As the aviation sector restarts operations and services, attention turns to defining the new normal for air travel
This will mean understanding which restrictions and behaviours will thankfully disappear and which will be here to stay and require a longer-term response.
Like the restart phase, the primary focus being on restricting contact with people and surfaces and self-service and automation is likely to be a central focus for making the airport experience as safe and as frictionless as possible.
But automation alone is not going to be enough deploying it effectively will require having a clear vision for the end-to-end passenger journey and a plan of the new capabilities that are needed to deliver.
Here, we outline the ways that defining a reconfigured passenger experience and the associated capabilities can sure up technological investment and move you from restarting to reconfiguring your service and operations:
- Reconfigure your passenger experience vision to inform investment
- Use technology to better cater for employee’s as well as passengers
- Redefine commercial offering in line with customers digital expectations
Reconfigure your passenger experience vision to inform technology investment
Many airports and airlines see technology as central to solving some of the issues posed by the pandemic and although technology will undeniably play a key role, deploying it in the right way to solve the right problems is going to be critical.
Realise that the future is already here
Encouraging the uptake of self-service solutions like check-in and bag drop have long been seen as the direction of travel for many airlines and airports, with mass biometric automation being seen as a natural evolution within the next 5-10 years. Development and roll-out of these technologies has been slow and their implementation seen as complex. But the pandemic bought forward the need for earlier adoption of the technologies sooner than previously expected and are now much more critical to the recovery of the sector.
Shift your thinking from self-serve to zero touch
Greater levels of automation will see increased roll-out of better check-in and bag drop products, e-gates at immigration and self-boarding gates for when boarding the aircraft and automated cleaning. But post-Covid, it’ll require these technologies to offer more beyond what’s available off the shelf.
Many of the current self-serve solutions such as the check-in kiosks now feel as high touch and high risk and functionally quite limited i.e. the hardware and software in a check-in kiosk or bag drop doesn’t yet easily and seamlessly work with all smartphones which could act as an alternative personalised interface to the airport for passengers.
Prepare the groundwork for data enabled services and operations
There will also be a shift from technologies that help broad security surveillance to ones that can provide more targeted monitoring of passengers. This will mean linking individual passports or biometric profile data and use AI to support security and operational teams keep the airport as safe as they can.
Capturing biometrics of passengers continue to raise the issue of privacy and will not be an easy hurdle to overcome if the aviation industry looks to roll-out the capturing of biometrics on a mass scale. The pandemic may prove to be a tipping point for trading off some element of privacy with the broader safety benefits for the travelling public.
Also, the lack of a global standard for the end-to-end biometric journey has seen limited and non-standardised implementation that makes scaling the systems difficult. For example, Changi Airport in Singapore and Etihad Airways in the UAE have been quick to embrace automated tracking technologies but US airports and airports seem reluctant. It would be difficult to see the US embracing having their biometrics recorded and tracked, when the idea of wearing face masks is already seen, by many, as an afront to their civil liberties.
Despite this, airports and airlines need to prepare for more automation and biometrics being a core part how we travel.
In the first instance this will mean designing services that encourage and allow more passengers to opt-in to register for biometric services to make their journey contact-less. Developing a clear vision for the automated passenger experience will help navigate new challenges e.g. how do you design the opt-in process for passengers or how do you encourage and guide lots of passengers through the steps of self-service quickly effectively and but also help you ensure a consistent passenger experience throughout all of the interactions with the various technologies at each point in the journey.
Use technology to improve the experience for employees as well as passengers
Recovery will not only be reliant on re-configuring the passenger experience it’ll also mean reconfiguring the experience of the people who work on the front-line too.
This will require thinking differently about the experience your staff have of working and identifying what new support they might need day-to-day. This will help define how technology can best support them in delivering service and staying safe. As airports and airlines reconfigure we see the need to design the following to ensure technology plays the role it needs to in the recovery:
Standardise service across airport partners
Passengers travelling now and for the foreseeable will now be much more sensitive whilst travelling and may have to deal with heightened levels of disruption and uncertainty. Those who passengers for whom air travel would already be stressful such as those travelling with small children, the elderly and those with a disability will need more support and reassurance than ever before and will look to the front-line to be able to support them irrespective of who they are talking to.
As a passenger travelling pre-Covid there would often be mismatch between the level of service you would receive throughout your journey. Airlines would traditionally be the most focused on customer service and experience whereas airports, security professionals, concessionaires, car rental companies etc are typically more focused on getting operational and transactional points of service as efficient as possible.
