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The airport experience is key to shaping the future of travel

Borja Saki

Corporate Communication Senior Executive, Amadeus IT Group

I recently sat down with John Jarrell, Head of Airport IT at Amadeus, to gather his thoughts on the future of Airport IT and how it can help to shape the future of travel.

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Thinking about your particular business, what excites you about future developments over the next 3-5 years?

Airports and airlines jointly are starting to realise that there is an information gap between them.  Although there has been a lot of talk on this for some time, I truly believe that the amount of information that is shared will finally start to become much more significant. What will be exciting will be to watch how much better airports can operate and how much better a travel experience they can provide thanks to the increase in information sharing.

The types of systems airports have won’t change much, but the ability to produce better results with those systems will substantially increase after finally recognising that they have to work closer together amongst themselves. So this is a greatly expanded Collaborative Decision Making (CDM) kind of environment. CDM as it is defined is great, but what airports really need is a much expanded view of what CDM is, which goes beyond just trying to get airplanes to the runway at the right time.

Which single development would or could have the most influence in the airport industry?

From a technology standpoint, I think there’s a shift in the mindset in airports about having their own custom product every time towards adopting something Amadeus would call a community environment.

During a presentation done by an Airports Council International (ACI) staff member in late 2012 in Amsterdam, I saw that airports were starting to recognise that custom developments weren’t necessarily in their best interests as the costs were too high for the benefits they got. Although it’s not totally obvious yet, we’ll see this concept evolve in the next few years as well.

What opportunities exist to improve the general travel / user experience during this period?

I think there is one that’s critical to the industry, but it isn’t one that we participate in directly - which is security and inspection at airports.

Beyond this, we definitely play a role in data sharing. If we can provide systems that through better data can result in shorter connection times, more parking at gates, less use of buses and less misplaced bags, these things can really help improve the passenger experience.

For example, on a recent delayed flight from Europe to the US, I waited over an hour for my luggage only to find that it had not made the connection.  To add to this the lost and found area was closed since it was 2am. After much frustration I finally found someone to help make a claim. Had the airline had better information, they could have approached me during the flight and informed me that my bag didn’t make the connection, and taken care of the claim process on board.  The information to do this exists and it would have been a much better experience. Our systems could easily support the data sharing environment allowing for easier and faster data sharing whilst being simple to implement for airlines.

What challenges does the sector face over the next five years? And the single biggest challenge?

Capacity will be the biggest challenge. Airports are going to be looking for capacity as a result of global economic changes. As building airport infrastructure is expensive and time consuming and the decline of the global economy hasn’t helped much either, airports have not expanded much. When the economy recovers, they will start realising that they need to expand capacity in some way, but by the time they build, it may be way too late – there are other ways to answer the need for capacity faster, by using what they have more efficiently – and this is where we can help. In terms of other challenges, as with all businesses, airports need to survive by controlling their costs, increasing their non-aeronautical revenues and improving the passenger experience.

What contribution can and should technology be making to moving the industry forward?

The key is to resolve the issue of capacity. – You could increase capacity by building but if timing or economics don’t work, that’s where technology can make a huge difference.   At airports if you use a traditional common-use system for example, you could get 30% better throughput at your terminal just from this.  But most airports have now done this so other methods such as better gate scheduling with better information will contribute greatly to capacity expansion.

What is Amadeus doing right now to prepare the industry for the changing market?

As we’re building our portfolio, we’ve been trying to take the lead in evangelising the value of data sharing. Another part of the preparation that we’re doing is getting that portfolio ready so we can offer them the tools to help resolve the issues we’ve so far been talking about in the industry. In a way we are trying to use the position we have with our airline customers to be a mediator between the airports and airlines to bring them on board with this vision. The airlines need a trusted party that can ensure them that any data sharing fits with their interests.

Are there other industries that travel could learn from?

Travel could learn from retailers who are good at targeting their customers. Although airports are shopping malls with runways, they often don’t know who their customer is, partially because of the lack of data sharing, making it very difficult for them to target those customers. They have started trying to do this but they are still a long way away from understanding them fully, and that’s where they can learn a lot from retailers. Traditionally airA-cdines have owned the relationship with passengers whereas airports have been the landlords, providing the facility – airports have recognised the need for increasing non-aeronautical revenues to sustain and grow. Airports recognised that one area for growth was airport retail. In the last 20 years the airport retail environment has changed massively, but they still largely don’t know who the passenger is in order to target them more effectively.

From a personal point of view, what single enhancement of the travel experience would make your life easier?

Improving the baggage experience! From the earlier example. the most frustrating experiences I have had have always been around baggage. As a classic frequent traveller I want a pleasant and smooth experience. So if the baggage is the thing that’s causing the pain, enhancements around this will help me the most.

If you would like to know more about Airport IT at Amadeus and beyond, please follow Amadeus’ Airport solutions LinkedIn page.


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