Airlines and airports are turning to location technology to guide more passengers through terminals and help them find services.
When sales manager Brett Fox and his family arrived at Miami International Airport, he discovered the turn-by-turn direction feature on American Airlines’ app.
With it, he could find La Carreta, a Cuban restaurant where he had dined years before but whose name he could not remember.
He did a search for Cuban restaurants at the airport, found La Carreta, and the app “showed us exactly where it was and the best way to get there.”
The capability on American’s app, known as “wayfinding”, is part of a growing trend among airlines and airports to use smartphones along with other technologies to make the airport experience smoother and less stressful.
American’s app uses Wi-Fi to give travelers customised information and directions on its airport maps. Other apps use sensors called beacons that help figure out the shortest security or customs and immigration lines.
The American Airlines app offers turn-by-turn directions on maps of Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Soon directions will be available for La Guardia Airport in New York City, Los Angeles International Airport and Heathrow Airport in London.
Albert van Veen, chief information officer of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, said its app could help reduce passengers’ stress and create a seamless journey “without the hassle of checking paper documents all the time.”
Many of the new systems require travelers to download an app from an airline or the airport. While some use Wi-Fi to provide information to travelers, others use beacons, which are transmitters that use Bluetooth technology to communicate with travelers.
In a survey last year, SITA found 30 per cent of airports worldwide “are planning major investments with sensor technology over the next three years, with a further 51 per cent evaluating the technology.”
Besides allaying travelers’ concerns about getting through security, wait-time data can also alert security officials to processing bottlenecks.
One app feature that could potentially irritate travelers is the capability of bombarding them with unsolicited commercial offers. Also, privacy advocates are concerned about the data that marketers could potentially collect about travelers through such apps.
Henry Harteveldt, an Atmosphere Research travel analyst, said travelers “are still trying to figure out what the real value is, if the services offered are compelling enough to download one more app to their phone.”