Among the various new technologies that promise to fundamentally alter the way passengers travel, beacons represent a particularly exciting opportunity for airlines, travelers, and airports. Beacons, which are just now beginning to be tested on a wide scale, have the potential to affect air travel in a variety of ways, making it easier and faster for passengers to get through the airport, increasing efficiency for airlines, and offering retailers the opportunity to market directly to consumers based on their location and preferences.
Although the technology behind beacons is still in its infancy and there are many hurdles to overcome before it can be more widely adopted, it has the potential to yield many benefits to airlines and passengers alike.
What Are Beacons?
Beacons are small devices that transmit information via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) signals that can reach up to 100 feet. Beacons typically transmit information based on specific triggers that are often tied to a location. For example, an airport retailer may have a beacon that automatically transmits a coupon to a traveler when they pass by their storefront. Because beacons only use low energy transmissions, they are cheap and easy to deploy in a variety of locations.
Getting to the Gate on Time
One of the most significant applications of beacon technology is its use in helping travelers get through the airport and to their gates on time. There are a variety of ways beacons can help make this possible.
When a traveler first arrives at the airport, a beacon can automatically check them in. They can also transmit a copy of the passenger’s boarding pass directly to their smartphone or other mobile device, eliminating the need to wait in the check-in line. As they approach security, another beacon can automatically “pull” the boarding pass up on the smartphone’s display so that it is already open for inspection without the traveler needing to do anything. The beacon can also alert the traveler as to what other documents they need to be ready to show, such as a passport or driver’s license.
Once past the security check, beacons around the airport can help guide passengers to their gate by sending location-based alerts to their devices. Beacons can also be particularly useful for passengers with vision impairment, by providing audio cues directing them to the correct gate. Once they have arrived, beacons can keep travelers informed of how much time they have until boarding, and alert them to any gate changes.
Enhancing the Customer Experience
Beacon technology is not only a benefit to the airlines and airports by reducing the number of staff needed to help passengers get to the correct gate on time, they also make the travel experience a much more enjoyable one. A passenger might receive an alert on their smartphone indicating that their flight is delayed, followed by instructions and vouchers for rebooking their tickets. They can also receive baggage claim instructions indicating what carousel their bags are at, and how long they will have to wait for them. Meanwhile, beacons can make it easier for travelers to enjoy amenities. An airline can have a WiFi password automatically sent to a passenger once they enter the airline’s lounge, or indicate what amenities are located near their gate.
The Right Offer at the Right Time
Indeed, airport retailers are likely to prove the other big beneficiary of beacon technology. Because beacons are small and easy to deploy, retailers can use them to market targeted offers directly to passengers as they enter or pass by their store. A coffee chain, for example, can automatically keep track of the number of purchases a traveler makes and send them an electronic voucher for a free beverage periodically. Airlines will be able to transmit similar offers to their frequent flyer members based on their travel and purchasing history, with offers specifically geared to the travelers current location in the airport.
While the potential for beacon technology is enormous, airlines and airports have only begun to scratch the surface. As the technology is adopted more widely, we will likely see carriers come up with even more uses for beacons.