It’s focused on the “easy” – how can an experience be simplified, clicks reduced, steps shortened? While the burden of legacy IT systems is perhaps the most common airport spectre, it is a mountain worth climbing.

Airports don’t easily reinvent themselves; however, their ability to do so, at least in the digital sphere, will greatly affect their chances of driving value. Our experience suggests that understanding the great potential which digital has to offer and positioning the customer at the centre of the journey is a sure way to start.

The interview was originally seen on the International Airport Review site. 

Christine Falzon

Christine Falzon is the Business Development manager at ICON – a Software Development and Digital Marketing company focusing on digital transformation solutions for the airport and aviation industry. With over 15 years combined experience within the travel, hospitality and technology industry, Christine’s key focus is to identify business requirements, put forward creative ideas that add tangible business value to customers and ultimately, guide customers to the right technology solution that can improve passenger experiences, increase productivity and efficiency, while remaining focused on achieving a consistent high return on investment and growth.

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Aeromexico enhances AI chatbot with additional features

Aeromexico has added new features to its Facebook Messenger chatbot,

which is proving to be an effective communication tool for the carrier.

At the Facebook F8 Conference this week, Aeromexico revealed that in the six months since the launch of the Aerobot chatbot, automation in the customer service department has increased from 0% to 96%. In addition, the average customer service resolution time via chat has dropped from 16 minutes to two minutes.

The artificial intelligence (AI) powered bot has been used by passengers for tasks such as buying tickets, checking flight statuses and finding destination-based recommendations. A new group booking feature has now been added to simplify the booking process for families and groups of travellers.

Stan Chudnovsky, Vice President of Product for Messenger, explained: “This feature will allow groups to plan a trip together from within Messenger with the help of the AI customer service chatbot and split payments.”

Up until now, users have been able to pose questions to Aerobot in Spanish only, but English language functionality will soon be added.

Brian Gross, Vice President of Digital Innovation at Aeromexico, said: “Mexicans are some of the most avid users of social chat platforms, such as Facebook Messenger and we saw a definite gap in what was being done to ease ongoing traveller pain points.”

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Qatar Airways achieves IATA Resolution 753 compliance at Doha hub

Qatar Airways has achieved compliance with IATA Resolution 753

at its Hamad International Airport hub in Doha.

Resolution 753 requires airlines to maintain an accurate inventory of baggage by monitoring the acquisition and delivery of baggage throughout the journey.

Qatar Airways has achieved the certification following investment in its “HAQIBA” baggage management system, as well as its integration with the Qatar Airways website and mobile app.

The airline offers real time updates on checked baggage through the “Track My Bags” feature on its website and app. The mobile app also provides real time baggage-related notifications to passengers.

Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive HE Akbar Al Baker said: “Our careful attention to our passengers’ baggage, from the beginning of their journey all the way through to its finish, is yet another indication of the importance we place on customer experience. We have proactively taken steps to align our baggage management systems with IATA’s requirements. As a result, we are delighted that the association has declared Qatar Airways the first airline worldwide to become certified for end-to-end tracking for our hub at Hamad International Airport.”

Nick Careen, Senior Vice President, Airport, Passenger, Cargo and Security for IATA, added: “Qatar Airways’ efforts over the past year to comply with IATA Resolution 753 on baggage tracking have paid off. We congratulate the airline on becoming the first in the world to achieve full compliance of the resolution at their hub in Doha. Qatar Airways’ ability to track baggage at every stage of its journey will allow the airline full visibility to manage its baggage operations and to more easily trace, retrieve and deliver missing or delayed bags, leading to a better experience for passengers.”

The world’s first “cashless” airport

Hangzhou International Airport in China to become the world’s first “cashless” Airport.

Hangzhou International Airport in China to become the world’s first “cashless” airport

Representational image

China’s Hangzhou International Airport plans to become the world’s first “cashless” airport by applying cutting-edge digital technologies to its services and will use artificial intelligence to make security checks faster, the media reported on Saturday.

According to a media report, the airport in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, will co-operate with internet firms, such as Alipay, to allow travellers to make cashless payments for services including accommodation, flights and car rentals, the Global Times reported.

