How Airlines can use Beacons to Enhance Travel Experience
July 23, 2014
The out-of-home, unfamiliar nature of travel has made mobile phone connectivity a must-have for travellers, especially when they need information the most.
Beacons, the latest buzz in the industry, have triggered a new wave of initiatives aimed at bringing the vision of a personalized air travel experience closer.These small BLE devices coupled with connected mobile phones are a great way to enhance travel, as a means of interpreting, predicting and serving a traveller’s needs.
Beacons at airports provide the traveller with indoor wayfinding, and nearby promotional offers based on their proximity. This enhances the traveller’s overall experience by directing them to their boarding gates, informing them about the time left to board the aircraft, security check status, and also offering promotional discounts and information, based on their proximity to vendors, and products in a particular airport.
Though beacon-enabled applications are largely revolutionizing retail, other industries are already tapping into beacon’s micro-location capabilities to deliver specifically targeted personalized messages, alerts in stadiums, theme parks, museums, hotels etc.,
If you are just exploring beacon implementation, our Beacon 101 ebook is a good place to start reading about this technology, where we’ve recorded our learnings from implementing Beaconstac.
Today, we will discuss in detail about how beacons can improve the overall travel experience.
How airlines can put beacons to use:
A smart airport is one which leverages the convergence of three trends: passenger self-service, mobility and collaborative decision-making – to create a smart, predictive environment for the most effective flow of passengers and goods through an airport, both during normal operation as well as during an emergency. Beacons enable this with their proximity, context-aware features to provide a seamless, frictionless air travel experience. Some of the most common uses are:
Personalized welcome messages: Passengers entering the airport can be sent a welcome message and information on airline check-in counter numbers.
Flight information: After checking in, passengers can get flight confirmation information such as boarding time, gate number, etc.,
Boarding announcements: Passengers can be guided to the right alighting gate by detecting their current location and flight details.
Analytics: According to reports, airports receive approximately 47% of their revenue from non-aeronautical sources. By placing beacons, airlines can better understand how passengers move inside the airport, and where they dwell the longest. This data helps airlines and airports plan retail, dining and entertainment layouts in line with passenger interests. These tiny devices can thus provide a precise picture that can further enhance non-aeronautical revenue potential.
Real-life examples of airlines using beacons:
Following are a few examples of airlines trialling beacon implementation at airports:
1. Virgin Atlantic and iBeacons at the Heathrow airport:
Virgin Atlantic has started its trial of iBeacon technology in the Upper Class Wing at Terminal 3 of the airport, which will allow premium passengers to receive personalised notifications and offers via their iPhone. These passengers will be the initial few to gain a first-hand experience of Apple’s iBeacon technology, which uses Bluetooth Low Energy and geofencing to provide a connected service through their airport experience.
Smartphones, with Apple Passbook downloaded, within a beacon’s range can receive communications specific to their location in the airport.
Image Source: Virgin Atlantic
In the main area of the airport, passengers using the service receive special partner offers, such as commission-free currency exchange as they pass the MoneyCorp currency exchange booth.
In the future, the airline expects to further personalise their passengers’ journey, such as notifying an Upper Class passenger that there is an open appointment in the Clubhouse spa or introducing the crew members on their flight as they board the aircraft. If it’s their first flight, the airline could offer a discount on future tickets, and a frequent flier could be rewarded for his loyalty with a beer at the nearest restaurant.
2. American Airlines undertakes the biggest deployment of iBeacons ever:
American Airlines has announced the industry’s largest deployment of iBeacons, launching a six-month pilot at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, as a precursor to a permanent implementation. Selected users of the American Airlines app will be offered a new version of the app, that will be synchronised with the iBeacons, therefore enabling them to automatically receive information and directions to their gate via their iPhone or iPad when they are in the terminal. If passengers don’t already have the app installed, they will receive an automatic prompt to download it when they arrive at DFW Airport Terminal D.
The airline mainly aims to enable real-time navigation inside the airport. The airline recently found that 65% of their passengers at DFW arrive at the gate early because they are often nervous about whether they are at the right gate. Using beacons, the airline can tell a passenger if he/she is at the right gate, and other facilities such a cafeteria, restroom, etc., near the gate.
