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Corner Office from Marketplace

Now boarding: better technology at the airport

Jim Burress May 27, 2015
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Consumer complaints against airlines are way up. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, March saw a whopping 55 percent increase in angry fliers. 

But airlines and airports are promising a better flight experience — at least on the ground. To make it happen, they’re pouring billions of dollars into technology.  

Sunsea Shaw isn’t sold. All she wants is an easy journey home to Indiana. So she checked in online and printed her boarding pass before leaving home for Atlanta’s international airport.   

“I thought it would save me time, so that way I can get through the check-in process quickly and then go on to security and catch my flight,” she says.

The reality? 

“I’m standing in line,” she says, with zero amusement in her voice.

The baggage-drop line is long and chaotic, but not necessarily out of the ordinary. Long lines and frustrated passengers have become synonymous with flying. 

But potentially, developing technology could enable airports where “there’s [sic] no lines. You’re able to move through the process without having to stop and queue for anything,” says Jim Peters with airport tech company SITA.

He says future airports could operate like today’s Apple Store. Employees armed with wearables—like an Apple Watch—will walk around checking you in, sorting out your baggage and generally keep things moving. 

Wearable tech will also help to manage airport staff, he says, “so if you’ve got too long of lines at one spot, then you could automatically shift staff around.” Peters says wearable devices can instantly alert staffers where they need to be and what they need to be doing.

Another emerging airport technology involves transmitting personalized information via beacons. “Beacons are literally data packets that can be delivered to a mobile device,” explains Roosevelt Council, C.F.O of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Council says beacons allow direct connections with a passengers’ smartphones or watches, giving them instant updates on gate changes, flight delays, or even a coupon for a neck pillow.

And it’s not just airports employing beacon technology. Airlines are, too. Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines is using beacons at its main hub to allow passengers to track their luggage. “We avoid that real … deal killer and buzz killer, which is the lost bag,” says Rhonda Crawford, VP of E-commerce at Delta.

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