AI and emerging technology: The key to a better travel experience?

Airports are intricate ecosystems that grapple with significant challenges, from customer experience to employee satisfaction and sustainability. At the same time, the advent of AI is set to increase human progress perhaps more than anything we’ve seen before. For airports to stay competitive and effectively solve the challenges they face, they must embrace the game-changing potential of AI and emerging technology.

Niklas Mortensen

AI could redefine the very essence of airports, transforming them from often-loathed spaces into highly efficient, sustainable, and user-centric environments for both passengers and employees alike. Let's delve into three key areas, supported by Designit's research, where AI and emerging tech have the most potential to propel the aviation industry into a new era.

Enhance the passenger experience

Personalised journey planning

Travel is increasingly incorporating self-service, but the approach to self-service is often siloed. AI can help bring many distinct elements together by leveraging passenger data such as travel history, preferences, and real-time context to offer customised journey plans. This could include recommendations for optimal travel routes to the airport, tips on best times to check in, and personalised shopping or dining suggestions within the airport.

AI can guide passengers in real-time to help them navigate gate changes and irregularities in flight operations based on their location within (or outside) the airport. Beyond technology, the prospect of crafting a more holistic travel experience can create new and exciting partnerships for airports, airlines, and the entire product and service ecosystem.

Intelligent signage and navigation

Smart signage can adapt in real-time to display information relevant to passengers nearby based on flight schedules, congestion areas, or even personal flight information. A combination of beacons, AI, and projection mapping can power indoor navigation apps to guide passengers through complex terminal layouts, helping them to find gates, lounges, or amenities with ease and enhancing the overall airport experience.

Automated check-ins and security

The area where emerging technology has the most potential to enhance the travel experience is also the area where technology has the most potential for harmful consequences. Done right, and with rigorous human (and regulatory) oversight, AI-powered systems can streamline the check-in process, allowing for safer and more efficient self-service options. Emerging technologies such as facial recognition can expedite identity verification and reduce bottlenecks at security checkpoints. By analysing passenger data, AI can also enhance security measures, flagging potential risks more effectively while ensuring a smoother process for travelers.

Optimise the employee experience

Streamlined communication

As Designit learned in our creation of the Altitude App for LAX, employee communication is the key to a great customer experience. With AI we can integrate various communication channels used by different entities within the airport such as airlines, ground staff, and security, ensuring everyone is on the same page. These systems can prioritise and relay critical information, reducing confusion and response times, especially during emergencies or irregular operational events.

Predictive maintenance and task management

By analysing data from various systems and sensors, AI paired with digital twins can predict when equipment or facilities might need maintenance, allowing for proactive servicing and reducing downtime. It can also optimise task distribution based on staff availability, skillsets, and current demand, improving operational efficiency and employee satisfaction.

Training and support

AI can help to further personalise training programs for employees based on their learning pace, areas of improvement, and career progression. In combination with AR-enabled headsets, employees can be equipped with real-time assistance, support, and training to reduce stress and enhance decision-making on the ground.

Boost operational efficiency

Resource allocation and scheduling

Airports are already using advanced algorithms to process vast amounts of data to forecast passenger traffic and demand patterns. With the help of sensors, intelligent cameras, and satellite data, AI can supercharge staff scheduling, resource allocation, and terminal operations to ensure optimal operational efficiency, especially during peak hours or irregular operations events to make sure employees, equipment, and facilities are set up for success.

Energy management

AI-driven predictive maintenance can help airports anticipate and prevent equipment failures, reducing the need for energy-intensive repairs. It can also monitor and control various systems within the airport to optimise both waste streams and energy usage. For example, it can adjust lighting and HVAC systems in real time based on occupancy and weather conditions, contributing to significant energy savings and reducing the airport's carbon footprint.

Baggage and cargo handling

With AI and NFC-enabled tags, airports can improve the accuracy and speed of baggage sorting systems, reducing the chances of lost or misdirected luggage and giving passengers full transparency of the whereabouts of their luggage – a big reason for the existence of arrival hall service desks. For cargo, AI can optimise loading and unloading processes, manage inventory, and track cargo in real-time, ensuring efficient and secure handling.

These are but a few of the use cases Designit is exploring in this space. By leveraging emerging technology across the full ecosystem, airports can not only enhance the experience for travelers and employees but also operate more sustainably and efficiently to better navigate stringent regulations and increased demands from travelers, airlines, and vendors alike.

Where do you start?

Often, organisations struggle to prioritise and implement new technology effectively. In addition, the lure of a new and shiny technology that promises to solve every problem gets in the way of defining the challenges that need solving. This is by far the reason why the majority of digital transformation projects fail to deliver the expected value on the other end.

Spearheaded by Jonathan Kahan and Miguel Sabel Pereira, Designit has created a series of AI-augmented innovation sprint workshops to empower organisations to advance their maturity and tangible implementation of emerging technology while also mitigating the usual pitfalls that impede most transformation and innovation projects in the organisational landscape.

AI has the potential to drive positive change, but the implementation of emerging technology comes with a lot of responsibility. As the French philosopher Paul Virilio said, "When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck." While this post does not dive into the ethics of working with emerging technologies like AI, this is something high on the agenda for Designit. To learn more, see Designit’s Do No Harm framework.

The possibilities of AI and emerging technology are boundless. As the discourse around AI matures, we look forward to continuing the exploration with our partners in the aviation sector and beyond. Do you want to explore the future with us? Reach out!