3. easyJet tests iBeacons at three airports in London and Paris:
Britain’s largest airline, easyJet, is trialling beacon technology across three airports in Europe to help passengers navigate their way through the airport using the brand’s mobile application.The easyJet app was updated on July 7, enabling it to communicate with iBeacons strategically placed around the London Luton, London Gatwick and Paris Charles de Gaulle airports. The beacons interact with the easyJet mobile app to trigger helpful notifications to passengers’ phones during critical points of the journey.
Passengers in these three airports who have an iPhone with the easyJet app installed will be able to receive notifications as they travel.
Apart from the uses mentioned above, airlines can implement beacons in the following ways:
a) Expedited security checks: With beacons placed all around the terminal, an airline is aware of each passenger’s (who has the airline’s app downloaded on his phone) specific location within the terminal. The airline can trigger a message via their app asking them to proceed for a security check.
Similarly, a passenger approaching the private security channel can receive a notification to open his electronic boarding pass so that it is ready to be scanned at the entrance to the security area.
b) Luggage Tracking: Airlines can enable luggage tracking for passengers. Upon arrival at the airport, each passenger’s luggage can be tagged with the airline-branded beacon. A boarding passenger will get a confirmation message through the airline app, informing him that his bags have been safely loaded on the flight. Similarly, as each passenger’s luggage is tagged with a beacon, it is possible for the traveller to receive a notification the exact moment their checked luggage enters the baggage claim, upon their arrival at their destination. It is also possible for the airport’s logistical team to be alerted if a piece of luggage falls off one of their sorting belts or baggage carts (which will be equipped with a sensor). A staggering 25 million checked bags go missing every year – the beacon solution will drastically reduce this number, increase efficiency, and ensure customer confidence.
c) Real-time navigation: The installation of these devices is primarily being undertaken to improve wayfinding in the terminal.
Passengers are provided with a map of the airport showing where amenities and their boarding gate is located. Using beacons, the airline can find which gate a particular traveller is closest to and can offer accurate, real-time navigation through its app.The mobile device can thus direct the traveller to the shortest path to the boarding gate and also provide lounge access and give passengers real-time boarding updates.
d) Seat upgradation offers: Airlines can offer passengers seat upgrades, or a discounted upgrade to business class from economy, at the right time. If a passenger has already crossed security checks, (the airline knows as they have placed a beacon past the security gate) he is relaxed and is more open to considering an offer.
e) Relevant messages: Notifications can be automatically activated as passengers approach bag drop and security – prompting them to open their boarding pass at the right time so it is ready to be scanned, and advising when passports need to be presented. Passengers walking past a beacon can be informed of baggage drop-off and collection carousels along with the time prior to arrival of bags so they can estimate the time they have for duty-free shopping.
So far, the implementations of beacons in the aviation industry have been by airlines trialling them on specific airports. In the future, we would see implementations by airports or third party vendors in airports too. The key is the right co-ordination between airlines and airport authorities while keeping customer privacy in mind. This is why a lot of airlines are considering collaborating with airports to install and manage beacons using a common registry.
We read about the various implementations of beacons by airlines trialling them. Going ahead, airlines can further improve traveller experience by implementing the following applications in future:
1. Passengers could be provided advance information like what inflight entertainment will be onboard in advance of their flight.
2. If advanced analytics predict that a passenger cannot board in time, the passenger can be automatically booked in a different flight and his bags off-loaded. The flight will then depart on schedule.
3. Airport operators can greatly reduce wait times at security checkpoints, thanks to real-time business intelligence which allows easy deployment of resources to tackle potential bottlenecks.
The opportunities here are limitless and it is upto airlines and their beacon management partners to come up with the most creative ways that will marry the best of both worlds – online and offline, to redefine travel.
If you are planning a beacon pilot, take a look at Beaconstac, that includes everything you need to get started. Using Beaconstac you can set up your own campaign, without a developer’s help!