Proclaimed “World’s Best Airport” for five years in a row, Singapore’s Changi Airport is where you want to be if you’re ever going to be stuck at an airport.
There are shops, restaurants and attractions galore, but once the Jewel mixed-use complex gets built in the center of the airport, Changi will become even more of a destination all its own.
Scheduled to be completed in early 2019, Jewel will boast the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, a five-story garden filled with thousands of trees, plants, ferns and shrubs, a branch of the YOTEL hotel chain, shops, restaurants and a 164-foot-long Canopy Bridge with some glass flooring to offer great views of the waterfall and other attractions.
This week, we’ve learned that the attractions planned for Canopy Park (on level five) will include Sky Nets, Canopy Mazes, and Discovery Slides as well as well as an open play area called Foggy Bowls, where kids will get to wander through mists “as though walking among clouds.”
My May “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY is all about some of the cool new technology – and creative uses of emerging technologies – that may soon make your trip through the airport less painful and, possibly, more rewarding.
The ideas were featured at the Air Transport IT Summit I attended in Brussels recently, which was convened by SITA, a global air transport IT provider owned by airlines and other air transport companies.
Here are some of the ideas that caught my eye:
No more check-in lines? KATE may help
Last year, SITA Lab, SITA’s technology research arm, introduced a self-propelling baggage robot, named Leo, who may someday greet you at the airport curb, check you in for your flight, issue your bag tags and then take your bags away for processing.
This year, SITA Lab unveiled Leo’s cousin KATE, an intelligent check-in kiosk that can move autonomously, and in teams to busy or congested areas in airports.
KATE the kiosk can monitor a variety of data sources, including flight and passenger flow information, sense where and where additional check-in kiosks are needed and, using geo-location and obstacle avoidance technology, move through the airport without bumping into things or people.
The robotic kiosks are also designed to automatically return to their docking stations when they are low on power or if they need to be a fresh supply of boarding passes or bag tags.
Kate is cute (although she did run over my toes) and these roving kiosks could not only help airports and airlines better serve passengers when rebooking is necessary due to flight cancellations or weather delays, but they might also be useful on duty in offsite locations, such as train stations and convention halls and, possibly, cruise ports.
New ways to pay airlines – and get paid by airlines
Airlines that use the common-use SITA check-in kiosks and bag-drop stations now standard at many airports currently don’t currently have a secure way to accept passenger payments at those terminals for extras such as baggage fees upgrades and other ancillary items.
At the Air Transport IT Summit, SITA announced that is has solved the ‘multi-merchant’ problem with a new payment system that uses point-to-point encryption (P2PE) technology that can accept various forms of payment, including MasterCard, Visa and Payment Card Industry (PCI)-compliant chip cards.
Look for a roll-out of this in SITA’s common-use kiosks and bag drops stations at airports in the next few months.
On the flipside, for those occasions when airlines must (or want to) compensate passengers for flight delays, cancellation or overbookings, a company called TravaCoin has partnered with SITA to test a voucher system that airlines can use to quickly issue credit to passengers that can (or can only) be spent on new flights, upgrades, hotel stays, services inside the airport or perhaps donated to local charities and non-profits.
TravaCoin CEO and founder, Brian Whelan told USA TODAY he envisions the digital currency being of special interest to airlines based in or flying through European Union countries that are currently required by EU Regulation 261 to pay passengers up to 600 euros (currently about $668) per inconvenience.
“At the moment airlines are holding out and making it awkward,” said Whelan. “They’re losing the money eventually, but also losing customer loyalty. This is a way for airlines, even airlines not covered by the regulations, to be proactive by issuing currency that can be spent in the TravaCoin community. The goodwill and the money go hand in hand.”
So do the benefits that airlines, especially, might gain from adopting TravaCoin currency for compensating passengers.
“There is a ‘breakages’ notion,” said Whelan, “If you give people vouchers, one way the merchant benefits is if the customer never spends the voucher.”
