How Social Media and Emerging Technologies Influence Passenger Flow

Analyzing real-time data allows airports to gain a deep understanding of passenger behavior


As the number of passengers traveling through the world’s airports increases, managing passenger flow becomes a critical priority. Minimizing wait times and improving the way in which travelers navigate airports should increase efficiencies while also generating substantial non-aeronautical revenues.

International air traffic to/from the U.S. alone totaled 104.03 million passengers from January through July 2012, an 8 percent increase over the first seven months of 2011.

Also, in 2012 the average North American business travelers’ expenditure per visit to the airport ranged from $44-69. Utilizing this information and recording and analyzing real-time data allows airports to gain a deep understanding of passenger behavior. This is a recent trend, but airports seem to be catching on.

A recent study commissioned by Frost & Sullivan revealed that airports are setting new operational and commercial KPIs (key performance indicator) with passenger experience being at the core of these plans.

An Insightful Approach

When looking for effective tools and platforms to uncover passenger traffic patterns, the industry need not look far. The retail industry has been using various technologies, e.g., thermal sensors, video analytics, GSM, and Bluetooth for years to glean information about customer habits.

From the moment a shopper enters a store, they are being measured — how long they wait and to which displays they gravitate. The data points collected are then analyzed so store designs may be optimized for greater retail revenue. While many airports still use cameras solely for security purposes, video analytics and other technologies, e.g., bar coded boarding pass tracking, Bluetooth, thermal sensors, and Wi-Fi are being introduced in airports across the globe to monitor customer habits and use that data to improve their overall experience.

Last year, Copenhagen Airport began an innovative project to study the movement of passengers by monitoring travelers’ movements based on the Wi-Fi enabled devices they carry. Such monitoring was the first of its kind in the world and was put in place by SITA’s technology research team, SITA Lab. The comprehensive collection of data makes it easier for airports to get real-time and historical pictures of traveler behavior. They use this information to improve airport design, direct the flow of passengers, or shift employees to improve the efficiency of security and immigration checkpoints.

In fact, according to the 2012 SITA Airport IT Trends Survey, the world’s airports are now turning to mobile apps, social media, and intelligent technologies including location-based services to improve passenger experience.

Additionally, airports are investing in business intelligence solutions to deliver an improved passenger experience. Some 86 percent of airports see it as a priority for sharing information and collaborating with partners; 83 percent to ensure more accurate service information for passengers; and 76 percent to reduce flight delays due to ground operational issues.

The survey also uncovered that half of participating airports see passenger flow monitoring as a top priority for reducing passenger congestion. While currently just 10 percent of airports offer wayfinding services on mobile devices, this is set to rise to 70 percent over the next three years.

Airports Go Social

In addition to new technologies used for monitoring passenger flow, airports are beginning to use the real-time monitoring of Twitter feeds and Foursquare/Facebook check-ins to interact with passengers while they’re in the terminal. These tools have the ability to provide airports with insight to help them better understand the patterns of travelers, such as where they eat and where they shop.

New tools also open up more opportunities to boost non-aeronautical revenue and positively influence overall passenger experiences, allowing airports to take social listening to a strategic level and focus on the right passengers at the right time.

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