Airport wait times can cause a headache for travelers. You stand in line to check a bag, queue to show travel documents, go through scanning device after scanning device—and that’s just to get in the right building. Each of these steps involves several moving parts, and it’s up to airport operators to manage them. Effective airport queue management means better experiences, increased customer spending, and a stronger bottom line.
People counting in airports queues has long been leveraging technology. However, operators are also on the constant lookout for new solutions. Some are turning to video cameras and heatmaps in order to support real time queue management.
“If you’re two to three hours on the line, the airport gets the blame for it,” says Airports Council International North America (ACI-NA) president and CEO, Kevin M. Burke.
The importance of airport queue management systems can be quickly defined by three words: Service Level Agreements. Regardless of how operators feel about the practice and whether or not they’re greatly affected by varying queues is almost irrelevant. Airline service level agreements define key service standards and also how to quantifiably measure them. These SLAs are about ensuring that customers receive the services they’re paying for and in a reasonable manner.
As a result, the importance of queue management is in no way simply a theoretical nice-to-have for airports, but a fundamental requirement and regular measure of success. However, on top of fulfilling basic operational needs, a healthy queueing process also leads to more leisure time spent in the airport, increasing sales and making staff and asset utilization predictable.
Barcodes: used primarily in boarding passes. These are not just handy, they’re the norm. They work with a close-range scanner and can help operators capture data on 100% of passengers moving through a chokepoint.
Bluetooth: using beacons to track user movements. This data is generally anonymized. These can track numerous kinds of movements even from highway exits and parking lots all the way down to a certain retailer or gate.
WiFi with RSSI: using triangulation from access points, WiFi tracking allows operators to track and communicate with passengers through the terminal.
Video: tracking heads or using facial recognition to count people in a contained area.
Thermal imaging: using infrared and sensors, this long-standing method is commonly implemented as an extension of Bluetooth people counting systems.
Other solutions like passive RFID and NFC are also used but do not support the data needed for real time queue management. In reality, airports enlist numerous technologies to achieve a proper passenger flow and stay ahead of bottlenecks. Though barcodes are somewhat “old hat” these days, airlines and operators rely highly on them for the time being.
What a successful queue management system can provide:
Here's how it works
The infrastructure uses presence information to count the number of people queued at a particular point in time. By reading this information over time, managers can quickly understand how long the different processes should, and do, take.
Are you looking for a next-generation queue management solution?
There are several pros and cons for every type of airport queue management tool and systems, but there are two major ones that airports must deal with:
Effectively, the technology required for such systems is both expensive and limited to one use. Bluetooth systems on the other hand are highly affordable and can be adapted to support numerous other use cases like increasing sales, relaying information, or integrating point of sale, among many others. Learn more about Bluetooth use cases in airports here.
Plus, Bluetooth is unique in that it's already in use by a huge percentage of airport goers. That means any person with an ordinary phone can interact with the Bluetooth beacon signal.
While rope posts and signage are staples of healthy airport flow, operators will need to increasingly rely on technical solutions like those listed above. With more airlines joining the scene and more flyers visiting airports, simple rope posts won't be enough to keep lines moving. Active solutions that enable real-time responses and optimization will be key in keeping up with SLAs and flyer expectations.