Passengers’ baggage is collected by robots, they relax in a luxurious waiting area complete with an indoor garden before getting a face scan and swiftly passing through security and immigration—this could be the airport of the future.
It’s a vision that planners hope will become reality as new technology is rolled out, transforming the exhausting experience of getting stuck in lengthy queues in ageing, overcrowded terminals into something far more pleasant.
The Asia-Pacific has been leading the way but faces fierce competition from the Middle East as major hubs compete to attract the growing number of long-haul travellers who can choose how to route their journey.
The regions “are the two leading pockets of technology growth because they are really competing to be the global hubs for air transportation,” Seth Young, director of the Center for Aviation Studies at Ohio State University, told AFP.
“If I’m going to fly from New York to Bangalore, do I transfer through Abu Dhabi or Dubai or do I transfer through Hong Kong? That’s a huge, huge market.”
But the changes also represent major challenges that could upend decades-old business models at major airports, with analysts warning operators may face a hit to their revenues to the tune of billions of dollars.
Facial scanning in particular is generating a lot of buzz. Changi in the affluent city-state of Singapore, regarded as among the world’s best airports, is set to roll out this biometric technology at a new terminal to open later this year.
Passengers will have their faces scanned when they first check in and at subsequent stages, theoretically allowing them to go through the whole boarding process quickly without encountering another human.
Australia announced in July an investment of Aus$22.5 million ($17.5 million) to introduce face recognition technology at all the country’s international airports, while Dubai Airport is also trialling it.
Robot baggage handlers
Robots are appearing at some major hubs, including at Seoul’s Incheon airport, where they carry out tasks including cleaning and carrying luggage, while Changi’s new terminal will have robotic cleaners complete with butlers’ uniforms.
Self-service check-in and printing of boarding passes is already common, with many people printing their passes at home or at airport kiosks, and some hubs are now introducing self-service baggage drop points.
The service, which allows passengers to print and tag their baggage and then send it off on the conveyor belt, is available at airports including Australian hubs, Hong Kong, London Heathrow and Amsterdam’s Schiphol.