Major changes fueled by technology promise to make airline travel a much smoother process. Photo: Tourism Kelowna

B.C. airports aiming to adapt to technological demands

Airport managers talk about the future of travel

Imagine getting through the airport and onto a flight without talking to an airport or airline employee until you board the plane.

No stress of dealing with security, luggage check-in or choosing a seat number.

That seamless process doesn’t exist today, but airport managers say the technology to make that possible is already here, it’s just a matter of standardizing the adaptation to fit security and online boarding and ticketing protocols.

A friction-free guest service experience is not just a matter of customer service, it is also becoming a necessary objective as the airline industry continues to grow and airports face challenges of dealing with increased passenger traffic while avoiding costly expansion projects.

Three airport managers shared their experiences of what the future holds for airports on Friday at the B.C. Tourism Industry Convention in Kelowna.

Sam Samaddar, general manager of Kelowna International Airport (YLW), said his airport will have seen a 25 per cent overall increase in passenger traffic by the end of 2018 over the last three years, and it shows no signs of letting up to the extent where there has become a shortage of pilots in the airline industry to meet continued route expansion demands.

Related: Kelowna airport numbers sky-high

Technology is disrupting air travel norms, from airport check-ins to airplanes that are more fuel efficient, by the use of supersonic travel “boom technology,” capable of vertical take-off and landing.

Geoff Dickson, general manager of the Victoria Airport Authority (YYJ), talked about what his airport has done to both reduce passenger boarding and disembarking stress, as well as noise concerns to build a positive relationship with residents in subdivisions that surround the airport site.

Most notable, he said, was the presence of cows on the YYJ site set aside as farming pasture, something he says people find both comforting and attention grabbing.

“You wouldn’t think it would make much difference to the travel experience, but there is something about being greeted by cows at the entrance to the airport that makes people feel a little bit more relaxed. When people come here and come back again, all they talk about is seeing the cows again,” Dickson said.

Other steps taken by YYJ include developing a 10-kilometre bike-path around the airport site, greenspace in the parking lot, preserving and enhancing the vista and views of the airport surroundings, a bicycle assembly station, calming interior design features such as plush carpeting, wall photos that reflect the natural surroundings, wood panelling, hanging baskets and large windows to reflect a park-like setting.

Dickson said baggage check-in and boarding pre-screening remains a cumbersome process but one that all government agencies involved need to simplify using digital and artificial intelligence technology.

“There has got to be a better way to do that, using digital technology biometrics for facial recognition, travel authorization, risk profile and documentation presentation. Those steps need to be eliminated from the airport setting and done at your own home before you head to the airport.

“The ideal situation to strive for is that you don’t come in contact with any airport employee in checking in. The first person you meet should be the airline person greeting you onto the plane.”

Parm Sidhu, general manager of Abbotsford International Airport (YXX), said radical transformation caused by technology disruption of his industry will force service deliverers to adapt or be left behind.

Related: Major expansion eyed for Kelowna airport

“People will want real time information given in an interface platform that empowers the consumer to make their flight decision in their time of convenience,” Sidhu said.

He said parkades will become obsolete at airports over the next decade as people chose other transportation options, such as Uber, to get to and from the airport. Luggage will also have individual security codes embedded for security clearance.

“When you leave your home for the airport, you will know your seat number, boarding pass in place, luggage pre-checked in and on the way you will be given interface instructions related to delays or cancellation of flights and other airline travel options,” Sidhu said.

All three airport managers acknowledged that reaching this evolution of airport service will require various Canadian government agencies finding common ground in regulatory services and protocols, and for other countries to make those same commitments.

“Government agencies will have to move in that direction because consumers will demand what technology has to offer to make the travel experience less stressful,” Dickson said.

“For instance, between Canada and the U.S the pre-screening protocols are different which produces duplication and delays. This will have to change. There is no choice because continuing to expand airports is not the answer. We need to be more efficient with the space we have.”

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