What Will Airports Be Like in the Future?
In the future, you’ll want to visit the airport more often.
Imagine getting from your home to your plane to your hotel and back again without having to lug your luggage around, stand in lines, go through an annoying security process, and walk miles to your gate. Imagine not even having to carry a passport or boarding pass.
That’s the travel experience that airlines and airports want to offer passengers over the next few decades.
Speaking at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) World Passenger Summit in Barcelona, Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths shared a vision of the future of airport design. Based on transport pods to get you from your point of origin to your concourse, the concept would make reaching the gate less of a marathon.
Griffiths believes that if airports and airlines start thinking like technology companies instead of transportation infrastructure — challenging current transport and security processes and terminal design — that we can enjoy a much improved air travel experience.
“We need to take a leaf out of the books of Uber, Amazon, Facebook and eBay and all of those who have applied technology and process design to re-imagine their entire business around customer convenience,” he said. “This would trigger a dramatic redesign of airports.”
Biometric ID and Security
In the future, airlines and airports want to get rid of check-in desks and security lines. Instead, passengers may get their luggage picked up at home or at the hotel, and delivered again to their residence at the destination.
Passengers' identities could be confirmed using biometric screening without having to present security documents, and advanced screening technology would ensure passengers are safe without having to stop to scan bags, laptops and shampoo bottles, or remove shoes and belts.
“Imagine an airport with no check-in, no immigration, and discreet non-intrusive security all enabled by a single identity database securely held in the cloud and available to those who currently need physical evidence of our identity as we travel,” Griffiths said. “The possibility then re-emerges to reorder the entire travel process around the customer’s service, rather than around the convenience of everyone else.”
Sound unreal? Much of the technology needed to deliver this experience is already in place.
Biometric identity is gaining momentum in the aviation industry, with plans to go beyond today’s facial or fingerprint scanners, to having passengers simply walk by and be recognized with a combination of biometric “footprints.” It’s a concept right out of science-fiction films, but it could be deployed within the next five to 10 years.
“The question is can we get it over the line with the various governmental departments who hold the key to this,” Griffiths said.
Pods to Planes
With baggage taken care of and security lines eliminated, Griffiths says, airports can be designed based on smaller concourse nodes, where passengers can find their gates and lounges, perhaps some retail and dining.
They would be transported directly and quickly on pod-like public transport, which could be using a pod-concept, like Hyperloop, or something simpler, like “platooned” trains in which cars can split off to go to multiple destinations.
“Pods will be able to take customers from their chosen point of entry directly to their plane in a matter of a few minutes without leaving their seat,” Griffiths said.
Turning Giant Terminals into Light Boxes
Griffiths explained to T+L how he imagines this future airport experience might work.
“You could have a platform at a curb — people could arrive on their cars on on a bus or another train — and just walk along the curb,” he said. “You could have all sorts of machinery able to take the baggage from them, and they could board a specific pod that is heading to connect them to their flight — to Vancouver, or Delhi, or Bangkok.”
“They could get in that pod and the whole system could leave the station at the same time. Then, the pods split off to the individual concourses from which they have a very short walk to their aircraft,” he said. “You can actually have very convenient locations, multiple locations over a city, at which people could enter this transit system.
“So you don’t need car parks. You don’t need a terminal. You don’t need all of these massive baggage systems.”
Dubai is already working on these plans for the future of air transport, with the more manageable concourse Light Box plans for the future of Dubai World Central airport. This airport redesign would complement the new city-planning vision for Dubai World Central which would include the types of ground transport and biometric advancements Griffiths talks about, to be introduced over time.
Griffiths says that the concourse node concept is mainly intended for airports which have not yet been built, though a number of these features for biometric identity, baggage collection, and even more efficient ground transport could be fitted into existing airports in one form or another.
“I’m not suggesting that you could go the whole hog with every single airport,” he said, “but what I’m suggesting is that these mass transit and distribution systems could be retrofitted into existing airport environments, depending on the geography of each airport.”
But what about the airports that won’t be retrofitted?
“I’m sure that it’s possible to use them for alternative uses,” Griffiths said. “Maybe art displays.”