The airport will also work with service providers to combine cloud computing and big data so it can offer passengers door-to-door services including ticket bookings, transportation, smart parking, shopping and catering as well as hotel bookings.

It will also introduce artificial intelligence and image recognition technologies into security checks so as to increase the safety and efficiency of the process as well as reduce passenger wait times, according to the report.

A Hangzhou resident told the Global Times on Friday that she welcomes the airport experimenting with big data and cashless services.

She said that with the spread of mobile payment, offering cashless services is unlikely to pose much of a challenge. She said that reducing wait times is likely to be the real test.

Online payment already has a particularly high level of penetration in Hangzhou, which is home to tech giant Alibaba Group Holding, which pioneered China’s most popular online payment tool, Alipay.

Separately, Alibaba’s financial affiliate Ant Financial announced plans to spend 3 billion yuan ($435 million) each year for the next two years to create a cashless society.

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UAE drone users must register themselves and their device under strict new rules

DUBAI // Customers buying drones will soon be unable to take them from shops until they register them and complete a training course.


The Dubai Civil Aviation Authority is planning to introduce registration cards for hobbyists and professionals, under rules to be brought in after Ramadan. A customs release letter will be needed for drones bought online.

“Each registration will be vetted for security and their skill level will also be tested by approved bodies,” said Michael Rudolph, head of the authority’s airspace safety section.

When buying a drone, a customer will be given a receipt and leaflet explaining the registration process. They then must enrol in an approved training course and submit the certificate to the authority.

Once this and a security clearance is complete, the customer can receive the card and return to the retailer to collect the drone.

A “Sky Commander” tracking device must also be attached to any drone cleared to fly in approved zones. The device records the area, height and speed of flight and the authority automatically checks for offences.

In case of an alert, Dubai aviation officials can contact the operator to ask about a violation or order an end to the flight. All information will be stored in the operator’s records.

Officials are working with the Government, the Ministry of Defence and Dubai Police on registration and the live-tracking device, said Khaled Al Arif, the authority’s executive director of safety.

Airspace in Dubai has been closed four times because of intrusion by drones, causing flight cancellations that cost the economy millions of dirhams.

“While the closures are not due to registered drones, we feel that people need to become aware of the regulations and about the consequences,” Mr Al Arif said at the World Aviation Safety Summit in Dubai on Tuesday.

Stiff fines of up to Dh20,000 for unregistered drone users come into effect next month, following regulations approved by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai.

Fifty-seven commercial drone operators and about 1,000 hobbyists are registered with the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority.

Registration cards for commercial operators will be marked with a red stripe and hobbyists with blue. A white temporary card will be issued to operators visiting for a specified time period.The type of drone will be listed on the back of the card.

“If Dubai Police or any authority sees this, they have been briefed about the stripes and know you are registered, so unless you are creating a menace or operating where you shouldn’t be, you will not be bothered,” Mr Rudolph said.

The authority requires users to obtain approval in advance before flying drones. Operators can file applications online, providing information about the area, parameters and altitude where the drone will be used. The highest altitude permitted is 400 feet (about 120 metres).

The plans include efforts to educate people about drone use. Last year, the authority demarcated no-fly zones for drones includingairports, military installations, sensitive locations and palaces.

“If you know your details and the drone serial number are in a database, the chances of you operating outside the realm of what constitutes safe and orderly operations can be minimised,” Mr Rudolph said.

“This is how we can further enhance safety and ensure all operators, whether hobbyists or commercial, know what the requirements are when they operate.”​

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Virtual reality game offers Sydney Airport travellers

Fun before flight: oOh!media virtual reality game offers Sydney Airport travellers an immersive Parisian experience.

AUSTRALIA. oOh!media has created an immersive virtual reality (VR) game for users of Sydney Airport’s Qantas Club Lounge as part of a Samsonite activation.

The Australasian advertising specialist’s experiential agency oOh! Edge developed the game, which challenges players to find five Samsonite suitcases as quickly as possible at three famous Paris landmarks: the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe.

