Report Says Airline Industry Is Making Connections to the IoT

Travelers are ever more engaged with their smartphones, and airports and airlines are eager to leverage beacons to engage more with them.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Mar 10, 2016

Have smartphone, will travel. That is the message that SITA, a provider of communications and IT services to the air travel industry, received from its 2015 Passenger IT Trends Survey, which showed that air passengers are increasingly comfortable with and interested in using their smartphones to book flights, check into flights and manage boarding passes. In a new report called The Future Is Connected, SITA describes the ways in which airlines and airports hope to further engage with their customers through their phones and the Internet of Things.

"For connected travelers, the IoT offers opportunities to link with the air transport industry's IT ecosystem to manage and personalize their journey from their own smart mobile device, on the ground and in the air," says the report, which lists a number of early-stage projects that airlines and airports are deploying in order to enable that vision.

Some airlines and airports offer travelers mobile phone applications that infer their location by leveraging Google's indoor mapping system, which uses cellular communications and Wi-Fi access points to estimate travelers' locations inside the airport. These apps can direct fliers to their gate or baggage-claim areas based on their flight number.

But mobile applications that leverage networks of Bluetooth beacons inside airports and the Bluetooth radio inside a traveler's phone can generate more granular location data.

The SITA report notes that United Airlines customers at New York City metro area's Newark Liberty International Airport hub can use the airline's mobile app for iOS devices to navigate through the terminal.

In France's Nice Côte d'Azur airport, a network of an app determines travelers' locations inside the airport via a network of beacons. The app then sends those travelers special offers and coupons for use at retail shops and restaurants, based on their proximity to those businesses.

A number of airlines are using beacons to better serve frequent fliers. American Airlines, for instance, has added a beacon-based check-in option for passengers entering its Admiral Club lounges. As they approach a lounge, the Admiral Club app receives a ping from a beacon mounted at the entrance, thereby triggering a check-in function on the traveler's phone. By clicking on the notice, a flier is checked in automatically. To confirm that individual's identity, the lounge attendant then receives a notice containing the passenger's name and photo.

More Than Apps
Other beacon applications are designed to improve airport operations while also making the travel experience more pleasant for consumers. For example, beacons deployed by Danish company BlipTrack collect anonymized MAC addresses from travelers' smartphones or tablets in order to estimate how many passengers are waiting in airport queues. Digital signs relay these estimates to travelers inside the airport, whose security and operations staff are assigned to the busiest parts of the airport. (John F. Kennedy International Airport is one of many that have deployed BlipTrack technology, which is described in more detail in this story about Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.)

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