Last updated: 04:00 PM ET, Wed March 30 2016

How New Apps Could Make Everyone into An Airport Expert

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | March 30, 2016

How New Apps Could Make Everyone into An Airport Expert

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

A growing number of airlines and airports are developing smartphone apps that can help streamline the process of finding your way through airports. Most of these are quite simple, doing nothing more than helping passengers find their way to their gate or helping them skim through restaurant listings and then providing them with directions from their current location to their eatery of choice.

Useful for fliers who are unfamiliar with airports

Having turn-by-turn directions can help infrequent fliers feel more confident about getting what they want out of their airport experience rather than expending all their energy just finding the gate and opting for whatever fast food counter they happen to pass along the way.

This is a pretty logical trend when you think about it. Google Maps provides turn-by-turn directions for people who want to get around a city that they are unfamiliar with. Why shouldn't they be able to have the same kind of wayfinding tools when they are in city-sized airports?

Wayfinding with beacons

Airport apps use different setups to provide these wayfinding services. When Wi-Fi is available, some apps rely on it to pinpoint locations and offer directions. However, an increasing number of apps use beacons to provide these services. Beacons, which transmit info to the app via Bluetooth technology, are better than Wi-Fi when it comes to collecting data.

READ MORE: Is This The Baggage Tag of The Future?

Beacons can be used to tell a passenger where they are in the airport and how to get to wherever they intend to go. At the same time, data collected by a beacon-powered app can be used to analyze passenger flow in the airport, especially at security checkpoints.

Also useful to analyze traffic flow

In fact, at Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson, the airport has just started a trial for a system that uses beacons to analyze traffic flow through security checkpoints and record wait times.

READ MORE: What Is The Internet Of Things And How Will It Affect Travel?

Right now, most of these apps are still in the testing phase or they are only available at major hubs.
American Airlines offers an app that provides directions at Miami International, Phoenix, San Jose and Chicago O'Hare. It will soon roll out the same app at other airports, including Dallas Fort Worth International, LaGuardia and LAX. United, meanwhile, is testing a similar app at Newark.

Other uses for beacons

San Francisco is developing a tool that uses beacons to help visually impaired fliers find their way through the terminal. JFK, Cincinnati and Austin airports are testing beacon-based systems that can track passenger movements through security and alert authorities about bottlenecks or long wait times.

All these beacon-based apps and tools are still very new, but so many are being tested right now that it would be safe to bet that smartphone-based wayfaring tools will soon become the norm at large and midsize airports around the world.


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