Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Make flying more convenient?

I am fortunate to have been given opportunities to work in vastly different field, from Automotive Industry (Dealer Network Development), lifestyle business (Food and Beverage), dipped my toe in the Car Rental world, and now for the present, Aviation Solutions. I must admit, this is by far the biggest learning curve for me, because unlike the past, I am not here to start the business unit, I’ve been asked to join an existing operation, with great people who has true determination.

http://www.airportsuvarnabhumi.com/gallery/As a part of getting to know the field, I’d decided to take a look at the duopoly in Boeing and Airbus, and as usual got side tracked into the future of air travel on Airbus’ website. They were overflowing with ideas, from pre-loading the travellers into appropriate seats, then load the whole floor into the plane (just like baggage in the ULDs), to plane stations not unlike the undergrounds.

Many of their ideas would require huge infrastructure changes, and for a novice like me, can not see it happening in the next 3 generations that is our children’s children’s children’s life time :) So here is the question, how to make air travel more convenient within the next 10 years.

Logically, it is more than just time taking to board a plane. If we are to discuss this logically we really should consider our very first step that we take from our homes as the overall convenient of air travel, and considering many developing countries perhaps having only one or two international airports, that basically throws the ‘convenient’ part out of a window of a very, very high building.

Yellow Brick Road

How do I get to the airport? I do live in the capital city of a developing country, admittedly our country is probably more developed than many on the same list. The most convenient would be (ranking from the most to the least), self drive (if you can stand the traffic), Taxi (if you can get them), BTS (aka Sky train, but this for many means getting a taxi to the station in the first place) and perhaps one could always take the bus (would be the best option if you are a masochist). So in a way, air travel is already pretty inconvenient, of course it would be silly to expect an Airbus A380 to stop outside my house just to pick up myself and a couple of overnight bags.

So infrastructure is important (a bit obvious there), my own preference is to catch the BTS to the Airport (there is a BTS Station walking distance away from my house). Even during rush hour, it would be possible for me to arrive at the airport in about forty five minutes to an hour, and that is pretty good especially in a country where you can spend two hours to travel less than two kilometres by car.

So infrastructure needs to be included into the ‘convenient’ equation, but that again is a national project that will take time to plan and complete. So let focus on once we have arrived at the airport.

For the past few months hell had been raised at the speed of ‘check in’ and ‘immigration’ at our almost brand new airport, many people have missed their flights due to the lightning pace they can process our documentation. Well since then, the process and facility seems to have improved, they had renovate the immigration area, and for us native we now have ‘high tech’ stations with marvelous swinging doors (the feeling is similar to Arnold’s Total Recall), where they asked you to scan in your passport and fingers, followed by a snapshot of your face.

Nice lady behind a desk

Checking in, I’d guess one of the best development is the ‘Internet Check In’, that is all well and good if you don’t have any luggage, since most of us would like to change our clothes, having a bag of two is quite reasonable. How can we speed up the ‘check in’ process?

Let us breaking down the ‘check in’ process by function, checking passport to see if it is valid for travel, checking your reservation/ticket, checking in your luggage (overweight?), reserving your seats and to say ‘thank you for flying with us’ (do they still do that?), then they issue the boarding card and immigration card for you to fill out.

Would it be possible to get rid of passport in its current book form? A better alternative would probably be passport card, with digital visa. If you are from a developing country, applying for a visa to enter America or Japan is like an asking a three year old to beat Mr. Bolt at the 100 metre dash, but that is another issue altogether. Back to the passport card, perhaps all of the ticketing stuff can be loaded onto the passport card too.

One Card to rule them all, one Card to find them, one Card to bring them all and in the darkness speed us through the check in and immigration desk. Our lives could be so much easier, just hand over the passport/ticket card at the check in desk, if there are any overweight baggage charge, one could possible charge it to the card too (wishful thinking here), one swipe of the card and all is done, no need to flip through the pages, checking if the name on the passport is the same as on the ticket, no need to delay the queue on overweight baggage payment.

However I do believe the boarding card will still need to exist, my memory is worst than a goldfish with amnesia, so having a physical card helps, and there are two more functions to it, one for when you purchase duty free goods (they need to refer to it), and finally in case there is a seat dispute on the plane (it happens to all of us sooner or later).

You are such a drag

I’ve been mulling over luggage, and so far haven’t come up with a better/faster way than the current barcode stickers thingy. Well there was this one very silly idea, luggage recognition. So when the nice lady/gentleman check you in, at the same time a camera then ‘recognise’ your luggage, linking it to your flight, from then using a similar tool to facial recognition sends your bags to the right handler to be loaded onto the correct plane... meh... considering that most of the businessmen uses identical grey samsonite suitcases, even Sequoia from IBM would have problem sending it to the correct destination.

So the barcode sticker thingy it is, but perhaps we could apply similar process to web check in, we can print out the barcode and somehow (this is a huge somehow) stick it to your bags :) before we arrive at the airport, assuming all of us has a printer at home... oh dear this is another ‘meh’ idea isn’t it.

Yes Sir, No Ma'am, please, I just want to go on a holiday

Immigration desk has been the bane for many travellers (especially here :)), the long queue whether arriving or departing, over here we also need to hand over the immigration card filled by hand, with the usual information, name, address, flight number, where are you staying, how many tattoos do you have and where they are located.

Logically one could also add digitally the embarkation/immigration card into the passport card too, no need to fill anything, and more importantly the officers can just throw out their stamp, everything will be digital and put onto the passport card. I think the only proof of who we are can just be a simple case of a fingerprint scan done once and kept in the record (so the next time there won’t be a need to scan the fingers again, this is now being used in Malaysia).

Taking it to the extreme, no more officers will be needed, just a card and fingerprint scanner gate, of course the black belt ninjitsu master security guards will still be lurking behind some pillars just to make sure we behave ourselves.

Off with your pants, please sir.

What comes after immigration? The dreaded security checks for your personal belongings, and a chance to remove all your liquids and soon in the future it will include what is in your bowel as well :) off with the belt, shoes and your dangerous collection of coins, please don’t forget to remove your notebook from the lead lined bag too.

So how can we speed things up here? I’d guess we should find a way for all of us to maintain what dignity we have left in today’s modern society, and not having to remove a single item from our body. Well, apart from the full body instant ‘nudie show’ scanner, which blows the ‘dignity’ part sky high, I can’t really think of a more convenient alternative.

Another waiting room?

Just before boarding, why on earth do we have to have our boarding and passport checked once more time, if this is a security issue then I’ll let it be, otherwise just cut out this process, and just let us board the blooming plane :)

Taxi!

Not exactly the ones with wheels, waiting to taxi off can take forever, so the video I saw on Airbus’ website made perfect sense for me, ‘Vertical’ takeoff, no more waiting, just go when you the last git manages to pull his fat arse away from the bar and wobble to the plane. This technology already exists, but putting it on to a commercial airline may be many years away yet.

Realistically, will these changes ever come to light, may be, will it be here in the next ten years… meh… :) Looks like my great grand children will be flicking through their paper passports, waiting in long queue just to get a silly little stamp, then more waiting, and waiting and taking off their shoes and belt, and more waiting… :)

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