Airlines Need an Innovative Approach to Fly High, Post-Pandemic

June 16, 2022
Irra Ariella Khi
Irra Ariella Khi

Imagine a world where the passenger arrives at the airport and heads straight to security and then boarding gate, having completed all their passenger verification and document checks from the comfort of their own home. Their biometric profiling allows them to proceed to the boarding gate where their duty free is waiting having been pre-ordered. Boarding the plane, theres a glass of their favorite tipple waiting for them, their movie preferences have been pre-selected, and their chosen meal ordered. Their hotel check-in key is accessible through their airline app, the hotel has been notified about their arrival time and theyve already been checked in so no need to wait around in the hotel reception. A truly seamless travel experience.

But for now that dream has to remain just that. Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digital transformation in practically every sector from retail to healthcare to finance, for the travel industry it was a series of unsuccessful trials and simply a fight for survival.

And whilst innovation has happened in the travel sector, and a plethora of apps have hit the market, they simply have not been fit for purpose as they have added to the complexity of the airport operation process, not made it easier. Even the IATA Travel Pass, hailed as a digital solution allowing passengers to share test and vaccination results in a verifiable, safe and privacy-protecting manner'' has now been phased out. Rather than delivering a seamless passenger experience clearing airports of long queues and manual checks, these newly introduced digital apps have simply added another layer of in-airport scanning and processing to an already time-consuming procedure.

Preparation is Key for Long-Term Recovery

Airlines have learnt that business resilience means they need to prepare for anything that comes their way. Whether testing requirements or vaccination checks increase or decrease, or visa controls tighten, airlines need to be ready to deal with whatever comes at them, particularly with governments working at a speed that has previously been unseen.

Until the COVID-19 pandemic, airlines had no real need to update their technology as government rules would change perhaps every six years, and very rarely maybe every six months. With the pandemic came ever-changing international travel rules – at its peak more than 1,000 times per day.

Currently the technology that many airlines use is steeped in legacy tech, which hasnt really altered in decades – its large, clunky and difficult to implement change. What is needed is technology that can sit alongside existing legacy processes to increase its efficiency without changing the core tech that it is built on. That way airlines can use technology to manage difficult regulatory complexities without straining operations or canceling flights – key to recovery in the travel sector.

Passenger Journey Starts at Home

For airlines to recover and thrive against future uncertainties, the first step is building passenger trust and confidence once again. With the recent travel chaos we have seen in airports up and down the country, what passengers need more than ever is assurance that they will board their planes with no surprises at the airport. But this assurance needs to come before they arrive at the airport – the passenger experience doesnt start when they arrive at the airport, it starts at home.

Take passenger identity and health data verification as an example. Airlines are currently expected to handle more sensitive passenger data than ever before – passport data, verified health data (including health testing and vaccination status), visa-related requirements, pre-departure forms which change from country to country, and so on. The result: long snaking queues of disgruntled passengers waiting to show their relevant paperwork and documentation at the check-in desk (and sometimes repeat checks across several airline desks – to manually ensure documentation really is accurate).

But what if passenger data could be verified and checked digitally before arrival at the airport. This would give passengers assurance that all of their data is in order – building passenger confidence in the airline and alleviating the anxiety of denied boarding  – crucial for recovery in the travel sector.

For airlines it would reduce the time, airport real estate needed and operational costs currently required for manual in-airport checks of passenger provided data sets. It would also allow for a smoother and more seamless check-in process – unlocking additional tech solutions such as biometric processing which currently can not be used to its full potential due to the need for continual manual passenger documentation validation as part of the journey through the airport.

Technology Can Aid the Future of Air Travel

With COVID-19 emaciating airlines on a global scale leaving them with skeleton staff, limited resources and budget, airlines have had little choice but to pick up operations again with the same old legacy systems that they used pre-pandemic.

But global travel recovery does not lie with implementing new technology and automating processes. From digital passenger identity verification to biometric processing, even electronic bag tracking, airlines need to consider what technology will add the most value and where investment is needed to create the best end-to-end passenger experience and assurance.

Passengers want a seamless experience from the first to the last mile of the customer journey. Whereas now passenger data is fragmented and siloed, its about connecting the dots between the individual passengersdata and its various touch points in the customer journey. Get this right and airlines can deliver value to passengers and stand out from their competitors in a shrinking but competitive marketplace. 

Irra Ariella Khi is CEO of Zamna, an award-winning venture-backed software company working with airlines, HCPs and governments worldwide to create digital intelligence linking vaccinations and health status to validated passenger passports via GDPR-compliant patented software.

About the Author

Irra Ariella Khi

Irra Ariella Khi is CEO of Zamna, an award-winning venture-backed software company working with airlines, HCPs and governments worldwide to create digital intelligence linking vaccinations and health status to validated passenger passports via GDPR-compliant patented software.

Prior to founding Zamna, Khi co-founded three other companies across multiple verticals. She speaks nine languages, has four children and has received many awards for her work with Zamna including UK BAA "Best investment in disruptive tech," "Best investment in Female Founder," Founders Forum and AccelerateHER "Rising Star;" Pitch@Palace Winner on "Big data, intelligence and the future of security." She also was named in Management Today’s "35 Women Under 35."