What’s a Minute Worth?

Nov. 25, 2019
Time has an inherent value to travelers, but it’s not always something that can be measured in dollars and cents.

Since 2009, when our economy almost ran off a cliff, things have gotten so much better.  Progressively at first, and for the past few years it seems like the good times are rolling along faster and faster.

The world economy is generally prospering. International trade is generally healthy, despite tariffs, and the U.S. economy is particularly strong. Consumer confidence is high, unemployment is low, the housing market is tight and stocks have hit all-time highs. The positive market atmosphere is palpable. Look around you, at the traffic, the spending, prices, and the densely packed flights and sold out hotels. Overall, things are pretty good and we have a lot to be thankful for – so it’s appropriate that Thanksgiving is here.

What a wonderful holiday. A time when family and friends gather, break bread, offer blessings and share hugs with one another. Oh, the hugs. It’s all about the hugs. But whether you like it or not, it’s also about travel. It’s hard to give hugs from 500 miles away, so making the pilgrimage home is necessary for many of us. Thanksgiving is magical in many ways – but not necessarily for those that travel.

Working for a travel technology startup with the vision to improve the experience for travelers – making travel more efficient, more friction free – it’s hard not to feel some responsibility for the crush of holiday travel. Every day we’re pushing the envelope of technology, blending IoT sensors, LiDAR, motion analytics and machine learning – all to help airports find that spare moment, that extra minute that can turn a Thanksgiving trip from a burnt turkey, to a happy reunion.

What’s a minute worth? A whole lot - especially when you consider that Americans head out to the airport about 900 million times a year.  When you’re in the business of saving travelers minutes, saving them time on 900 million trips adds up to a lot of hours, days, months and years quite quickly. Just think about it. By shaving just 30 seconds off the TSA checkpoint experience for every passenger that goes through security, in one year that would add up to 450 million minutes, or 859 years! Or, roughly speaking, about a millennium!

And a millennium is a lot of time. Ponder for a second how our society would benefit from freeing up nearly 1,000 years spent waiting in airport lines? It’s almost too big a number to consider. So let’s start small.

SFO did a study a few years ago that looked at the potential benefit to airports of processing passengers through security more quickly. They wanted to know if and whether passengers would spend more in retail if they didn’t have to wait in line for so long. It turns out the study indicated that for each minute of reduced waiting, SFO would benefit by almost $0.10 per passenger.

SFO processed about 57 million passengers in 2018 – breaking records three years in a row. And to its credit, SFO has invested smartly to become a smarter airport, building real time situational awareness using a variety of sensors and using it across a range of operations to build increasing efficiency and high safety in everything they do.

These investments not only make common sense – but also add up to a lot of cents. By operating at peak efficiency in its security check points alone, the SFO study suggests an annual revenue benefit of about $5.7 million. That may seem relatively small in the near term, but at reasonable interest rates would add up to just over $50 million in present value. And that’s just for one airport.

What’s a minute worth?

It’s often said that “time is money”, but time doesn’t always net out to cold hard cash. Time is that one thing in life we can never save up and never get back. And although it has an inherent value to travelers – it’s not always something that can be measured in dollars and cents.

Thanksgiving holiday travel brings it all into a clear perspective. When people are equipped with security checkpoint wait time information, they can better plan their trip to the airport, spend less time worrying, save a minute or two in lines and get more time to enjoy the Thanksgiving journey. 

Every traveler benefits when we all save a few extra seconds. Half minutes quickly add up to years, but smarter travel is more than that. Travel is made less stressful when things run more smoothly and passengers benefit by having accurate airport data in their favorite mobile apps, especially during the busy week of Thanksgiving.

Most travelers will get to where they’re going and arrive mostly on time. The constellation of partners that power the travel ecosystem will operate as efficiently and safely as possible. But we also know that constant growth is stressing the already overloaded infrastructures of our nation’s great and small airports.

If we’re going to be able to keep flying home for those Thanksgiving get-togethers, airports will need to learn how to operate more efficiently, anticipate large surges and help make the stress of holiday travel something you leave at home and don’t take to mom and dad’s.

What’s a minute worth? When it comes to Thanksgiving – everything in the world.

Sam Kamel is the President & CEO of iinside (www.iinside.com), a leading provider of Indoor Motion Analytics for Smart Airports.