The future of SA airports? Putting the passenger in charge of (almost) everything except piloting the plane

2019-05-22 12:00 - Marisa Crous
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What will the passenger journey look like from drop-off to boarding gate in a few years to come? 

Earlier this year, the Airports Company South Africa’s (ACSA) top brass attended the World Airport Expo, hosted by Heathrow Airport. Deon Cloete, General Manager of Cape Town International Airport told Traveller24 that more and more airports around the world are cultivating a hospitable environment to grow the so-called 'trusted traveller'.

Seeing travellers in an autonomous light, those with good track-records will be able to experience effortless movement from drop-off to boarding gate. The reality will be one that sees an airport function at a much higher efficiency level because the passenger is put in charge to some extent, by means of technology.

READ: UPDATE: What travellers need to know about SA's airport e-gates and e-visas pilots

Last year, Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana opened its shiny and new Terminal 3 in association with ACSA, complete with top-notch security, like state-of-the-art x-rays, a hyper-modern baggage handling system and I-validate technology (a system that electronically validates your boarding pass before heading into security check), and more. 


(I-validate technology, Kotoka International Airport, Accra, Ghana. PHOTO: Marisa Crous)

Cloete says North American airports, in particular, are now invested in predictive behaviour technology to 'profile' individuals based on their travelling behaviour. Fast-track facilities will enable these travellers to self-service (almost) most of their journey: from baggage-check to check-in, to immigration and even boarding. 

READ: Tired of dingy, smelly and overcrowded airport bathrooms? What OR Tambo is planning for you

OR Tambo International Airport General Manager, Bongiwe Pityi says that airports need to be embrace the ability to be agile at all times, and stay abreast of the latest technology to enhance customer experience. "Consumers that are well-travelled expect this...," she notes.

"A strong focus was placed, by all of these airports, on implementing what is known as IATA Fast Travel Programme, wherein they are now automating the various touch-points for a customer. From check-in to baggage induction, immigration, e-gates, self-boarding, as well as, in our case (OR Tambo), the refurbishment or upgrade of our common-use, self-service kiosks," Pityi says. 

The Fast Travel programme addresses the future of travel, incorporating self-service options and much more choices for passengers - ultimately lowering costs for the industry. "Fast Travel provides self-service options in six areas of the passenger journey, representing annual savings of up to US$ 2.1 billion for the industry. By creating uniform standards and recommended practices, IATA facilitates industry adoption of these projects and a better travel experience for the customer, " says IATA.

Businesses and stakeholders need to work on an integrated level within airports. This, can start in smaller ways, for example by processing passengers in a more streamlined way, by affording various airlines the chance to use the same bank of counters for check-in instead of having designated counters for specific airlines.

If processing is better, faster, more efficient, the customer is happier, calmer and feels in control. The anxiety is removed from the equation. Which, in turn leads to them spending more money at the airport's shops and restaurants. Which, ultimately, could lead to us seeing flights at reduced prices, because non-aeronautical revenue is up. 

READ: Why that duty-free perfume at the airport could lead to cheaper airline tickets

The future focus of airports is firmly on creating an ecosystem that allows the passenger, by means of streamlined processes and tech, the ability to have the a calm journey from start to finish.

In the past, Cloete says, "...airports were built around people". Now, people are right at the centre of it. 

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