Co-operation and collaboration across entities will need improving and also need to balance the operational requirements with the softer factors of customer service across the board to ensure passengers are kept safe but also informed and both their practical and emotional needs looked after.
This will require collaboration to enhance service on the frontline. With training resources being pooled so all front-line staff can receive consistent training and ongoing coaching on a day-today basis. It’ll also require a greater level of standardisation on the quality measures of service across all airport and airline touchpoints. Developing a shared approach to service training and service standards will be a solid foundation to support the recovery effort.
Designing training so it’s more bite-sized and digital
Pre-Covid service training had begun move from being solely classroom based to being more digital and dynamic and this shift will have been accelerated by the pandemic.
With the front-line, having to work in a much more fluid environment it’ll require adopting digital training solutions that offer the opportunity to cut training into bite-sized but more regular sessions that can be delivered directly to staff’s personal devices or be completed remotely.
Designing and developing a new approach to delivering training content can not only ensure staff feel more supported, better connected to the company and their teams but also more engaged in creating a proud culture of service.
Design more useful ways to put operational data in the hands for the front-line
As well as digital training solutions the development of more dynamic service tools will be key to ensuring the front-line are consistent and up to date with the latest information.
Some solutions are out there, but solutions typically used with the aviation sector often fall short of what is required to support delivering service on the front-line in part because they don’t place emphasis on usability and an understanding of what data is useful for delivering service on the front-line.
The opportunity is to design and develop solutions with better user interfaces and functionality for helping the front-line deliver better customer service. It should still draw from the on-the-day operational data but filter it through a well-considered mobile application and user interface that is useful and useable for the front-line to use to support them to serve day-to-day service enquiries and offer them all the information and support they need.
This level of interface design should also extend to passengers with customer service support extending to digital channels and available while passengers at the airport. This can should include live chat, virtual help desks or using location-based audio guides and search to help navigate the airport without having to speak to a member of staff or wait in a congested area.
Challenge your commercial offer in line with passengers' digital shopping expectations
The impact on airport retail has been significant. For example, like many, Brisbane airport reported a 96% fail in retail earnings due to flight restrictions. In light of this, it seems increasingly clear that airports need to embrace and explore different models of retail in order to make it more fit-for-purpose for how people shop and ultimately make airport retail more resilient.
Whereas the emphasis in the restart phase was on trailing and creating work-arounds for the physical retail and food and beverage outlets. The reconfigure phase requires a bigger investment in digital retail propositions that can supplement or complement the more traditional duty-free model of retail. This should include the consideration of:
Embrace the opportunity to become a physical/digital marketplace
We’re likely to see many passengers wanting to browse products and services in advanced of their arrival, and pre-order items to ensure their availability. Increasingly they may also want to conduct their shopping at the airport or on the flight itself digitally and pick them up at a designated pick-up point on route.
Having an integrated digital retail model alongside physical stores also presents greater opportunity for retailers to be able to offer greater product ranges, more stock and variation and not limited by their shelf space as not all stock will be required to be on display but could be stored back of house.
Greater volume in digital retail will also open up a new level of retail intelligence and data that will allow for the tailoring of offers and refreshing the mix of retail to reflect passenger demand.
Use digital to create additional revenue streams
It’s not only traditional retail that could be explored but also to provide customers with access to free or paid for content. This content can be streamed via a customer’s own device and offers up new ad-based and content platform revenue models for airports to explore.
Some airports are already exploring and providing content as a service. Dubai Airports have already partnered with Middle Eastern media giant OSN to provide free access to premium streaming content from Disney+ and HBO.
Technology will play an important role in reconfiguring air travel to make it more fit for purpose. It’ll be able to tackle discreet challenges, but it’ll also present a myriad of opportunities that could change the experience of flying for the better.
But technology alone won’t be the silver bullet, it’ll require a developing a coherent vision for the experience for passengers and understanding the implications for operations, service and commercial. Doing so will help to develop the right requirements before investing in technology solutions and support you to make a sustained change for the longer-term.
As part of Engine’s 'Lead out of Lockdown’ webinar series, we’ll be delving into each phase in more detail to explore how to answer some of the key questions and what others are beginning to do to get back on track. If you liked this, you can read more on Planning for a new era of air travel & how to restart you passenger experience.