Digital innovation and the passenger experience – a view from three airports

Airports are keen to improve the passenger experience and remove some of the barriers for travellers in the process.

During this years Passenger Terminal Expo in Amsterdam, airports shared their progress towards a seamless journey eased by automation processes and digital innovations.

Seamless walkthrough at Schiphol

Charles Hendriks, digital architect for the Schiphol Group, discussed the benefits and challenges of introducing passenger biometric ID. The airport is in the process of designing a Seamless Passenger Walkthrough, integrating all travel checkpoints so that passengers only have to identify themselves once.

“What we’ll have to do is find a way to implement this new way of handling passengers within our existing classically designed terminals and our classically deigned processes. You can’t go for a big bang. It won’t work. We have to find a more harmonious agile way, an incremental approach [to adoption].

“With a minimal footprint, and starting with minimal technology you can move slowly in steps.

“This technology works great in the lab. That is why you should put it into a productive environment, with real passengers, to see how it performs in the real world.

“You can start with boarding. Brisbane is starting with check-in and boarding. If you’re really not afraid, you can go for border control but you could also go for access control, as Abu Dhabi said it would.

“Once that works, you can start to connect your touch points. Then, you can create a biometric route through your terminal. Either arrival passengers leaving through your gates, or transfer passengers; it all depends on your services. Then, you should scale up. After you’ve reached something that you show can work and you can prove your business case.

“For the back-office systems of stakeholders, don’t start with all your airlines at the same time. Start with one airline, with one flight, and slowly expand from there.”


Schiphol uses facial biometrics, encoded through an algorithm to generate a long numeric ID to identify passengers. It does not capture an image of the face and the code cannot be used to recreate the face. This ensures privacy.

Still, Hendriks believes that there is still a lot of coordination needed between airports and authorities to create a universal standard for this type of identification, both in how it is configured and how the data is protected.   

“We would like to have international agreement on how you do this process. We’re going forward in the best way we think is possible.

“Privacy should be on the top of the list. We must make sure that our passengers’ data are only used in the circumstances that we have agreed with that we will use it.

“We create an architecture with privacy in mind. There are also a couple of agencies in the Netherlands and in Europe and we are closely aligning with them, having audit our systems, but it would be if there were international standards that we can say we adhere to these international standards.”

With regulatory and airport groups already discussing the process, Hendriks expects international standards may be available to guide airport adoption of biometric journeys as soon as two years from now.

Streamlining processes at Cologne

Ulrich Stiller, director of marketing and sales at Cologne Bonn Airport, believes airports need to look at eliminating the many manual processes of the airport experience and replacing them with more efficient, automated or digital solutions.

Manual interfaces at the airport create time-consuming processes. For instance, you have arrival in parking, you have the check-in area, the passport control, the extra security check, the boarding area—all of those things.

“Manual processes create hurdles along the way from the parking area to the aircraft.”

The airport has deployed a number of programs which aim to automate or eliminate these legacy hurdles.

Stiller believes ultimately automated parking could speed the journey, but in the interim, by encouraging passengers to pre-book their parking on-line with a discount, the airport has eliminated the delays of finding a spot and can better predict parking space utilization.

Since introducing the parking reservations scheme, Cologne has seen adoption rise to 50% of passengers who would park cars.

Airlines already encourage passengers to check-in at home, which, Stiller says, has helped Cologne forecast passenger traffic and demand on counters.

Luggage still needs to be checked, but Stiller expects automatic and digital bag tagging coupled with automated bag drops will improve the process in future.

He also hopes the industry will move to standardize baggage loading and unloading, moving away from outdated baggage handling practices.

“We need standardization. All the different suitcases have been handled the same way for 40 years. If you look at the shipping industry, it is all containerized and standardized.”

As airlines conform to IATA Resolution 753, this could become easier.

Radio Frequency Identification chips in bags could eliminate the need to scan each bag individually and might allow bags to be identified by proximity, even when stored in containers.

It’s not all digital.

Some analogue solutions can also help improve the journey. Cologne is working to reduce queues through a process re-design inspired by the trusted traveler program. It simplifies security for those who travel often.

“We are working on easy security where you can overtake inexperienced passengers. It’s on a test-phase at Cologne and the process is much quicker than before.”

Mobility as a service at Munich

Anita Neudeck, senior manager, innovation and partnering for Munich Airport presented a new “mobility as a service” platform which offers door-to-door transport information service to passengers, from the city centre all the way to the gate.

It combines transport services and traffic information with airport way-finding and flight updates and gives passengers a full view of their journey, according to the transport method they select.

“We are implementing a service where you, as a passenger, just type your locations and also put in your flight number, select the mobile transport options: car sharing, or public transport.

“Or, if you go by your own car, we can tell you what the situation is on the road. You can search and you get a list of options to get you to the airport. We include how much it will cost and how long it will take.”

Neudeck believes this type of solution will be attractive and very relevant to modern digital travellers who simply want to get there and have little patience to spend time searching.

“Transportation has become intermodal. Seventy percent of Millennials are using multiple ways of getting around cities and the suburbs. People don’t want to think about what transport to use. They just care about the destination and they care about time and costs.”

Munich Airport is collaborating with Hamburg Airport, Düsseldorf and Münster/Osnabrück to offer passengers a single “Passnger App” which gives travellers all the information they need for their journey.

One of the motivations behind the collaboration is that Neudeck agrees with others in the industry who have questioned the usefulness of single airport apps.

She believes passengers are more likely to download and use the “Passnger App” because it offers something more valuable than terminal information alone.

“The idea is for all of the airports to come a bit closer and provide one service to all passengers. This channel gives us the opportunity to offer real door to door service.”

Munich Airport has partnered with Siemens, which supplies the framework of the mobility platform. 

“Siemens has all the connections to public transport companies and car sharing, and they also get traffic information from the road. There is one interface to our IT at Munich.”

As the mobility as a service digital platform grows and matures, Neudeck believes it could become a revenue builder for airports, offered to airlines as a B2B service. An API would let airlines give their passengers the same door-to-door, multi-modal transport information, and terminal way-finding, all within their branded app.

“For that, we have to make the first step, try it out for ourselves, and gain some experience. If we are able to integrate one more airport to the ‘Passnger App’, I think it will be important. It would become very relevant. That would be a very good thing for switching to a B2B model.”


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