Long check-in queues, delayed flights and lost baggage – the typical airport experience is all too familiar to business travelers and holidaymakers alike. However, the emergence of big data is slowly changing the reality of using an airport. Transport hubs around the world are slowly trying to migrate away from being places of frustration and dissatisfaction by making use of available big data to become ‘smart airports’ – oases of calm that won’t make you feel like you need another holiday.
Sydney airport is one of the busiest airports in the world. It sees 37 million passengers and 300,000 flights per year. It is the gateway to Australia and is a key transit hub for travelers moving around Oceania and South-East Asia. It is just one of a new breed of smart airports.
Information about passengers, airlines, and baggage is key to effectively planning an airport’s service capacity, resource distribution, and staffing levels. In Sydney’s case the delay between the on-the-ground reality and production of charts, figures and reports led to a difficulty in offering a world-class customer service. The airport therefore took the decision to utilize big data to build detailed models of passenger and airline behavior so the airport could better plan its services.
The airport collaborated with IBM to use its SPSS Statistics package, a set of predictive analysis tools that allowed the airport operators to collate data from customs, baggage handlers, airline carriers, passengers, and in-airport shops. This allowed them to improve the customer experience by optimizing services as diverse as managing airport parking congestion, improving passenger lounge access, and optimizing the flow of product through duty-free shops.
Similar projects are underway in both London Gatwick and London Heathrow. The former has created an app that can follow a passenger from the moment of arrival to departure and can offer personalized services and information as they move through the airport, while the latter now combines sales data and flight information to give retailers an opportunity to improve their revenues.
It’s not just on the ground where big data is having an effect. Leading airlines are now using big data to improve their in-the-air safety. Many planes are now connected in real time to a control centre on the ground which can analyse the data streams that flow from on-board sensors and signal when maintenance is required. It means maintenance crews know the problem before a plane arrives at its destination and they can have the necessary parts ready, thus reducing delays and improving operating efficiency.
The in-flight experience is also being improved with big data. Qantas now combines several sources of passenger data in real-time to tailor their in-flight services. There are tangible benefits for its customers – for example – when a passenger had a dinner in the terminal prior to the flight Qantas can leave the person alone during the journey so they can enjoy sleep without being disturbed.
The shift towards smart air travel is undoubtedly transforming the way we use and interact with airports, as customer experiences improve and travelling frustrations decrease. Have you noticed big data improving your airport experience? Do you feel like airports and airlines already know too much of your personal information and you are uneasy with them knowing all of your habits? Let us know in the comments below.
By Daniel Price