Fast Forward
Fast Forward
Fast Forward
3 minute read

More airport innovation has occurred in past 10 to 15 years than in the previous 80 to 90 years. The possibilities are only limited by our ability to innovate the ultimate passenger experience.

We know what the first 100 years of commercial aviation have wrought, and it falls to me to speculate on the next 100. There are numerous conceivable possibilities — some realistic and some not. It is up to us as aviation professionals to identify the good ideas that can lead to more efficient, safe and pleasant experiences for air travel.

Some big ideas won't be realized any time soon. As long as I can remember — from the 1950s, at least — we have been waiting for flying cars. The convenience of flying from your driveway to your parking space at work would be great. But aside from the problem of extreme airspace congestion, the cost of defying gravity is outrageously high. It is doubtful this will happen anytime in this millennium.

On the other hand, Virgin Galactic will begin commercial space flights from Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert. Unfortunately, since they won't accept my frequent flyer miles, I won't be one of the passengers.

Let's look at some changes in the commercial travel world that could occur.

Passenger Processing

I fly a lot, but flying is still an anomaly in my life — a process wedged between doing something somewhere and doing something somewhere else. The real job of an airport is to get people from the highway to the airway or vice versa as quickly and efficiently as possible. We refer to this as the passenger experience. There are two extremes on the continuum of passenger experience: make it pass as quickly as possible or make it as enjoyable as possible. I think most passengers prefer the former, and eliminating the waiting and inefficiencies should be our primary goal.

Self-service ticketing and check-in have been successful programs for most airlines. Some airports and airlines have deployed self-boarding — think barcode scanner on a subway turnstile — and are seeing positive results. Technical challenges with passengers self-tagging bags and common
bag drop have been resolved, and the trials are largely successful. Only acceptance from the Transportation Security Administration and remodeling of airport bag intake infrastructure remains. I expect both of these improvements to be widely deployed in the next 10 years.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) bag tags are in limited use and will grow slowly. When the number of RFID-capable airports reaches a critical mass, we can expect permanent, durable RFID bag tags or RFID-readable luggage, likely linked to trusted traveler registration.


I've heard recently that terrorists may attempt to transport explosives onto aircraft by surgically implanting the material in their bodies. The contraband cannot be detected by the current strip-search viewers. If this type of threat proves to be real, expect another layer of screening technology, further complicating and lengthening the screening process.

Technology alone, however, cannot provide security. Only good intelligence has a chance of protecting us. The buzzphrase for this is risk-based assessment, but it's really a reconstituted version of passenger profiling. Rather than selecting passengers to undergo additional screening, risk-based assessment eliminates passengers that do not present a threat, allowing resources to be focused on the remainder. With thoughtful implementation, we might have a chance of success using this strategy. In terms of airport design, risk-based assessment could require increased square footage for the screening process and implementation of additional wayfinding and methods to pre-sort passengers for multi-level screening.

How many of our airports perform in-line bag screening in the bowels of the terminal? This represents one of the most significant threat vectors to our facilities, and terminal planners need to eliminate it. Fortunately, the move to remote baggage check will facilitate consolidation of screening in more isolated and dedicated baggage locations.


The amount of money airports can charge airline tenants is near maximum. Increases in the federal Passenger Facility Charge are strongly opposed by airlines because it makes the ticket price appear higher. Consequently, the only revenue growth open to airports comes from from such non-aviation sources as amenities, parking, concessions and advertising.

The possibilities are limited only by airport staff creativity. Among the new ideas circulating: medical clinics, pet boarding facilities and laundry drop-off. The goal is to convince passengers it is more convenient to obtain these services at the airport rather than elsewhere. In addition to the standard fare, airport eateries will have new specialty restaurants representing the local flavor — at a higher cost.

Implementation of one-to-one marketing schemes and convenient concourse storefronts will target product offerings to specific passenger preferences as we attempt to extract more dollars between the time the passenger clears screening and boards the plane.

The Unpredictable

Flight, like steam power before it and the Internet after, was a disruptive technology — a discovery that caused the flow of progress to jump from one path to another. It precipitated a cascade of previously unconcieved ideas. I hope for a new disruptive technology in the air-transport business, particularly
in our approach to security.

More airport innovation has occurred in past 10 to 15 years than in the previous 80 to 90 years. The possibilities are only limited by our ability to innovate the ultimate passenger experience.

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