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Rebooting Air Travel with IoT

Imagine this: You plan your travel and book tickets, and are automatically allotted a seat 24 hours before departure based on your preferences. All this without the need to log into a website or use an app! Once at the airport, you can track your checked-in luggage using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) baggage tracking technology. You can now see exactly where in the airport your luggage is—on the way to the aircraft, on the plane, or on its way to baggage claim. Bye-bye lost baggage turmoil!


Air travel has come a long way in the past decade, and airlines are leaving no stone unturned to provide every possible facility to their customers. Emerging technologies riding the digital wave, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), are playing a significant role in how the aviation sector shapes up—becoming more efficient and fastidiously focused on passenger experience.

According to a survey by SITA, a whopping 86% of global airlines believe that IoT can create a real and quantifiable benefit for their customers, and by extension, to their business.

Here are a few examples of how global airlines are upping the game using the IoT technology:

  • Virgin Atlantic has connected its fleet of Boeing 787 planes and cargo equipment using IoT devices. This allows information to be shared in real time about the functioning of critical items like engine, landing gear, et. al. Virgin can now proactively resolve any mechanical issue before it occurs making sure that flights are safer, have minimal delays, and offer an enhanced travel experience to the customers.
  • Delta Airlines has been able to achieve 99.9% success rate—the best seen in US global airlines since 2015—for baggage tracking and location. It is the first airline in the US to use RFID tracking technology to give complete transparency and control to passengers over where their luggage is.
  • Qantas Airways has partnered with Samsung Electronics to offer the first Virtual Reality (VR) headsets to passengers for a more immersive, personalized in-flight entertainment experience.
  • JetBlue has automated its check-in process using IoT and uses customer insights to allocate a seat to them 24 hours before takeoff. The airline has also used IoT to automate key aspects of its systems that help in preempting mechanical errors or reallocating resources for increased productivity.
  • Miami International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the US, uses a network of 400 IoT beacons to provide detailed information to passengers based on their location, needs, and preferences.

The SITA survey also found that airlines and airports are anticipating huge IT investments in the near future and that IoT will be a significant contributor in generating massive benefits by 2018. Some of the areas where airlines can make an impact on passenger experience using IoT include:

Commuter Tracking: By knowing the whereabouts of passengers and their luggage, airlines can ensure a higher degree of CSAT. Using beacon-based solutions, passengers can have easy access to critical information like flight delays, wait time, and gate change.

Alerts: Airport and airline services can be radically improved by sending out alerts to employees. For instance, having IoT-enabled infrastructure in place that predicts and proactively schedules maintenance for faulty equipment will ensure more efficient functioning and minimal disruption to operations. Even getting timely alerts about refilling empty consumable racks before the shortage impacts customers, goes a long way in enhancing the traveler experience.

Personalization: IoT technologies can also be used effectively to offer personalized services to passengers based on information gained from past experience and real-time influencers. For instance, using the beacon network to trigger boarding passes to passengers when they approach the security check or the boarding area can streamline process, and reduce effort and costs.

Operational Efficiency: Smart airline companies are also using IoT to improve processes that have a direct impact on the bottom-line. By integrating IoT with big data, information about a flight can be analyzed in real time, even while the flight is in transit. By actively seeking data about flight performance, fuel efficiency, and engine functioning, airlines can take the required precautionary action that directly impacts efficiency.

Improved Marketing: With IoT, airlines (and airports) can push ancillary products and services to the customer based on their preferences. This includes lounge access, quick access to security, flight boarding using sensor technology, use of In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) flight map to book taxis while in-transit and having passengers connect to high-speed Wi-Fi in-flight or at the airport for online shopping.

While there are several uses of IoT in the travel industry, the technology is still in a nascent phase, with different geographies in varied stages of development and implementation. Moreover, the travel industry is partner-intensive with multiple stakeholders—airline, airport, retail, car services, et. al.—each having their own unique level of tech maturity and disparate systems. This makes it imperative that airlines be more partner-centric to meet a common IoT vision.

However, one of the biggest concerns around IoT devices is regarding security. With the recent spurt of DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks and malware disrupting networks riding on IoT hardware, there are serious concerns around the reliability of the data gained. The aviation industry functions in the most secure environment on the globe. Given this, for any IoT enactment, security needs to be given top priority.

For more information on how IoT is playing a crucial role in enabling airlines to exceed customer expectations, click  here.

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