Tiny dots and data analysis can help create a smoother path through security and on to your plane.
Nobody looks forward to waiting in line, but with regulators across the world increasingly calling on airports to use queue measurement systems to inform passengers of the wait times at security checkpoints, some of the stress associated with air travel could soon be a thing of the past.
According to SITA’s 2019 IT survey, 77% of airports are now implementing, or have already rolled out, queue measurement and wait-time displays – which is good news for all of us.
But communicating wait times to anxious passengers is only the beginning. It’s not enough to know how long you’ll have to wait–the point is to make those wait times shorter.
3D cameras and people-counting sensors can help highlight problem areas, with tiny dots moving through a line representing passengers and heat maps showing where and when crowds gather. But it’s what airports do with that data, how they respond to it, that can make a difference.
Veovo offers 5 tips to cut queues (without annoying anyone).
Airport management technology company Veovo has five tips on how to make the most of tiny dots to maintain positive passenger flow.
Many airports are now mining deeper insights from their queue data to improve operational planning decisions – such as where and how to deploy their staff, to dynamically increase the capacity of their check-in, security and immigration processes.
Here’s how they do it:
Learn from your best crew
There can be very different levels of processing efficiency across lanes and it can be difficult to know why. It could be caused by employees’ positioning, experience or customer service style. It could also be due to additional screening requirements, staff rotations, or personnel combinations. Or it could be a combination of these factors.
To understand why one processing line is more efficient than another, airports can combine queue analysis with on-site observations to independently evaluate checkpoint performance. Airports that have done so have gained a 20-30% efficiency boost by replicating good practices across each line.
Predict future bottlenecks
While real-time data is useful, adjusting staffing when a bottleneck is actively building is already too late. Real efficiency gains are made when airports can accurately forecast passenger arrival, dwell times and movement paths, and create robust resourcing plans around those projections. Because every change to an existing plan can cause a drop in performance, a good plan will minimise the number of changes required during the day, leading to better performance.
Airports like Birmingham International have found that, by forecasting arrival lead curves on a highly granular basis, they gained 10% performance improvements year on year, despite significant passenger number growth.
Automate dispatch in peak periods
A security or immigration hall often deploys a dispatcher during peak times, directing people towards the next available line, or funnelling queues to spread the load.
Airports should consider automating dispatch by creating rules and recommendations based on real-time analysis of queue times and movement data. You can also display directional recommendations ahead of lines, by integrating with operational flight data, to give advice (Go to lane 5, for example) in languages that are most likely to match the profiles of your arriving passengers.
A mid-sized European airport, with two full-time dispatchers a day, can save €150,000 in the first year alone by automating this process.
Allow for staff self-rostering
Airports can make further efficiency gains by combining arrival forecasts with staff self-rostering. This allows teams to evaluate the forecast and adjust their daily roster themselves, to cope with projected peaks. For example, they may choose to shift their break by 10 minutes or rotate at a different frequency during busy periods.
The grey line below shows the wait time profile of a queue with no predictive recommendations or adjustments to rostering. The blue line shows the improvements experienced when the same staff adjusted their rosters to cope with daily show-up forecasts.
Take a journey-centric perspective
A common next step for those airports that already manage queues is to implement airport-wide passenger flow management. This is a more complex initiative, but it delivers a significant step-up in customer experience and is one of the best ways to maximise airport efficiency and revenue.
Airports are finding that, when they consider processes in isolation, diverting bottlenecks in one area can end up just shifting them further along the line. By mapping end-to-end movement instead and meshing it with road-traffic, flight and concession data, airports can supercharge their insight, and discover meaningful patterns and drive optimal action.
A European airport recently discovered a few surprises after linking passenger flow to flight data. Besides being able to predict when and where lengthy gate dwell times were likely to occur, they identified that passengers on specific carriers typically arrived at the gate 60 minutes before boarding, spending little time in concessions. With these insights, the airport was able to extend offerings and services in gate piers to match passenger behaviour and adjust the call to gate times to minimise crowding.
Each bar below shows the total average time spent per area and flight. Green bars = time spent in concession areas. Red/Orange/yellow bars = time spent at the pier/gate. Blue bars = time spent in processing point.
Displaying wait times is only the first step along the journey to smoother air travel.
Wait time displays are an excellent starting point for an improved airport experience – but they are not a stand-alone solution.
Flow forecasts, together with performance evaluations and automation, can help optimize capacity and reduce bottlenecks at pinch points. When they are done well, they can improve an airport’s operational, financial and capacity planning decisions.
Knowledge is confidence. For busy airports putting together all the tiny dots into a clear picture that makes more sense of passengers’ behaviour can make all the difference.