A new passenger experience
It was in the works well before COVID-19, but the pandemic practically made it a must: a way for travelers to get through the airport without having to touch things like the check-in kiosks. While that rollout came as a response to an immediate need, now it's a glimpse into what commercial flight might look like for decades to come.
The "contactless passenger journey," a major initiative for Collins Aerospace, aims to optimize every stage of air travel through the use of biometrics and real-time, AI-powered data analysis. Beyond the efficiency, the emphasis is on health, said LeAnn Ridgeway, vice president and general manager of Information Management Services for Collins Aerospace.
"Much like the safety protocols changed after 9/11 with the advent of TSA … we're expecting that same type of evolution in safety and cleanliness and the focus on health," she said.
Here's how she'd like to see it work for passengers – including herself (she's a frequent flier). It starts with booking. Whatever she's using to book her flight – an airline app, let's say – remembers her travel habits and profile information, and it locks down all the logistics of her trip. It selects the kind of seat she typically prefers. It schedules her rideshare to the airport, taking into account distance, traffic and boarding time.
"It knows that if it's a flight under two hours, I'm not taking a bag," she said.
At the airport, she makes it onto the plane without having to touch anything that doesn't already belong to her – and without having to hang around large numbers of people. On her way to security, she gets an alert on her phone: Use checkpoint B instead, because C is getting a little crowded.
On the plane, there's a lot less she has to touch – even the lavatory door opens by itself – and anything she does have to touch, like her seat, is made of anti-microbial material.
"You could see in the near future where you're going to be able to order a drink or a snack from your smartphone without having to touch any of the overhead consoles, without having to have the flight attendants walk up and down and query everybody, again eliminating that constant flow of people and interactions," she said.
The concept could play a big role in reopening international travel, particularly with respect to confirming that passengers are vaccinated and have received the requisite testing. The International Air Transport Association is championing an idea called One ID, which would use biometric recognition in place of traditional travel and health documents.
"Even your health passport can be attached to your facial recognition – all contactless, without having to show the old-fashioned yellow (vaccination) card that you used to have to show if you're going to certain areas of the world," she said. "I think we're going to see a lot of speed and progress over the next few months to make that happen."