The post-pandemic airport

Issue 6 2021 Editor's Choice

There’s no doubt but that the global travel industry has suffered greatly through the Covid-19 pandemic. As governments worldwide imposed restrictions and closed borders to protect their populations, air traffic dropped significantly, leaving many airports empty. As a result, the air travel industry experienced a 94% reduction in its business. With ongoing travel restrictions and quarantine measures, recovering from the Covid-19 crisis will not be easy. But there is hope.

After more than a year of lockdowns, businesses and jet-setters alike are preparing to make travel plans once again. However, many are understandably apprehensive about flying. Travellers have new expectations about health and safety measures and simply returning to the way things were is not enough to ensure that they feel safe. The global travel industry is working to rebuild passenger confidence in air travel safety as they continue to mitigate virus transmission.

For years, airports have been focusing on providing passengers with positive experiences. Today, this focus must also include ways to increase travellers’ trust in an airport’s health and safety measures. Many airports have already begun to implement new strategies and best practices and as air traffic slowly resumes, passenger confidence will surely grow.

Visible upgrades can rebuild passenger trust

For airports, implementing solutions that combat the transmission of infectious diseases like the coronavirus, is a vital part of any rebuilding strategy. A large part of increasing passenger confidence will come from visible health and safety measures.

At airports, this includes expanding spaces to ensure that people can maintain safe distances from others. Providing the space necessary for physical distancing at gate rooms, shops, restaurants and bars will give passengers peace of mind. Other practical and visible measures include installing plexiglass screens at service points like check-in, security and immigration. Additionally, making PPE, including N95 masks, face shields and gloves mandatory for front line staff can help to increase passenger trust.

High standards of hygiene and cleanliness are also crucial for ensuring positive passenger experiences. An effective measure is the deployment of clearly marked hand washing facilities and sanitisation stations in key locations. Introducing portable sinks or hand sanitiser bottles at checkpoints or between gates can help passengers feel safer and more sanitary. Another potential measure is making janitorial staff more visible and approachable for passengers. For instance, at Seattle Tacoma Airport, janitors wear unique uniforms and have been trained on proactive customer engagement.

Technology can also play a vital role in rebuilding passenger confidence in the travel industry. From anti-bacterial trays at checkpoints to touchless technology and advanced passenger flow management systems, airports are using technology to reintroduce health and safety.

For example, to reduce the chances of transmission some airports are introducing technology like disinfection robots and automated UV-emitting baggage disinfection tunnels to keep surfaces clean. Additionally, advanced thermal screening helmets are commonly used to reduce risk.

Touchless tech and biometric solutions

Like many business centres, airports are starting to see the value of introducing contactless solutions across all parts of the passenger journey. The overall strategy is to keep passengers safe by reducing interactions with surfaces through measures like touchless bathrooms and automatic access and boarding gates. Additionally, using reserve-and-collect retail options and downloadable apps for pre-ordering food, passengers can enjoy all of the amenities offered by an airport without worrying about contaminated surfaces.

Combining contactless solutions with biometric technology has enabled some airports to make the entire experience touchless. An excellent example of this is at Hamad International Airport in Qatar. To help reduce crowding and unnecessary contact, the airport recently streamlined its departure process by combining a passenger’s flight, passport and facial biometric information into a single travel token at the self-check-in kiosk.

Biometric solutions like those at Hamad International Airport makes the digital identity record of a passenger’s face their essential piece of identification at points like the self-service bag drop, pre-immigration and the self-boarding gate. An airport’s investment in biometric identification technology allows passengers to move quickly and easily through key touchpoints with minimal contact and helps the airport reduce the transmission of Covid-19.

Adjusting standard operating procedures

In addition to all of the visual upgrades, airports are also deploying solutions at the operational level. Implementing consistent practices and policies through standard operating procedures (SOPs) is one effective strategy for ensuring passenger health and safety. SOPs can help airport staff manage boarding and disembarking procedures more effectively.

By making consistent health screening guidelines a part of SOPs an airport can protect passengers and staff more effectively. Operational measures like this ensure that everyone coming through the facility has undergone the same screening process.

Additionally, airports can further improve the efficiency and effectiveness of health measures through automation. Using their existing access control system (ACS) in conjunction with a collaborative decision management solution, like Mission Control from Genetec, airports can help increase passenger processing capacity and reduce queues. With shorter processing times and fewer lines, maintaining physical distancing and other sanitation procedures will be easier.

An airport can set up a decision management solution to enact different disembarking procedures according to risk factors. Deplaning procedures could be easily adapted depending on whether the passengers are from low-risk countries or from countries still profoundly affected by the pandemic. After determining the level of risk associated with a plane’s country of origin, Mission Control, together with the ACS, can automatically direct passengers to the assigned areas within the airport for screening and processing. The ACS seamlessly guides passengers by automatically opening and closing doors along their route.

Physical security systems can manage occupancy

The management of occupancy is vital for mitigating the spread of Covid-19. To maintain proper physical distancing throughout their facilities, airports need up-to-date and live occupancy information. Knowing exactly how many people are in any given space at any time is crucial. Flexibility and adaptability are also vital in airports as management teams must adjust procedures quickly according to changing government regulations.

Today, airports are leveraging physical security technologies, including ACS, video, video analytics and Light Detection Ranging (LiDAR), to manage occupancy throughout their environments.

LiDAR technology can help airports with crowd monitoring, as the solution tracks and analyses all the data it collects. Unlike similar options, LiDAR technology can track more than just one or two people of interest and capture the precise distance, shape and position of people and objects in real-time and deliver actionable information.

Airports can use this information to manage occupancy in two ways. Firstly, airports can use the solution for people counting in high traffic spaces. A LiDAR solution can accurately determine how many people are in an area and whether or not they are physical distancing by looking at the data in real-time. Secondly the technology can be used to aggregate data and investigate trends over time. For instance, the solution can determine how long passengers are waiting on average at various locations and then make any required staffing adjustments.

In addition to supporting health and safety measures, this type of actionable data can improve operational efficiency. The implementation and initial investment of an airport into LiDAR technology can help airports optimise passenger experience. For example, by tracking trolley usage an airport can use the aggregated data to adjust their availability.

Keeping passengers in the know

Access to reliable information can also boost passenger confidence. Airports are now developing tools, including apps and public-facing web portals that provide up-to-date information about the health measures in place around the world. In addition to allowing airports to share information about their health and safety measures, these tools let passengers know what they can expect at every phase of their journey.

Now, passengers can find out ahead of time the documents and tests required for pre-travel, departure and arrival. They can also see if an airport has self-declaration, medical facilities, hand sanitiser stations, or new security processes. Making this information available allows passengers to prepare in advance, which reduces delays and eases the flow of people moving through facilities.

The recovery of the travel industry is a crucial part of the wider global economic recovery. Technology can play a crucial part in the building of passenger confidence; an important step in getting people moving again.


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