The Time Is Right to Disrupt and Digitalize Airport Operations

By introducing Virtual Queuing, airports can at the same time increase efficiency, improve the passenger experience, and drive up non-aeronautical revenue.

Author: Kasper Hounsgaard, CEO and Co-founder at Copenhagen Optimization
Co-authors: Mike Twersky, CEO and Co-founder at Whyline, Daniel Zenk, Senior Manager – Airport Operations at Port of Seattle, and Mike Lorengo, Emerging Technology & Innovation Strategist at Alaska Airlines.

Covid-19 has disrupted the way we think and act in the airport operation and we argue that now is the time to start exploring and implementing new digital solutions. One of the most obvious new digital solutions is Virtual Queuing – a solution that delivers on its promise to reduce wait times, improve the passenger experience, and help increase non-aeronautical revenue. Hence, it is no surprise that many airports are exploring the Virtual Queuing technology.

The ongoing pandemic has given rise to a paradigm shift in aviation and airport operations, and we are pleased to see our industry evolve, innovate, and adapt to the changing market conditions. From the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, Copenhagen Optimization has been arguing that it is a great opportunity for airports to rethink the way they handle their operations and explore digital and data-driven solutions to optimize and streamline. A key focus area for us has been Virtual Queuing and the benefits it brings for both airports and passengers, bearing in mind that the Virtual Queuing solution can be implemented in just 4-6 weeks – and create powerful results from day one.

Today, the Virtual Queuing solution, delivered by Denmark-based Copenhagen Optimization and US-based partners Whyline and Pangiam, is live at four airports: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, LAX International Airport, Newark International Airport, and Calgary International Airport – and the results are great. Passenger surveys show that 98% of passengers are happy or extremely happy to use the service, while 63% say they spend more time shopping, eating, and drinking at the airport as a direct result of saving time in security processing.

 

Top 3 learnings

At a recent webinar we all joined forces to discuss the learnings and successes of introducing Virtual Queuing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport as the first airport in North America and a lot of interesting observations were shared.

1.Nudging the passengers gives them an easier, more predictable journey while also creating a better utilization of airport infrastructure.

Security is a key pain point for passengers and by introducing Virtual Queuing you remove an unpredictable stress factor. At the same time, it allows the airport to better control when passengers arrive, preventing overflow at certain checkpoints and at certain times. True efficiency comes with the ability to make slots available to passengers based on their departure time. SEA continuously evaluate the data in the system and then optimize and prioritize accordingly to achieve peak shaving and load balancing. At SEA they set an initial goal to shave off about 20% of the passengers going through security in peak, and they managed to supersede that by achieving an impressive 26% reduction in peak passenger arrival during the first three months alone.

2. Clear communication and branding will help engage passengers.

Communication about the Virtual Queuing solution is critical for a successful implementation – and the most efficient way of communicating is through the airline directly to the passenger, but the timing of that communication is just as important. In the Seattle case, Alaska Airlines explored different options and found that a message 24 hours prior to departure gave the best sign-up rate for passengers. Combined with the branding effort of the SEA Spot Saver product, the service has been more or less sold out since day one and the satisfaction rate is sky-high.

3. Should Virtual Queuing be a commercial product or a free passenger service?

This is probably the most frequent discussion among airports, and it is a very valid point to raise. When looking at the SEA case, they have chosen to implement Virtual Queuing as a free passenger service based on two considerations: 1) They did not want to compete with the paid products already available at the airport and 2) They considered a faster security processing of passengers an opportunity to benefit their Dining & Retails program. Today, we know that this consideration was correct as statistics show that 63% of passengers used more time shopping and dining at the airport.

If you are curious to learn more about Virtual Queuing and the benefits it provides to airports and passengers, click here to view the webinar recording.

 

Virtual Queuing fact box:

What is Virtual Queuing?
– Virtual Queuing is the ability to schedule a time to report at any touchpoint in the airport and wait virtually rather than wait in a physical line.

How does it work?
– Passengers pre-book their time by inputting their flight details, touchpoint and party size.
– A confirmation and QR code are sent by email to the traveler which is then presented at the touchpoint and read by a handheld QR device or an eGate.

Why implement Virtual Queuing?
– VQ has proven a very effective method to peak shave and thus enable a better use of staff and lower wait times for passengers. The commercial business case is also very strong, as VQ offers passengers an improved journey through the airport.

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