There’s a ring of fire that runs through every airport on the planet.
Your journey doesn’t really begin until you’ve passed through it.
It’s that hectic band of check-in, baggage drop, and security that spans only yards but feels like it is measured in miles.
On one side lies the excitement of planning a trip that builds into anticipation as you approach the airport and start seeing all those jets soaring off into the sky. On the other side lies an oasis of calm lined with restaurants, bars, and shops that promise all kinds of no-man’s-land tax discounts and ways of distracting you until you can settle into your cramped airplane seat.
But that middle band of fire. Ugh.
It’s so tedious, convoluted, and harried that airports themselves are investing billions of dollars a year to usher their passengers through it and on to the ever growing non-aeronautical revenue streams that await them inside.
What they need is a little video conferencing.
Automated Airport Check-In
Airports would be wonderful places if it weren’t for all the other humans.
So let’s get rid of as many as possible.
Starting at check-in.
Actually, airports in many countries have already begun doing away with the traditional row upon row of check-in counters and their well-meaning, if seemingly slower than snail mail, attendants.
They’ve replaced them with automated kiosks that let passengers check their own luggage using tickets printed at home. Each passenger prints their own luggage tags, straps them on and then scans them before throwing each article onto the conveyor belt themselves.
The only drawback to the system is the fact that not everyone understands how it works, and it doesn’t always seem to work as intended. This results in bands of airline personnel buzzing around the kiosks answering questions, offering assistance…and often defeating the purpose of self-check-in.
This is a second group of humans that can be removed, this time by video conferencing.
Airport Mayday Buttons
Amazon has earned the envy of the customer service world through the rollout of its Mayday Button for Kindle users. It establishes an instant video link–well, 15 seconds for the average video call–to a customer service agent who can guide customers through any hardships.
So we’ll steal that initiative and install an instant video call link to a central hub of self-check-in gurus safely tucked away in a call center and able to remotely control the kiosks without bottlenecking our concourse.
Three groups of humans down.
Next, hand luggage screening.
For assistance with this one we need to head to Denmark and their pioneering use of smart airport trolleys.
Removing Airport Security Lines
The Danes have recently trialed a system of internet-powered trolleys that remove the need for passengers to sort through their hand luggage and open up their laptops before screening their personal effects.
These intelligent trolleys would be picked up outside the airport proper, just like at supermarket–removing another well-known bottleneck around the security stations–loaded with personal items, and pushed onto an automated conveyor belt that scans their contents, liquids and all.
Each trolley is fitted with a tablet-style screen that then operates as a hub for negotiating the rest of the journey through the airport. Again, if we can add a video calling function, even a closed circuit system solely for airport use, we eliminate the need for passengers to seek out security staff in person to pose their “Can I bring a rabbit onboard?” questions.
In fact, let’s just fit a little ticket printer to this trolley and make it a mobile version of the self-check-in kiosks.
Which leaves us with only one group of humans left to do without–security personnel.
Facial Recognition Video Calling
U.S. customs and immigration services are already trialing facial recognition scanning technology as a complement, or alternative, to traditional passport identification at border crossings.
Presuming those powerful agencies can match the commercial-grade camera tech that powers Microsoft’s new Windows Hello facial recognition security, we could have passengers self-scan.
After you set your smart trolley off on its journey, you’d be forced to step through a metal detector and on up to a video portal that would screen your face and match it to your ticket and passport. A remote face on a screen could talk you through any problems you might encounter. In today’s troubled times, even facial screening might not be able to replace all the security personnel necessary to keep an airport safe, but it could speed things up and provide an extra layer of confidence and protection.
Now you’ve made it through the ring of fire, all that’s left to do is take advantage of the other abilities of your smart trolley screen. It could keep you updated with your flight details, guide you to a suitable restaurant, transfer you through to a video call with relatives for a final goodbye, or just let you know of a nice place to watch the aircraft land.