aviation industry

Digital technologies enhance customer experience in the aviation industry

Digital technologies can personalise our daily experiences, from the tailored newsfeeds we receive on our smartphones to suggested workouts we get from online personal trainers. The aviation industry is well aware of the potential such technologies hold and is using them to personalise their customers’ travel experience. 

While most airlines recognise the opportunity that digital technologies present to optimise customer experience, many do not understand how to incorporate them into their services. Here we identify three technologies that can enhance passengers’ interactions as they pass through airport buildings to board their flights with minimum delay or interruption.

1 – Cybersecurity

In a 2015 global survey, 85% of airline CEOs said they considered cybersecurity a significant risk. This is understandable given the ultra-sensitive nature of flight systems and passenger data, in addition to the fact that standards for cybersecurity within airports have tended to focus on aircraft control systems.

Airport sustainability is another factor that must be considered. Traditionally, airports try to restrain operating costs to allow airlines fly in and out as efficiently as possible. Cybersecurity measures do cost and thus are an investment burden on the airport operator. The varying size of airports is another issue. Larger airports may have dedicated IT staff but their smaller counterparts most likely do not, and offer would-be attackers a weak point to enter the system.

Blockchain technology, however, is providing some ballast against this onslaught. It may be more familiar to Bitcoin and banking transactions, but it holds significant possibilities for identity management and other aviation-related interactions. Combined with biometrics technology, blockchain could allow passengers to quickly share a subset of their personal and biometric data at airport security, avoiding the need to present their ID cards and have them inspected.

2 – Internet of Things

Coverage of the potential for IoT to change every facet of our lives is ubiquitous. To provide focus in this article, we concentrate on some examples where airlines have already started experimenting with IoT to improve customer experiences.

At Helsinki airport, dozens of sensors locate and track people’s smartphones as they move from car park to terminal. This helps airport operator Finavia to anticipate and prevent bottlenecks, as well as allowing retailers to send location-based offers to potential customers.

Passengers at Miami airport can download a localised  app which connects them to a series of beacons dotted around the terminal. Users then scan their boarding pass and receive turn-by-turn navigation guides to their gate, as well as estimated walk times and real-time flight updates.

Taking a step back from directly enhancing passenger experiences, London City Airport has developed a sensor network and data hub to better understand passenger flow and behaviour. Their project measures passenger journey time through the airport, as well as tracking assets such as 3G and WiFi-enabled devices.

It is expected that IoT will help address other challenges, such as safety and environmental efficiency, in the aviation industry too. EasyJet, for instance, has introduced uniforms with wearable tech. The new suits contain LEDs and built-in microphones to improve communication among staff and to help them provide safety updates to passengers. Airbus recently partnered with Microsoft to introduce intelligence into their aircraft engines. Information on engine health, air traffic control, route restrictions, and fuel use are being methodically analysed to improve performance.

3 – Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is a view of a physical environment, but with various elements enhanced by computer-generated sensory input. This could include sound, video, graphics or GPS data.

Impacts of augmented reality (AR) in aviation fall into two main categories, with respect to personalising users’ experiences. The first is training and support for airline staff, including pilots and technical ground crew. These roles can be highly stressful and it is vital that easy access is provided to information such as inspection details, manuals, and the latest knowledge base. In a study at Boeing, one group of trainees had access to a PDF on a computer, while another group was given the same information through an AR app on a tablet. The AR group performed 30% faster and was 90% more accurate than the PDF group.

The second key impact of AR on customer experience in the aviation industry involves enhancing passengers’ views of their surroundings in the airport building. Both static and dynamic information sources can be accommodated, as well as various functionalities such as blinking twice to mimic a mouse click. In 2016, Emirates launched the world’s first interactive amenity kit for its economy class. By downloading an AR app onto their phones, passengers can scan the patterns on their bags and unlock content including activities and health tips for a more comfortable flight.

Despite a slow start, the effects of digital technologies on customer experience have finally taken to the skies. The days of losing your way in the airport building or missing the ‘final call’ for your flight are likely to be things of the past as you seamlessly glide from car park through security checks and onto the boarding gate of your flight, stopping briefly to purchase a half-price offer on access to the Members Lounge for your next trip.

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