Lonely Planet Writer

Self-service travel the way forward for the airport of the future according to airline survey

Manually checking in bags, printed boarding passes, and an immigration officer checking your documents may all become quaint reminders of a past era of airport travel, according to a major survey of airlines.

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Self-service baggage drops are the future for airports. Image by frankieleon / CC BY 2.0

By 2018, three in every five passengers at airports will use their mobile phone for self-service check-in with 72% of airlines offering automatic check-in options. The research – published by the air technology firm SITA in their The Future is Connected report – also showed that 90% of airports will be offering automatic bag drop by then.

Electronic scanning of documents is the area likely to grow fastest however, with four in five airlines having passport scanners installed within three years. Self-boarding gates – which normally use a combination of photos and biometrics – are also expected to be available at more than half of all airports.

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Smartphone boarding pass. Image by Thomas van de Weerd / CC BY 2.0

Nigel Pickford of SITA explained: “The air transport industry has already embraced self-service and now it is turning to the ‘Internet of Things’ to deliver a more connected experience to travellers. Half of airlines expect to have Internet of Things initiatives up and running over the next three years; meanwhile airports are building out the infrastructure to support [it].”

The airline industry has set ambitious targets for “fast travel” hoping for 80% of global passengers to use self-service by the end of the decade. In 2015, the figure had already hit 29% with the goal set for this year for two in every five passengers to serve themselves while travelling.

However, more traditional methods of check-in are still popular, particularly among older passengers, less frequent travellers and those less likely to use mobile phones. Smart phones are an obvious necessity for electronic boarding and although 83% of airline passengers carry one … that still leaves a sizable chunk of the population that need to be catered for the old-fashioned way.