COVID-19: Digital interaction and integrated mobility as a response to current crisis

Guest Author by Guest Author | Feb 5, 2021

Written by Alexandra Droc, Senior Consultant, Ineco and Carlos Delgado, Senior Transport Consultant, Ineco

This past year airports and airlines have been faced with the worst crisis in aviation history. As a result they have had to adapt their networks, services and infrastructure; invest in new technologies; and strengthen health and safety protocols.

All of these expenses have been imposed on the industry while suffering dramatic revenue decline due to loss in demand and the sudden rise in cost of additional sanitary measures.

For example, the Spanish airport network operator, Aena, reported a decrease of 72.4% in passenger traffic in 2020, as well as a drop of 53.4% in operations as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Limitations to mobility

Many government restrictions that were put in place at the start of the outbreak are still being implemented today.  The new variants of the virus are urging countries to restrict free movement again.

In the European Union, additional to the barriers, the main common actions are:

  • Closing of the frontier for passenger traffic originating from non- EU countries. The list of countries is based on each country’s epidemic overview and the principle of reciprocity. Few EU member states introduce sudden temporary bans on non-essential travel within the EU from time to time
  • Mandatory quarantine or isolation upon arrival
  • Negative COVID-19 certification
  • Online declarations and form submissions
  • Infection testing after arrival
  • Restricted mobility between regions across the country
  • Limited commercial activities (retail, leisure and food and beverage sectors). When not restricted to essential activities, capacity is regulated.
  • Night-time curfews
  • Control of gatherings between different households.

Once mortality and risk levels are lower, and the vaccination campaigns prove to have positive impact, the aviation sector will still face challenges in bouncing back as there are a myriad of factors that affect passengers’ decisions, such as:

  1. Remote working and virtual collaboration habits may reduce business travel, especially to gain time
  2. Passenger confidence may be impacted by the fear of infection on planes or airports, but also in the destination country, and
  3. Mandatory medical travel documentation such as vaccination certificates may be an obstacle for some.

Digital interaction and integrated mobility as a foundation of recovery

If the aviation industry can take one lesson learned from this crisis it is that the key to recovery and restart is digital transformation and technology.

COVID-19 created pressure on the industry to develop solutions and, as a result, created safer travel. Developments like touchless technology and self-service, alongside the implementation of hand sanitation stations and wearing face coverings, rebuilt passenger confidence.

There is seemingly no limit to the amount of information available to passengers including authority travel restrictions and travel recommendations, airline, airport, hotel, rail and ground transportation standards.

This information is extremely fragmented, which is why sending it into a single source – to a travellers’ mobile device with real time, itinerary-specific updates – would enhance traveller confidence.

Technology offers a multitude of solutions and so far, the most state-of-the-art are:

  • Integration of conversational channels not only in customer service but also in sales, check-in process, and schedule or gate updates.  Chatbots and virtual assistants are integrated to Messenger, WhatsApp or similar Apps to engage passengers in conversation via their ordinary means of communication
  • Intuitive signalization and facilitated wayfinding thanks to digital interaction. For instance, like Google Maps, AenaMaps is aimed at assisting passengers at all stages of their journey from planning to the flight itself. Users are empowered to view their entire journey in the airport, calculate transit time and receive up-to-date information on schedule and capacity in terminals
  • Use of biometrics to accelerate check-in, security and boarding controls. By registering on the airline’s or airport’s App, travellers are enabled to board the plane without showing their boarding pass or identity documentation
  • Development of Mobility As A Service (MaaS) platforms and growing efforts to include airway tickets into the program. This is designed to turn multimodal travels into seamless experiences and diminish the time spent on planification, ticket acquisition and modification in case of incidents and changes
  • Use of relevant mobility data generated by this set of mobile Apps to predict mobility demand. This collaborative model of smart clustering is meant to provide travellers with both the accurate mobility offer and the best transport recommendations according to habits and actual situation.

There is no doubt that this transition to digital will help reduce touchpoints and pain points. This will lead to simpler and quicker journeys, as well as more empowered passengers, which will rebuild confidence in air travel unsurprisingly.

The most effective way to do this, however, is to always grant high quality free and unlimited Wi-Fi and make these technology tools more human to ensure user adoption.

Alexandra Droc has more than 5 years’ experience working on passenger journey improvements and customer experience implementation in the airport industry. As a Senior Consultant with Ineco she collaborates on the development of customer-centric solutions for multiple clients from the airport industry, putting a great deal of importance on opportunities to increase revenues. Prior to joining INECO, she developed her career with Brussels Airport Company and Aeropuertos Argentina 2000. She holds a Master´s Degree from the University of Louvain and a specialization in Integrated Marketing, as well as expertise in Design Thinking.

Carlos Delgado is a Senior Transport Consultant with a MSc in Civil Engineering and more than 12 years’ experience in strategic transport planning and mobility. He joined INECO 7 years ago and currently, he leads the works carried out for the Spanish Transport and Logistics Observatory. In addition, he has participated as a key expert in various consultancy projects, such as smart transport planning, strategic policies, regulation and competence, logistics and freight, transport economics, PPPs, and project finance for all transportation modes – aviation, railway, roadway, maritime, and public transport

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