How the Coronavirus Pandemic Could Improve the Travel Industry

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The coronavirus pandemic is bringing forth changes to various industries including the travel industry.

In the short term, immediate modifications include checking in online, uploading health information prior to your flight, and wearing a mask and gloves, according to CNBC.

Towards the end of May, the TSA also announced updated safety procedures that specify customers would begin scanning their own boarding passes instead of giving them to an agent. Other changes include putting food in clear plastic bags to reduce agent inspection and allowing 12-ounces of liquid sanitizer in your carry-on.

And now some experts believe the pandemic is also leading to much-needed positive innovations in the industry.

In the long-term, airports are implementing savvy technology at a much quicker pace than expected due to the pandemic in order to reduce security lines, simplify check-in, and more.

Touchless Technology

“We are seeing five years’ innovation in five months, and much of the impact will be permanent,” said Ibrahim Ibrahim, the managing director of Portland Design, a London-based design company specializing in hubs at airports, told CNBC. “We will see a turbo-charged uptake on tech-driven zero-touch check in, security and boarding.”

Touchless technology is important to eliminate the spreading of germs. One major change is the addition of facial-recognition and iris-scanning biometrics in driver's license and passports that will make it easier to verify passenger identities.

Emphasis on Your Cell Phone

Currently, your cell phone holds your boarding pass, but in the future, it will be your “remote control to manage travel,” according to Andrew O’Connor, vice president of portfolio management at Sita, an air transport technology company, per the publication.

The whole idea is to eliminate lines and opt for a constant flow of traffic and encourage social and physical distancing.

To eliminate pre-boarding crowds, the publication notes that airlines may use mobile phone notifications to facilitate boarding.

Keep It Movin'

Sita also believes airports will aspire to have "walking airports" by adopting something similar to Dubai International Airport’s “smart tunnel,” which uses biometrics to speed up immigration control, the publication noted.

No More Waiting in the Security Line

Waiting in security lines, taking your shoes off, and putting your belongings in reusable bins may be a process of the past.

CNBC notes that much like at Montréal–Trudeau International Airport, “booking appointments” to reserve a spot to pass security may be the future.

Tim Hudson, an aviation leader at the firm Gensler, believes airports could utilize something similar to “fast passes” at amusement parks

“With the use of smart technology, the airport would assign passengers a dedicated time slot to enter the security checkpoint,” he said. “This strategy will allow airports to anticipate and manage passenger loads, while helping passengers minimize contact with other passengers and contaminated surfaces.”

Baggage Scan

Currently, you put your bags through a screener for the TSA, but touchless technology would eliminate all physical contact. “Other technologies, such as computed tomography, which applies algorithms and the creation of 3D images to detect explosives and other threats in baggage, as well as other computer vision systems, are emerging to innovate how airports and TSA address the prohibited items problem,” design strategist Devin Liddell said.

Disinfect

Many airports are already adopting a disinfecting process called “fogging,” which according to Business Insider, “includes spraying an electrically-charged and safe to breathe disinfectant on interior aircraft surfaces before the physical cleaning process to ensure germs and viruses are eradicated.” This process could be used for luggage as well.

Hong Kong International also adopted a technology that utilizes a full-body disinfection booth that takes 40-seconds to sanitize from head-to-toe, per CNBC.

Digital Payment

With passengers less stressed and not in such a hurry, they may have more time to spend money in the lounges and thus, digital payment systems are critical.

“Digital payment systems will be introduced that will make tills, cashiers and conveyor belts increasingly redundant,” Ibrahim said. “Queues will eventually be anathema in stores.”

Disease Detection

Liddell believes airports could even become a place where health threats and diseases are first detected.

The publication notes that Etihad Airways is already testing kiosks that screen passengers for health conditions before allowing them to fly by monitoring body temperature and respiratory rates. There has been talks of asking passengers to fill out questionnaires and using thermal cameras and CT scans.

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