Samsonite VR game played in Sydney Qantas lounge

Travellers must use Oculus Rift VR headsets to enter the immersive virtual locations

The activation is promoting Samsonite’s new range of suitcases with ‘Curv Technology’ and is running at the lounge throughout April. It was created collaboratively with Posterscope and Dentsu Mitchell.

A Samsonite Curv luggage pack is being awarded to the top player each week, while a return trip to Paris for two and a Samsonite Curv luggage pack will be awarded at the end of the activation.

“This VR game is an ideal way for Samsonite to engage with travellers who are in a positive mindset and willing to have fun while they’re waiting for their flight,” said oOh!media Chief Executive Officer Brendon Cook.

Samsonite – Virtual Reality Game - Eiffel Tower - April 2017

Samsonite suitcases must be found at locations such as the Eiffel Tower in order to win prizes in the activation

oOh!media cited research which had shown that Qantas club members spend around 42 minutes before their flight in the Qantas Club Lounge, which it said “provides an ideal environment for activations that engage more deeply with travellers who like premium products”.

Posterscope Managing Director Bryan Magee noted: “We know from our Out-of-Home Consumer Survey insights tool that the Samsonite audience likes to interact in social environments, so the airport provided the perfect opportunity for the added layer of fun and engagement with the VR game.”

Samsonite National Marketing Manager Dara Tang commented: “We wanted to interact and bring our brand identity to life with potential customers. This virtual reality game perfectly represents Samonite’s focus on innovation and cutting-edge technology.”



The rise of the digital airport experience


Airports in the 21st Century

have become some of the most technologically advanced buildings in the world, writes Stephen Simpson, global marketing director for Priority Pass.

It wasn’t too long ago that robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) were seen as wildly futuristic, but such has been the rapid pace of advancement, that these technologies have now become commonplace.

In Geneva and Auckland they are today guiding passengers through foreign airports in a language of their choosing, and even recognising, reading and reacting to their emotions.

From the very moment a passenger enters the terminal doors, to the second their feet touch foreign soil, digital tools and technologies are playing an increasingly important role.

Biometric enabled self-service check-in facilities and bespoke mobile phone applications, designed to help navigate through airport processes, from check-in to boarding, and bag drop to shopping, are testament to this.

The potential of big data and data science is also helping airlines and airports alike to get closer to customers than ever before, establishing patterns in passenger behaviour and better tailoring services to accommodate this.

Functionality from door to plane

This of course isn’t just innovation for the sake of innovation. One of the fundamental catalysts driving change in airports is the rise of the digital traveller.

With a smartphone in every pocket, contactless payments at most stores, and access to the internet from almost any location on earth, travellers have come to expect a level of digital experience in every aspect of their lives – airports are no exception.

It is this context that inspired Priority Pass to carry out research designed to uncover just how technically savvy today’s businesses travellers are. We found that there is a clear demand for digital technologies that enable a seamless travel experience through the various stages of the airport.

When travellers were asked to discuss the innovations that they view as important to the airports of the future, 46% said that they expect to see high levels of automation across areas such as kiosks and check ins.

We would expect these numbers to continue to rise over the coming years as airport features like the robots who greet passengers at Tokyo Airport and the airport luggage check-in robot at Geneva Airport, become more commonplace.

The research also found that 50% of European travellers believe that digital boarding passes and e-tickets make the airport experience much easier, with 41% of frequent business fliers regularly using airport mobile apps when passing through an airport.

The findings of our study confirm the strong appetite that we know frequent flyers have for digital.

Since our brand refresh, we have seen a dramatic increase in the use of our new Priority Pass app across all – iOS up over 50%, Android up by 10% and downloads of our BlackBerry app up by over 1,000%.

We also polled our members in a recent Digital Pulse Survey and saw a 90% rating on digital initiatives such as the Digital Membership Card and new mobile app (86%).

There is clearly a growing impetus to deliver a seamless digital experience at airports, driving new levels of 21st Century customer service, while taking the stress out of travel and providing a more personalised and intuitive passenger experience.

The beautiful thing with technology is that there is no limit to what can be achieved, so it will be exciting to see what new developments the coming years bring.

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