Like a good maître d’, the airport of the future will recognise you, greet you by name and know exactly where to put you.
Airports around the world are beginning to move in this direction. At London’s Gatwick Airport, beacons identify you by your smartphone and give GPS-like directions to your gate, pointing out food or shopping along the way. In Germany, robots at Düsseldorf’s airport park your car and return it curbside after you land, linking your itinerary to your license plate. Researchers are developing robots that will be able to check your bags and deliver them within minutes of landing.
The idea is to cut costs, speed up travel and make airports more hospitable. In theory, travellers will be more relaxed, with time to get work done, shop or enjoy entertainment since the airport will track their time and location and tell them where they need to be. Travellers may fret less about sitting down at a nice restaurant when a flight is delayed, rather than camping at the gate.
San Francisco International Airport has 350 beacons installed in Terminal 2 and is testing an app that can give visually impaired passengers audible directions. American Airlines has signed on to a beacon roll-out to help customers find their way, starting at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
In theory, with technology to speed up travel, airports will be more hospital and travellers will have more time to relax, get work done, shop or enjoy entertainment.
By 2018, 44% of airlines world-wide plan to use beacons, compared with 9% that have experimented with the technology currently, according to a survey this year by SITA, an aviation information and communications company.
SITA is looking at whether it could make a robot to check bags, says Jim Peters, the firm’s chief technology officer. Travellers would self-tag, or have a permanent-use bag tag that identifies them. Robots would pick up the bags and maybe even deliver them, speeding up the process and reducing manual labour costs. “Managing your baggage and not making it a pain is a part of the airport of the future,” Mr. Peters says. The number of airlines offering self-tagging bag drop, but without robots, has increased to 17% from 9% last year. That is expected to rise to 74% of airlines by 2018, according to the SITA technology survey.