One of the most significant ways to increase air travel satisfaction in the Social Age is to offer more power and control to the passenger.

In the Information Age, advancements in technology provided ways for consumers to understand the constraints and opportunities in the world around them. In the Social Age, more prominence is placed on social factors when adopting and/or extending technology and information. Those societal interactions place emphasis on experiences and sharing, which results in higher expectations.  

Consider the perception of the passenger experience at an airport, where multiple influences converge within the passenger terminal: restroom cleanliness, comfortable temperatures on a boarding bridge, touchless interactions, queuing and dwell times, health and wellness assessments, light and sound levels, and more. Each of these offers opportunity for improvements in the passenger experience that can lower anxiety and increase satisfaction throughout the journey. In today’s seamless travel, no single entity controls all areas of impact; rather, each party contributes to an accumulation that becomes the overall experience. Because many aspects of the journey are individual components belonging to the airline, it is vital for the airport to optimize its contributions to the experience.  

Through the deployment of 5G and Wi-Fi 6 technology, related sensors, and the analysis of data, advancements of many types can be made to the passenger experience. This type of analysis requires a large amount of integrated data that can be processed in real time to provide predictive and accurate information. 5G and its low latency matters in collecting and transmitting this type of data in a time-sensitive manner.

New and emerging health and wellness protocols may demand biometrics information such as body temperature assessments. This type of screening might be used to provide an overall metric or it might be used specifically to alert for possible risks. Touchless technologies can be implemented that provide check-in and bag drop opportunities without spreading germs on surfaces.

An airport app can reserve times to progress through security processing points without standing in a long line. Once processed, passenger queueing and dwell times can be utilized for simple control points like alerting passengers as they approach congested areas or identifying locations of crowded restrooms. Deployment of technology also allows for improvements in the physical realm that either directly or indirectly impact the passenger experience.  

Passenger boarding bridges (PBBs) offer an example of direct impact to the passenger experience through environmental controls such as heating and cooling. If it is freezing cold on a PBB, the airport can either learn about it on social media as the flight is boarding or it can proactively monitor the ambient temperature before boarding to make adjustments to the controls. But that decision is available in real time only if data is available for alerting. Low-cost sensors can be deployed and then data transmitted wirelessly to the cloud for rapid analytics and action.

PBBs also offer an example of an indirect impact to passenger experience by means of facilities maintenance and control. For example, suppose a mechanical element of a PBB is beginning to fail. A wireless sensor deployed on that component to monitor heat or vibration could be transmitting data to an analytics engine in the cloud that begins to observe a deterioration trend. Maintenance can then be alerted to replace or repair that asset before it fails completely. In this case, the passenger experience has been indirectly improved because a bad situation has been avoided. It is wise to focus on both types of influence: those that positively impact the passenger and those that avoid a negative impact. In both instances, availability of data makes it possible because wireless sensors had a network that could rapidly transmit information.

Restroom cleanliness is often cited as a direct influencer of passenger experience scoring algorithms, and with very good reason: The implications of a dirty restroom are obvious. But how can an airport use data from a smart restroom to better manage a facility? Metrics that tie restroom cleanliness to service quality awards are well-understood, if only in hindsight or in batch mode. But what about metrics that tie facilities maintenance to restroom cleanliness? If the restroom-to-passenger is one degree of separation, then facilities maintenance is degree two. If a dollar can be spent on maintenance of a restroom to avoid a bad passenger experience, shouldn’t that analysis be available to those managing facilities control? Directly creating a positive passenger experience, like cleaning the restroom, is one perspective — one degree of separation — but don’t overlook the avoidance of a bad passenger experience, like preventive maintenance, as equally worthy of attention. An airport generates multiple value propositions from this vantage point, including better control of its maintenance staff and budgets.

Once data is readily available there are technologies designed to measure, monitor and predict operational requirements throughout the life cycle of the built space. These applications, once tied to the data generated by the sensors, can be utilized for work order management, predictive and preventive maintenance, and operational control of systems. Each of these has a real-world impact on passenger experience as described earlier. This data can be further leveraged to provide insights into a building’s energy performance over time. Along with continuous commissioning, these insights can positively affect energy use over time as demand, consumption and cost are better understood. In addition to the energy usage benefits, predictive modeling can be used to assign cleaning and maintenance staff to locations before issues are identified by passengers. This approach is especially efficient when data and work order history along with relevant flight information (i.e., passenger counts, peak periods, etc.) is leveraged.

It is imperative that airports take advantage of technology advances to seize each opportunity when it becomes available. Today’s consumer is tech savvy and demands an immersive, rich experience at an airport. Many aspects of the journey are beyond the passenger’s control, so the portions that can be controlled must be maximized. The greatest yield is obtainable when ubiquitous, high-speed networks are combined with sensors and data analysis.


This is the fourth in our “Investing in Airport Technology” blog series. By measuring and monitoring existing airport assets, new opportunities for business improvement become possible.

Read the Third Blog in the Series

Stu Garrett specializes in aviation information technology and special systems. He has more than 17 years of experience in enhancing 16 of the world’s largest airports, helping clients find new technology solutions that provide passenger convenience and operational efficiency.