Traveling has always been one of my favorite things in the world. Pre covid, I used to travel as much as I could. I may be crazy, but I truly enjoyed flying by myself and turning all my technology off and disconnecting from the world, at least for a little while.
Air travel has changed a lot in the past years, in a study by McKinsey it is said that 8 in 10 companies have implemented some digital transformation in the last 5 years. Doing the pre check process online is something we now take completely for granted. But do you remember how it was done before? I remember it vividly, taking my suitcase to the airline’s office, making a line and waiting to be pre checked in by a customer service representative. They would then weight my bag, provide tags for it and issue the boarding passes. Flash forward ~15 years and we can do the entire check in process from the comfort of your home (or wherever you have access to the internet). You can create an account and upload a picture of your passport and visas for future use.
The online personalization and customization of your travel experience is something that keeps improving year over year. Simple features that before would take hours of being on hold on the phone or had the need to physically go to the office to do can be done from the app or website. But not all the benefits are for the passenger, in a study by Conztanz it was shown that there was 15% increase in revenue for airlines that offered personalized offers. For example the Emirates Airlines studied over 2 billion user journeys over the course of 4 years, the finding allowed them to better enhance the customer experience which resulted in an increase of 1% in revenue per passenger.
While traveling a few weeks ago I noticed an extra step in the online check in process. It would not allow me to fully check in and obtain your boarding passes until a negative covid test was uploaded and verified. The ability to do this in advance no only saves time at the airport for both the customer service reps and the passenger, but also makes sure you know about the requirements and that they are all met prior to getting to the airport.
Another way in which digital transformation has benefited the airline industry is in crisis and disruption management. Delays and cancellations are every day occurrences. By having an automated system that pushes notifications to the passenger it can save a lot of time and confusion. It also improves the customer experience and decreases the workload of airline personnel in the event of a flight disruption. The airline algorithms automatically rebook and confirm the cancelled flights to the best alternative flight, and changes can be made all online at the user’s convenience. This is one of the features I am most grateful for and one that has saved me personally a lot of time and stress.
The clear digitalization of these processes have improved the overall user experience. How much time has making these processes virtual saved the millions of people who travel every day?
So what at other ways digital transformation is happening in the airline industry?
Virtual reality for in flight entertainment
Inflight VR and Qatar Airways have launched a pilot program in 2020 to offer a virtual reality experience for business class passengers. While the results and takeaways have not been published and probably impacted due to covid, I believe this will become a common form of entertainment in the years to come. Infligt VR promotes its system by having one of the largest library of VR content for different demographics and by leveraging the popular VR technology to increase the companies net promoter score.
Facial recognition for International travel
Facial recognition technology has been growing in recent years. On a flight to El Salvador in early 2020 through the Atlanta airport I experienced the new biometric system that had been implemented across terminal F. This system used my face to in the complete my check in process, verify my identity TSA security check point and most shockingly to board my flight without my passport. At the time of boarding the airline rep asked us to form a line and stand in front of the screen that would take your photo, once it got verified within second you would see a check that meant your identity had been verified and printed a receipt with your seat number. I admit I was impressed with the efficiency and the technology I had experienced but at the same time had questions about privacy. Upon further research I found out that using the biometric system is not mandatory and you can opt out, but you are opted in by default.
This process has 7 steps:
- The airline creates a passenger manifest and shares it with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
- US Customs and Border Patrol creates a photo gallery from existing photographs based on the passenger manifest shared in step 1.
- Passenger takes picture/photo at the touch point
- Photo is encrypted and de-identified and shared with Customs and Border Protection to be verified against the gallery created in step 3
- CBP sends verification with indicator of how to proceed (check for verified, cross for not verified). Receipt is printed with basic information (name and seat number)
- CBP records who leaves the country
- Customer is ready to move forward (board flight, pass TSA check, etc)
I believe this process will be widely implemented across busy airports and in future implemented for domestic travel. It has proven to save 20 seconds per person, which translates to about 9 minutes per flight. In terms of privacy, the pictures taken in the touch points are deleted after 12 hours, therefore they are not collected and saved for future use.
So, how do you see air traveling changing as more digital technologies are implemented?