TravaCoin’s surveys have found that while many passengers who say they’d accept the vouchers would ‘top up’ and spend some of their own cash on top of the voucher value, about 20 percent would likely not spend their vouchers at all.
The goodwill aspect of TravaCoin appeals to Brian Cobb, vice-president, Customer Experience at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, which has successfully used new technology to improve customer service with reduced checkpoint wait times and cleaner restrooms in public areas of the airport.
“Love the idea. Especially with the consumer choice in how to spend, including donating back to the community,” said Cobb. “While it is likely sometime in coming, airports may need to leverage customer service recovery tools much in the way airlines do today. It’s a solid method to support recovering the brand perception and exceeding customer expectations.”
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport celebrated the opening of its new $3 million, 30,000-square-foot South Terminal last week with a party on the terminal’s patio, live music, a ribbon cutting ceremony and a water cannon salute for the first flight: Allegiant’s Air’s Austin – Albuquerque nonstop.
The 3-gate South Terminal is in a building that dates back to the original Bergstrom Air Force Base that once occupied the area and is totally separate from the airport’s main Barbara Jordan Terminal.
The look of new facility invokes “the nostalgia of mid-century travel, with stylish retro 70s architecture and décor,” according to the airport, and features colors and textures native to Texas Hill Country and white canopies (outside) onto which changing colors will be projected.
Passengers will go outside to board their planes on ‘old-fashioned’ stairs. Indoor amenities include charging stations, water bottle refill stations, grab-n-go sandwiches and drinks, with an outdoor patio area with seating, a pet relief area, and a food truck. There’s also a stage for live music and plans for a food-truck style indoor eatery as well.
Allegiant Airlines is now operating its 10 non-stop Austin flights out of the new terminal and Sun Country Airlines and ViaAir will move operations over to the new terminal later this year.
(All photos courtesy: Sandy L. Stevens, Austin Aviation Dept.)
The 2017 Skytrax World Awards have been announced and – no surprise – Singapore Changi Airport has been named as the World’s Best Airport for the fifth consecutive year. The Crown Plaza Changi Airport was also named Best Airport Hotel – again.
Awards were announced in a wide variety of other categories – including cleanest airports and most improved.
A few of those lists are below. You can see the all the awards here.
Airports – good ones – do their best to offer service and amenities that will make your time in the terminal bearable and, increasingly, enjoyable.
What amenities are offered most?
What amenities are airports poised to add?
And what amenities are disappearing from airports?
The folks at Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA) did a survey of their members to find out and are sharing the results today of the 2017 ACI-NA Guest Experience Management and Passenger Amenities Survey.
The top 10 most commonly offered airport amenities and services in 2017 are:
Gift Shops / News Stands
Electrical Charging Stations
Restaurants and Bars
Lost and Found
Parking / Taxi and Limousine Services
Pre-Security Pet Relief Facilities
Food and Beverage Vending Machines
No big surprises there, but ACI-NA found out that over the next three to five years, passengers can expect new and expanded airport amenities and services such as:
Nursing mothers’ rooms and pods
Post-security pet relief facilities
Children’s play areas
Airfield observation areas
Adult changing and washroom facilities.
And, as passenger needs change, ACI-NA notes, airports are beginning to phase out unnecessary or redundant amenities and services.
So, get ready to say bye-bye over the next three to five years to: payphones, banking services, and smoking rooms at airports.
Why no more pay phones?
“Pay phones take up a lot of valuable real estate considering their low usage now in the smart phone age,” said ACI-NA spokesman Scott Elmore, “They are being replaced with electrical charging stations and free Wi-Fi to keep people connected.”
But what about kids or people who don’t have cell phones. Or have cell phones that are out of power?
“Airports are very cognizant of the need to remain accessible,” said Elmore, “So we expect to see the deployment of more courtesy phones with free local and international calling or calling cards for passengers in need.”