Return to the airport: re-nurturing passenger confidence with data

How are some of the world's top airports securing the safe transits of their passengers and crews using data?
14 September 2021

The Zaventem Skyhall in Brussels airport. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

Increased vaccination rates and heightened awareness of safety measures are raising hopes for the wider resumption of air travel. Moreover, as the world accepts the reality of living with COVID-19, airports are implementing various data strategies with the aim to build up passengers’ confidence and peace of mind, as they seek to satisfy their pent-up desire to travel across borders.  

Data plays a big part in shaping a seamless and safe passenger journey at the airport, that begins in the planning stage. Insights driven by artificial intelligence (AI), data mining, and big data analytics can help forecast and develop advanced schedules and responses. Instead of doing trial and error or taking a wait-and-see approach, the predictions can be used to fine-tune planning and decision-making, and lessen the risks of disruptions causing annoyance to passengers and staff. 

Data provided a significant advantage that Brussels Airport found useful in weathering uncertainties. “With covid-19 shaking customer trust in air travel, passenger satisfaction became even more critical for us at Brussels Airport, and we now aim for waiting times to never exceed 10 minutes. 

This is only possible because passenger forecasts are regularly shared with our screening provider, from which we dynamically order different numbers of open lanes and staffing depending on traffic peaks,” said Fran Kauzlaric, Innovation Lead at Brussels Airport Company, in the International Airport Review. “Our ability at Brussels to tell the future has proven to be one of the most useful and important innovations of the recent crisis.”

Data can be an essential ally to ensuring the smooth running of the airport, as well as the wellbeing and protection of the passengers and crews. An integrated sharing of real-time information — such as tracking people’s movement, identification of gathering hotspots, and predictive analysis of occupancy density — between all the stakeholders allows for a collaborative effort to constantly meet the health and safety standards expected at an internationally-renowned airport.  

Crowd management analysis, meanwhile, can be indispensable in maintaining the social distancing requirements that need to be enforced nowadays — particularly in travel transit points that can expect heavy foot traffic, like an airport..

The Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport has also turned to big data and AI technologies to forecast passenger flow in its terminals. As a result, the airport can also diffuse bottlenecks caused by the heavy flow of passenger cars’ traffic throughout the day. This has proven successful in minimising the trade-off between a comfortable passenger experience and the cost of managing airport processes.

“Big data and AI are becoming increasingly essential for airport management, Since the application of big data has proven to be successful, the operational staff is now raising additional topics that are in need of analytical techniques,” said Marc Houalla, the Deputy Executive Director of Groupe ADP and the MD of Paris‑Charles De Gaulle Airport.

A Deloitte report on the issue said: “Airports, concessionaires, airlines, ground handlers, and other partners need to align on staffing plans and resources to avoid over-or-under staffing, particularly given the interdependencies between services provided. Each must also acknowledge their role in services ramp up and identify where they can accommodate fluctuations and changes – recognizing that each may need to identify specific areas in which they can be flexible in how and when they deliver services.”

Post-pandemic, passengers are also having different expectations on service response as they become more conscious of the space around them, and seek a better sense of control over it. Therefore, opening more channels for them to report service issues not only helps the airport be more effective and timelier in their actions it also fosters an intangible connection between both parties.

 “We’re finding that the pandemic has not only raised concerns about customer experience, it has also increased willingness to give feedback on it,” said Emanuele Calà, Head of Innovation and Quality at Aeroporti di Roma, in the International Airport Review. “Knowing that the airport is interested and acting on the mood data that we collect is empowering for the customer

Furthermore, by collecting real-time mood data, we can foster experiences that evoke positive emotions like trust, safety, and reliability, which are critical in today’s travel environment.”   

Data helps to smooth out passengers’ journeys already fraught with worry and safety protocols during their travels. Better planning, real-time insights, and responses resulting from more purposeful data providing relevant information to the airport staff, can ease passengers’ stress in adapting to the new norms of air travel.