I can’t wait for the future of airline travel
I can’t wait for the future of airline travel
05 SEPTEMBER 2019 7:19 AM

Airport and plane experiences are about to get better and more tech-forward. I’m here for it, but what does it mean for hotels?

I decided recently that I need to stop grousing about air travel. My family, friends and colleagues—and likely more than one rideshare driver—have had it with my constant complaints about airports and airplanes.

So I’m trying to embrace air travel and remove as much friction as possible. It’s a real journey for me. I don’t belong to airline lounge programs. I wouldn’t know what to do in business class. I am barely ever higher than boarding group 4, and Southwest EarlyBird makes me feel high-class. So if I want to make the airport and airline experience better, it’s all on me.

There’s a lot about the process I can control—I can get better at packing carry-on luggage only. I can allow myself more time to stand in lines. I can bring Clorox wipes.

I get most frustrated, though, by human inefficiency. I can’t control airlines that employ one person to facilitate bag drop during the busiest mornings. I can’t force regional managers of airport food-and-beverage chains to train their employees to do their jobs better. I can’t beckon the traveling public aside and present a Teaching Moment on how to walk through the airport faster.

As I approach this new state of Zen travel, I did some Googling further my improvement quest. My searches ranged from “best carry-on suitcase” to “when will I be able to get on the plane without talking to anyone?”

I found a research report from airline tech company SITA, called “2025: Air Travel for a Digital Age.” The report identifies big-picture future trends we can expect from airports and planes, and how they address pain points among travelers.

(Disclaimer: I don’t know a lot about SITA’s services or products and I don’t endorse them or any other company in a vendor capacity. There’s a fair amount of information about SITA’s products in this research paper, but that’s not what I’m focusing on in this blog. I’m concentrating on the bigger-picture trends.)

Here’s a few airline industry trends in the works, according to the report:

  • Boarding automation: Passengers will use self-scanning gates for ID and passport checks, and even to board the plane. This includes self-boarding processes using biometrics, like eye scans.
  • Universal identification: Speaking of eye scans, how about the adoption of “a single, persistent digital identity that is secure, recognized globally and … allows the passenger to maintain control over that identity?” It’s in the works—various multinational associations are testing biometric ID processes that could theoretically tick all these boxes.
  • Real-time scanning: AI and 3D scanning technology could allow for “on-the-move screening,” as in, the passenger simply walks through the airport corridor while scanners work, in real time.
  • Better, cheaper Wi-Fi onboard: Apparently it’s not a myth, though I’ll believe it when I see it.
  • Transparency in baggage handling: Better luggage tracking and communication means travelers not only will be able to track their bags better, but your airline will be able to communicate better with, for example, your hotel, your car service and more to facilitate smoother baggage handling, especially when problems happen.

I can’t wait for all these things and more.

But did you notice anything else about these airline trends? They all eliminate people, or facilitate processes that mean we spend less time dealing with people. The underlying message is that in the airline industry, it’s people who create the logjams and inefficiencies.

That’s kind of sad. But for me, it’s entirely true (with the exception of Southwest employees).

What does this mean for hotels?

Consider it a wake-up call. The hotel industry is on the cusp of a truly tech-first era, and is making important decisions to balance the benefits of technology with the benefits of people and human service.

Will the hotel industry become one where it’s the people who create the logjams and inefficiencies, or one where the people are assets? The airline industry bypassed that stage of “people as assets” entirely and now has to make up for it.

How is your company or hotel having these conversations? Have Zen travel tips for me? Comment below, email me at sricca@hotelnewsnow.com or find me on Twitter @HNN_Steph.

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  • Robert Rauch September 5, 2019 12:19 PM Reply

    Steph, high quality headphones for listening to content including downloaded Coldplay albums, a Rauch requirement, is a big difference for me, especially on long flights. Bringing healthy, tasty food on board is another and going zen myself where I no longer run to catch flights because I leave an extra 20-30 minutes for traffic, problems, etc. I used to sprint to catch flights, forget to eat or bring food, go with cheap earpods, etc. No more! And to your comment about hotels, we will be high tech but not because we skipped the service, rather because that is what our customers want. Thanks! Bob

  • Stephanie Ricca October 2, 2019 8:40 AM Reply

    Bob, you are always a fantastic source of great tips. As long as I don't get stuck in a cab with you on the way to the airport and you make me run a 6-minute mile to catch the flight, I will take your advice!

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