Now that ‘contactless’ is king, travel retail brand Hudson is rolling out airport convenience stores that will use Amazon’s ‘Just Walk Out’ technology.
The first Hudson Nonstop shop will open at Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL) sometime in the first quarter of 2021. And more airport ‘nonstop’ locations are promised for later in the year.
Here’s how it will work:
Travelers will gain access to the store with a credit card and shop as they would in a ‘normal’ store by picking up items they want to buy. Then, instead of going to the cashier stand, a shopper can just walk out of the store with their items. The high-tech store automatically adds the charges to the card.
The 500-square-foot Hudson Nonstop shop at Dallas Love Field will be located post-security, by Gate 10. For sale will be Grab & Go food, beverages, snacks, electronics, PPE items, and health and beauty items. And while the shopping will contactless, there will be staff on hand to clean and sanitize surfaces, restock shelves and, most likely, reassure customers that ‘Yes, you CAN just walk out with that stuff.”
Hudson is not the first to employ ‘Just Walk Out’ technology in an airport.
Back in March 2020 — unfortunately just as COVID-19 began shutting down travel — OTG began using the technology at one of its CIBO Express Gourmet Markets in Newark Liberty’s Terminal C. EWR now has two CIBO locations offering this contactless shopping option, with more in the works at EWR and other airports.
5 Ways Your Next Airport Visit Could Be Contactless
(This is a slightly different version of a story we prepared for USA TODAY)
In addition to cleaning, sanitizing, and setting up COVID-19 testing stations, airports are responding to the pandemic by making the journey through the terminal increasingly touch-free.
In pre-COVID days, some of the new contactless services would have been presented as convenient amenities. Today, they are part of the tool kit for keeping passengers safe and healthy, and confident enough to travel.
Contactless Airport Parking
Before the pandemic, some airports offered travelers the option to reserve and prepay for parking online. An assured spot in the terminal garage during busy times was the attraction. Sometimes perks such as close-in spaces and discounted rates enticed travelers to give the amenity a try.
Now, many more airports are promoting and launching touch-free parking systems. Travelers can avoid having to push a button to get a ticket on the way in and bypass the payment kiosk or staffed booth on the way out.
For example, at Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) customers who book parking online get a scannable QR code via email that opens the garage gate. A license plate reader recognizes their vehicle when they exit. San Francisco International Airport’s new touchless online parking system, rolled out right before Thanksgiving, works with scanned QR codes as well.
Contactless check-in & bag drop, biometric gates
Pre-pandemic, most passengers knew about but did not always use online check-in, digital boarding passes, and technology that let them print their own luggage tags at home and check in their own bags at the airport. Now those no or low-contact options are all but mandatory.
Airports and airlines are also piloting and fast-tracking a wide range of biometric technology and other tools that make the airport journey a bit more touch-free.
Aviation technology company SITA and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) recently piloted a system that allows passengers to use smartphones to operate check-in kiosks and avoid having to touch the communal screens. SITA’s Smart Path biometric touch-free boarding and exit gates are also operating at Orlando International Airport.
And multiple airlines are now testing a digital health passport, called CommonPass. The app will safely store health information needed for travel and eliminate the need for passengers to hand over paper copies of COVID 19 test results.
The security checkpoint
The Transportation Security Administration is reducing touchpoints at many airport security checkpoints.
More than 834 Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) units that reduce the time needed to confirm a traveler’s identity and allow travelers to put their own IDs into the scanner are now in use at 115 airports. And new computed tomography checkpoint scanners at 267 airports give TSA officers a 3-D view of carry-on bags. This decreases the need to open and touch bags and reduces the contact time between TSOs and passengers.
Touchless food ordering and delivery
Before COVID-19, the Grab app let hungry travelers skip lines and use their mobile devices to order meals for pick-up from a limited number of restaurants in a limited number of airports.
Avoiding airport lines is more important now. So, airports in Los Angeles, Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul and other cities are partnering with Grab to create accessible platforms that expand touch-free ordering options and broaden the number of participating concessions.
In a growing number of airports, runners for At Your Gate make in-terminal deliveries of meals and other items ordered via mobile devices from airport restaurants, newsstands, and retail shops.
The service, currently offered at LGA, JFK, EWR, DEN, BOS, SAN, MSP, PDX, and PHL is getting even more convenient and contactless at SAN and some other airports with the introduction of robots.
In partnership with Piaggio Fast Forward, At Your Gate delivery teams in JFK, MSP, DEN, and SAN will soon be joined in their rounds by small Gita robots. Each follow-along robot has a bin that can carry up to 40 pounds and will be used for contactless delivery of meals and retail items ordered.
Virtual information booths
Many airport information desks are going contactless. At Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport (SDF), LAX, DEN, BWI and other airports, passengers now use a touch-free tablet, a kiosk, or their own mobile device to connect with customer service agents who answer questions live, but from a distance.
Airlines are jumping on this bandwagon too. In December United Airlines debuted its “Agent on Demand,” service which lets customers in the airline’s hub airports use a mobile device to call, text, or have a live video chat with a customer service agent.
And now airlines are joining in with assistance from a distance.
First up is United Airlines. They are rolling out virtual, on-demand customer service at their hubs.
United’s “Agent on Demand” program lets passengers use their mobile devices to call, text, or video chat live with an airline agent.
So this means you can deal with a flight-related issue anywhere in the airport. And you can avoid lining up at the gate or at the airline service center.
United’s “Agent on Demand” service is up and running at Chicago O’Hare (ORD) and Houston’s George Bush International Airport (IAH). And the airline says the service should be live at its other hubs later this month.
To use the program, passengers scan a QR code or access the platform through self-service kiosks at some gate areas.
Like the in-airport staff, the remote agents are able to deal with tasks such as seat assignments, upgrades, standby lists, flight status, and rebooking.
And a nice added bonus, there’s a translation function in the virtual agent program. So if a customer types in one of 100 available languages, their messages are transcribed and sent to the agent in English. And the agent’s responses are returned in the language selected.
In this age of contactless everything, we expect other airlines to offer this type of service soon as well.
This robot is billed as “the only ultraviolet (UV) room disinfection technology proven to deactivate SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19.”
SAT says the LightStrike uses environmentally-friendly pulsed xenon and can disinfect an area in less than 10-15 minutes without warm-up or cool-down time. They plan to use it pretty much everywhere in the airport, including jet bridges, gate areas, ticketing counters, baggage claim, concessions, elevators, and restrooms.
And it looks like the LightStrike robot is here to stay. SAT airport plans to have a contest to give the robot a name.