A Glimpse Into the Airport of the Future

Dec 10, 2016

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While there are the glories of travel — like flying in Etihad’s Residence or Singapore Suites — sometimes the process of getting through the airport can be a dark spot on a trip. From rude TSA agents to long lines, airports (especially in the US) aren’t exactly known to be places that elicit an enjoyable experience. There’s newfound hope, though, that this may all be changing in the airports of the future.

The Boston Globe spent time reporting, “Inside TSA, the agency we love to hate,” and found that the agency is being proactive on how it can improve a few things — mainly the traveler’s experience and security. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that in order for the airport experience to be more enjoyable, things need to change. Thankfully, the TSA is making improvements and bringing the “Airport of the Future” closer to becoming a reality. Take a look at how the airports of the future will look and work, and what’s already being implemented and what’s in the works at airports across the country:

1. Determining Risk

In the airport of the future, before heading through security, you’ll already be pre-screened and your security risk will be determined — sometimes as soon as your flight is booked. Well before you send your bags through the X-ray scanner, the TSA will compile data on you and add it to your “risk profile.” Your profile will consist of details like where you’ve previously traveled, rather than race or religion information.

PreCheck travelers will be categorized as a lower risk.

We already see passenger data collecting with programs like TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. In order to enroll in one of the programs for an additional fee, you have to go through screening and an interview in order to get approved. Thankfully, if you’re enrolled in PreCheck, your risk profile will be lower than a fellow traveler who is not.

This is currently being piloted.

2. Traffic Assessment

One thing you may not know is just how much the TSA, airlines and airports are working together. Every single morning, top TSA officials have a conference call with representatives from 30 airports and the major airlines that operate out of them, as well as the TSA officials working in each of the 30 airports. In an effort to anticipate any travel spikes (if it’s vacation season in one part of the country or if there’s a major sporting event), the TSA tries to be proactive in moving officers around to accommodate the increased number of travelers going through security checkpoints. On the call, the TSA and representatives share information like the longest wait times for that morning, estimates in the number of travelers for the coming days and the total number of travelers who went through screening from the day before. The agency’s headquarters also features real-time displays of airports around the country where the checkpoint wait times are too long.

While we don’t know what’s discussed on those phone calls, we can see the effects. This past summer when security checkpoint lanes were incredibly long, American, Delta and United all pledged money to aid the TSA in security efforts. Hopefully the TSA will continue to innovate in this regard.

This is already happening.

3. Animal Assistance

Is there any way dogs could become the new TSA? Probably not. However, they’re helping in turning standard passengers into PreCheck-like passengers. After a handler takes a explosive-sniffing dog through the security line, the dog will sniff each passenger and each bag that rolls by. If nothing’s detected, the passenger can be cleared as a PreCheck passenger, not requiring them to take off their shoes — speeding up the process for everyone involved.

K-9 units are one of the most effective forms of explosive detection.

These explosive-detecting K-9 units are currently deployed at airports across the country, but that isn’t the only form of animal intervention we’ve seen. While they might not be in it for the security aspect, airports are seeing an uptick in their therapy animal departments. Specifically, San Francisco (SFO) just introduced a pig to its team of therapy dogs to help stressed and frenzied travelers relax before their flights.

This is already happening.

4. Identification Sans Boarding Pass

You know that part of the security checkpoint process where you hand over your ID and boarding pass to a TSA officer and they write some illegible scribbles before you continue on? In the airport of the future, we could no longer have to go through that process. Instead, you’ll insert your license or passport into a scanner, which is connected to the government’s Secure Flight database. The scanner will ensure that the ID is verified and real and that you’re flying. Further down the line, this step could even be replaced with submitting some form of biometric identification like a thumbprint or iris scan.

While we might not be seeing this quite yet with security screening, we’re already seeing it in other parts of the airport experience. New technology that United is using allows lounge agents to verify that the passenger’s boarding pass is real instead of gaming the system with a fake pass.

This is the next priority for the TSA.

5. Faster Checkpoint Lanes

We’ve been hearing a lot about automated security checkpoint lanes recently, and for good reason. The lanes allow more than one passenger to put their items in a bin at once — in fact, they allow for continuous movement. Two lanes are set up parallel to each other and travelers can step up to an open bin, fill it with their belongings, push it onto the conveyor belt and head to the scanner. Instead of having to manually push your bin along, a conveyor belt will do it for you and you’ll soon have a radio frequency ID that will associate the bag to you. Ideally, this technology will expand on a national scale.

Technology like this is already in place at several airport, including O’Hare (ORD), Newark (EWR), Atlanta (ATL) and Los Angeles (LAX). In several cases, reports are that the automated bins have increased checkpoint speeds by upward of 30%. Eventually, the TSA wants to advance the body scanner to be two open-air panels that don’t require you to hold your hands up, and it’ll only take one or two seconds — but that’s just a thought at this point.

This is currently being piloted.

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 16: Passengers at O'Hare International Airport wait in line to be screened at a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint on May 16, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. Waiting times at the checkpoints today have been reported to be as long 2 hours. The long lines have been blamed for flight delays and a large number of passengers missing flights completely. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
The airport experience could soon be more enjoyable.

Bottom Line

Overall, the airport of the future looks to be one that’ll make the airport less of a stressful and unenjoyable experience. With the combination of quicker screening processes, using preventative measures to accommodate peak travel periods and pre-screening passengers with dogs and technology, we could all soon be more thrilled with our travel experiences — thanks to airlines and the TSA.

What do you hope to see in the airports of the future?

H/T: The Boston Globe

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