Do Airports Need FIDS Anymore?

The technological evolution of the traveling public is in full swing. With millions of travelers now relying on smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices for information, airports are moving quickly to build infrastructure that supports these devices with enhanced connectivity for faster, personalized information access.

As these advances continue to cement themselves within the industry, are traditional FIDS (flight information display systems) still relevant for travelers and airports?

While some may scoff at the notion of eliminating an airport mainstay like FIDS, it’s really not a ridiculous question when you consider the evolution of technology: Out of the Yellow Pages came Google; from Encyclopedia Britannica came Wikipedia. The list could go on forever.

On the other hand, flight information displays are a staple in every airport's strategy to ensure a good customer experience. The ability to learn the latest details about flights, without having to wait in long lines and burden airline staff, is an absolute necessity for travelers and the airports serving them.

But are there more effective channels to reach travelers?


Consumer Behavior Sparks an Industry Shift

More and more travelers are already looking to their smartphones and connected devices for travel information -- according to recent research by SITA, 76 percent of passengers carry a smartphone while traveling, and more than 90 percent think that technology helps during the travel process.

Not surprisingly, the mobile functionalities that travelers want first and foremost are information-based services. In a recent survey of more than 2,100 travelers, FlightView found that travelers aren't interested in the innovative extras -- like talking holograms, sleeping pods and massage stations that some airports have rolled out -- what they really want are services that support their connected lifestyles. For example, 87 percent called for more charging stations for electronics at the airport.

Similarly, SITA’s research study found that of the top five passenger priorities for mobile services, four are information-based. The study shows that 63 percent of passengers would definitely use flight-search capabilities on mobile devices, 58 percent would use flight status, 52 percent would value baggage-status information and 48 percent want airport directions.

In response to changing consumer behavior, airports are investing in improved WiFi infrastructures and mobile service channels to meet the expectations of connected travelers. In fact, by 2016, 67 percent of airports will make the implementation of WiFi infrastructure a major program, and 65 percent will be refreshing their existing infrastructure on the same timeline. More so, 6 out of 10 airports plan to go one step further and offer end-to-end self-service by 2016, with investments in self-service boarding gates to help complete the reality.

Thanks to the huge and recognized consumer shift to mobile and self-service, and the resulting improvement to airport WiFi infrastructure, previously outlandish suggestions, like dismantling FIDS, are happening at airports across the country. The question becomes: What needs to change in order to improve FIDS technology? Can we transform the ways in which consumers interact with the tool to make it uniquely beneficial over mobile technology?


The New Normal: Personalized Information is King

Accurate, reliable information matters – so much so, that many travelers still cross-check flight information across multiple sources, on airline websites, third-party apps, staff members and of course, FIDS, to be sure that they are taking action on the most up-to-date information.  

Empowering travelers to access flight information is important, but many airports and airlines are missing a crucial piece of the pie: proactively pushing personalized information to travelers. In the fall of 2013, we surveyed travelers on how they expected mobile travel functionality to improve in the coming years: Of those surveyed, 84 percent want mobile access to personalized flight information like boarding times and the status of their connecting flights pushed to their phones.

And that demand for tailored, pertinent information extends beyond mobile and into the airport terminals as well. Nearly 90 percent of travelers would value interactive terminal maps on kiosks that show their current location and provide detailed information on items like nearby restaurants, walking times and directions to terminals, for example.

Airports have historically struggled to offer this level of personalization, and understandably so. How do you add personalization to a technology like FIDS that’s entire inherent purpose is to serve the masses?

Could it be that we see a future where NFC (near-field communication) and FIDS are combined so that a user can scan a mobile QR code on their phone and receive only relevant information on the FIDS screen in front of them?

This question illuminates the current weaknesses of both FIDS and mobile -- with FIDS' inability to display personal, relevant information and mobile's limitations with quickly searching and filtering data.

Much like Google's ascension in the online-world, and the subsequent collapse of traditional yellow pages -- the catalyst to change in the airport industry will come when mobile search is easier than a traveler scanning a terminal display in order to find relevant information.  This transformation is well underway as airports, airlines and travel companies begin delivering context-dependent, personalized information to travelers’ devices.


The Future of FIDS

The bottom line: FIDS are still necessary but becoming outdated, particularly when considering the mobile era. Today, it’s much more important to have a strategy in place that makes real-time information available and consistent across multiple channels – especially mobile. Consider the media industry. Newspapers are still printing, but the majority of their focus has moved online and to mobile.  The same can be said for airports.

The reality is, that for today’s traveler, other information-sharing and self-service technologies – like mobile, online and interactive systems -- not only matter, but are just as relevant as FIDS. At the end of the day, the location of the information is secondary to the accuracy, reliability and transparency of the information.  So for airports, ensuring that information is delivered, consistently, and in the right context, is paramount to a better customer experience.

There will always be those individuals who expect to see FIDS and other physical displays upon entering an airport, however, it’s important for airport executives to keep in mind the exciting innovations that are around the corner, and how they will transform FIDS as it becomes the next Yellow Pages.

Mike Benjamin is CEO of FlightView, a day-of-travel information company serving the airport and airline industries.