Let's face it, spending hours in an airport isn't most people's idea of a good time. Realizing that, many airlines and companies that operate those sprawling masses of glass and concrete are continually rolling out new technology aimed at making the experience at least a little better.
Here are four recent innovations designed to do just that.
Biometric Scanners Replacing Boarding Passes
Paper boarding passes have a number of problems. They're easy to lose or damage, and by themselves, don't prove they belong to the person holding them. Smartphone versions are better, but they still aren't widespread – and they're no use at all when your phone goes flat.
A trial at San Jose airport could offer a faster, more convenient alternative – biometric scanning. Alaska Airlines has been trialing an iris and fingerprint scanning system that does away with showing ID and boarding passes at check-in, security and when getting on the plane.
The approach isn't perfect yet, but so far, most passengers seem to love it.
Valet Car Parking – By Robot
When Dusseldof Airport in Germany needed to increase its parking slots but didn't have the space for a new building, it turned to technology instead. Passengers enter their flight details and reserve parking ahead of time using an app or via the airport website, then leave their car in a designated drop-off zone.
From there, “Ray” the parking robot decides where the car should go, picks it up by the wheels and moves it to the ideal spot. Using that flight information, and taking into account delays, the car is retrieved and ready to be collected by the time the driver returns.
It sounds like science fiction, but it's been in use since mid-2014 with barely a hitch. With faster pick-ups and around one-third extra parking capacity, it's a win for everyone involved.
It's All About the Beacons
“Beacons” have been getting plenty of press lately. Using Bluetooth or Wi-fi, your phone location can be tracked as you move through the airport, with relevant information pushed to your device when you need it.
When it's time to go to the gate, for instance, you'll be told the fastest way to do it – and if that gate changes, you'll know about it. When you've got a bit of extra time, discounts and shopping information might pop up. You could get a reminder to have your documents ready in the security line, or to go to a different location to drop off bulky luggage.
By looking at the number of beacons in an area over time, it's even possible to estimate wait times for luggage collection, immigration and security lines.
Different types of beacon technology are already being used in airports like Dallas-Fort Worth, London Gatwick and Charles de Gaulle in Paris, and it'll only become more widespread over time.
Meals That Find You
Don't want to traipse all over the airport trying to find food, or worry about missing your flight while sitting in a cafe hundreds of yards away? At Minneapolis–St. Paul International airport, thousands of iPads let customers place an order and have their meal delivered to their seat or gate within fifteen minutes.
While they wait, there's entertainment on offer from those same Apple tablets, plus access to email, Facebook, Twitter and more.