Top Ten Air Travel Innovations

Your Next Air Trip Will Be Better

By Kristina Kulyabina

Self boarding gates in Germany.
Self boarding gates in Germany.

Think it’s weird seeing a five-year-old kid texting his pal while eating dinner at a restaurant with his parents? Well, it’s time to accept the fact that technology is advancing at a fast rate – and airports and airlines are certainly taking advantage of it. Below are ten recent innovations within international and domestic airports that will radically change the experience for air travelers.

Self-boarding at gates

In the summer of 2012, McCarran Airport of Las Vegas introduced a subway-like turnstile at Terminal 3 in which passengers scan their boarding passes to open the automated clearance gates and board planes on their own. These self-boarding stations include both domestic and international flights and are mostly seen in airports within Europe and Asia. Gate agents remain present to make sure travelers do not encounter any problems.

In Miami, after a $6 billion capital improvement campaign, self boarding will be rolled out at selected terminals in 2013.

Tag your bag high-tech style

McCarran’s Terminal 3 also features a high-tech baggage handling system where airport workers attach a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip to each checked bag to prevent the loss of luggage. The RFID tag is scanned more quickly and easily than tags with bar codes, helping airport workers to sort and track baggage, leading to faster delivery at baggage claim. McCarran Airport has 55 sensors installed to track a bag at every stop hassle-free with a signal similar to a radio transmitter.

Or do-it yourself

Although this is a standard practice outside the U.S., tagging your own bag is still a relatively new concept to passengers in the states. Last summer Alaska Airlines became the first U.S. airline to set up machines that allow passengers to tag their own bags. A passenger starts off by printing out a bag tag at an airport kiosk and then places the tag on the luggage on his/her own. Once tagged, the bag is handed off to an agent to be placed on a conveyor belt without wasting anytime waiting in line to receive a tag from an airline worker.

Tablet play at terminals

You’ve seen iPads and Kindles everywhere, especially at the airport. Now several airports in Europe are taking advantage of wireless tablet computers that are connected to the airline’s reservations system and hand-held by airline workers who walk around terminals to process transactions. Instead of making the passenger leave his spot to walk up to the podium, the airline worker comes to the passenger and asks if he/she wants to upgrade his flight including priority boarding or more legroom. Airlines are stepping it up with customer satisfaction through this technology innovation.

Cell phones replace boarding passes

Android phones, with nearly one million new units sold every two days on average, currently contain near-field communication (NFC) chips that emit a short-range signal that transmits data even when a device is turned off. These chips serve as a payment tool and they also allow phones to be used as a replacement for the bar code on a boarding pass. Wifi in the sky...on your next trip, maybe you can watch your own streaming movie!

Passengers can get their boarding passes emailed on their phone and simply scan the code on their screens to avoid waiting in line. However, if the barcode doesn’t load for some reason or if a downloaded app is not working, then this is when the NFC chip comes in handy as long as the airport or airline has NFC sensors installed. Travelers also don’t have to worry about losing a paper-boarding pass.

Face Scans

In order to step up security at its borders, London’s Heathrow Airport plans to scan passengers’ faces for identification upon entering and leaving the departure area. The airport has expressed worry over the possibility of international passengers trading boarding passes with someone in the lounge to sneak onto a domestic flight, ultimately avoiding an immigration check.

Passengers will step up to an automatic gate and wave the barcode of the boarding pass over a scanner that allows an infrared light to flash across the flier’s face. This process automatically and accurately identifies a person up to three feet away. The doors automated doors will only open if the person’s face matches the image saved in a database recorded when the passenger entered the departure gates earlier.

Iris Scans

London’s Gatwick Airport has also been utilizing a scanning system, which uses iris scans in its south terminal’s departure area where a joint lounge holds domestic and international passengers as well. The airport has implemented 34 AOptix InSight VM iris recognition devices among the entrances and exits to the lounge to record the specific patterns within the irises of a passenger’s eye. This recording is stored as a temporary form of identification for when passengers are scanned to go in and out of the departure lounge, similar to the Heathrow Airport.

Wi-Fi in the sky

If you haven’t already heard, passengers can now receive more reliable and widespread Internet access while on the plane. Airlines that offer in-flight Wi-Fi rely on the “air-ground” system of beaming access up from a land-based tower, which means international travelers struggle for signal since the waters are a dead-zone for Wi-Fi.

However, some airlines have recently re-addressed this issue and are looking to improve Wi-Fi while flying overseas by investing in air-based Internet satellites for consistent Wi-Fi all over the globe. It’s still a work in progress, but if successful, passengers can finally watch a movie they enjoy while international airlines can capitalize on business travel.

My TSA mobile app

Your boarding pass on your cellphone: everybody will do it soon.

Own a smartphone and travel often? Then maybe you should consider getting the My TSA mobile application that provides passengers with 24/7 access to the most frequently requested airport security information on any mobile device. Using this device can help passengers save time to prepare for security before arriving to the airport, including what items can and can’t go through security in checked or carry- on baggage.

The feature “wait-time” gives passengers the ability to share their checkpoint wait time and see what wait times other passengers have posted for U.S. airports. The app also includes real-time, airport-wide delays for weather and overall security.

Live in-flight TV service

JetBlue is now offering 36 free live channels courtesy of DirectTV, including popular channels such as ESPN, Comedy Central, and the Travel Channel. Virgin America paired up with Dish Network to begin offering a new in-flight entertainment that includes television channels at every seat. It also offers 25 pay-per-view Hollywood movies on demand. Now passengers can no longer complain of boredom on their long flights and actually stay entertained for a long period of time.

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