Finding Your Way Around Flow Monitoring

Mitigating the stress of travel isn’t simply a matter of improving the check-in and security process. It’s also about putting useful information in the hands of the passenger, before he/she even leaves for the airport.

By Zach Varwig

“What’s the most stressful part of your journey?” SITA asked travelers in 2012. Nearly a third of respondents answered that the security process was the greatest cause of stress, followed by 16 percent with flight transfer, and 12 percent with the check-in and bag-drop process.  Not unexpectedly, when asked what are your main causes of stress during travel, loss of time ranked first with 44 percent of respondents.

What is it that an airport can do to ease the traveler experience and make it more enjoyable?  Addressing these key areas identified by SITA is a logical start for any airport looking to enhance its passenger service.

Mitigating the stress of travel isn’t simply a matter of improving the check-in and security process.  It’s also about putting useful information in the hands of the passenger, before he/she even leaves for the airport.   What are the conditions now?  What are they projected to be?  How long are the lines at TSA? How long are the lines to check bags at their airline? What’s the total travel time, from my front door to the gate?  

These questions have answers. All of this information can be collected and distributed to travelers, using a range of different devices, systems and communication mediums.

Information Collection

Camera Analytics

Airports have been using CCTV camera systems for decades to support security, safety and operations personnel in assessing conditions.  As these systems have grown in use, they have shifted focus from a security-centric deployment to an airport-wide operational tool. Among the many uses of an enterprise surveillance system like this are flow monitoring of passengers and queue line analytics. Using the existing camera infrastructure, along with the deployment of queue management software, airports can manage, measure and count passengers moving through the checkpoint. Some software even incorporates predictive analytics, providing a future snapshot of passenger volume based upon current wait times and historical statistics.

This system relies upon a pre-existing camera infrastructure, and is primarily meant for queue areas. However, it does provide one of the highest levels of accuracy versus other solutions, making it a favorite option for many European airports. Dulles International Airport is currently the only major U.S. airport with a camera analytics program of this type, though this is expected to change in the near term (a link to the site is displayed later in this article).

Wi-Fi Enabled Devices

Wi-Fi location determination has been developed in recent years, offering Wi-Fi enabled devices positioning capability.  SITA reports that in 2012 70 percent of travelers carried smart phones when traveling. Leveraging the existing Wi-Fi infrastructure, Wi-Fi enabled smart phones can be used to monitor passenger dwell time and movements throughout the airport. This information is then displayed in real time, or logged for historical analysis by airport officials. This information can then be used to direct the flow of passengers, shift employees to improve efficiency of security or immigration checkpoints and improve the design of wayfinding throughout the airport. The location services used through Wi-Fi may require an upgrade to many existing Wi-Fi infrastructures, along with purchase of an RTLS server if not already installed.

Wi-Fi passenger flow monitoring systems are currently installed at many tier one airports, with growing interest from many airports worldwide.


Already more established than the Wi-Fi antenna model, Bluetooth tracking uses distributed Bluetooth antennas at either end of the airport queues to assess wait times through a certain area.  The Bluetooth antennas recognize devices with their Bluetooth turned on and in discoverable mode. While many people have devices with Bluetooth capability, only 5-8 percent of people typically have a device that is enabled, providing the system with a small but usable sample size.

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