Reports predict miniature cities where travelers do more than catch flights
When you arrive at the airport in the year 2025, you’ll automatically receive a message on your mobile phone saying that you’ve been confirmed for your flight and directing you to a reserved parking space. You’ll make your way through the airport, guided by an augmented reality program that adds computer-generated directions to your view of the real world. At a self-service bag drop, a photo of your luggage will be taken, assigned an electronic tracking number and stored on your phone. The security checkpoint will detect your heartbeat, compare it to your biometric signature on file and match your name with the boarding information on your phone. While you walk to your gate, you’ll receive messages for special offers tailored to your interests, perhaps an invitation to play an immersive dinosaur-hunting game. When it’s time to board, a message will pop up. Once you’ve taken your seat, you can rejoin your hunting party and spend the flight stalking T. Rex with your fellow travelers. All of this happens automatically and seamlessly, with no effort on your part beyond waving your phone in front of a near-field communication sensor.
That is the future predicted by a pair of reports prepared by Amadeus, a travel technology company headquartered in Madrid, Spain. Navigating the Airport of Tomorrow was released last year, while Reinventing the Airport Ecosystem came out in May. The more recent report takes all of the trends affecting air travel—not just advances in technology but political, economic, social, environmental and legislative factors—and maps out a strategic direction for the industry to follow in the next 20 years. Researchers interviewed 73 experts, ranging from airport managers to airline analysts, then tested their conclusions by surveying 838 travelers about how they would react in these future scenarios.
“Airports will be a very interesting place to watch in the next couple of years,” says Patricia Simillon, Amadeus’ head of airline operations strategy.
It’s important for airports to improve the passenger experience, Simillon says, because they’ll be facing increasing competition, not only from alternate transportation options like high-speed rail but from other airports. As a 21st century traveler, “I not only choose my airline, I choose my airports,” Simillon says. For example, she avoids booking connections through airports that have a reputation for losing luggage.
The airline industry’s volatility and razor-thin profit margins mean that airports need to focus on other sources of revenue, and that generally means convincing passengers to spend more time—and money—at the airport. “It’s very important for an airport to be attractive,” Simillon says. According to the survey, “62% of passengers say the airport is really part of the travel journey.” They want the airport to be more than a place to catch their plane. They want it to be unique and reflect local culture. And they want to know there will be plenty to keep them entertained if they have a four-hour connection. “Airports will be competing not only to have the fastest security line but the best gaming experience,” Simillon says.
The survey presented passengers with five possible models describing what the airport of tomorrow might look and feel like. The most popular model was also the most complex. More than 40% of those surveyed said that airports in 2025 will be like self-sufficient, miniature cities. Not only will they generate their own energy, they may grow their own food. Passengers with time before their flight departs can visit a museum, apply for a bank loan or get their eyesight checked. “You have that sense of the airport beginning to become much more than an airport,” Simillon says.
Some airports are already leading the way toward this model. At the Munich Airport in Germany, local residents who aren’t even flying come to shop in its stores, “like a regular shopping mall,” Simillon says. Singapore’s award-winning Changi Airport is a prime example of many of the concepts presented in the report. For every $10 spent in the airport, customers receive a voucher for a ride down a four-story twisty slide. Entertainment and leisure options range from movie theaters to a tropical butterfly garden. Passengers are encouraged to use their phones to report when bathrooms need to be cleaned or restocked, rewarding them with vouchers if a janitor doesn’t arrive within three minutes. All of this gives visitors a reason to look forward to connecting through Changi.
Surprisingly, passengers are OK with sharing their personal data, as long as they have control over who has access and the flow of information directed at them. “They want to be the one driving demand,” Simillon says. It’s also important that they see a clear benefit. They don’t want to be spammed, but personalized offers well-tailored to their needs are welcome.
The key to achieving all this is collaboration, the report concludes. Airports, airlines, retailers and other stakeholders will all have to work together on a whole new level to make these complex, futuristic concepts a reality. “You need collaboration because you can’t make it work alone,” Simillon says. “You can’t have what the passenger is looking for without a true collaboration between all partners.”
Image: Infographic from Reinventing the Airport Ecosystem report, courtesy of Amadeus IT Group