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The new social distancing norm will result in airport self service

Borry Vrieling, Founder and Managing Director of eezeetags, details how a post-coronavirus world will further require a developed self-service journey.

Self service will be needed post COVID-19

When designing the eezeetags® product, the main functionality was to speed up the end-to-end self-service bag-drop process whilst enhancing passenger experience.

IATA forecasts were previously doubling the world-wide passenger numbers from four billion to reach approximately eight billion in 2035; setting huge challenges for the air travel industry. How should aviation cope with these growth numbers? Due to political, environmental and regulatory restrictions, building extra terminal capacity in most countries could easily take the predicted 15 years. A massive world-wide terminal congestion seemed to become a factual threat.  

Installing several versions of self service along the passenger journey from kerb to gate showed spectacular results. Home app check-in, digital boarding passes, boarding pass activated entry gates, check-in kiosks, self-service bag drop, biometrics, automated boarding gates and more. The results were staggering. Limiting human contact in these processes resulted in a shorter overall end-to-end process time and reduced queues to an absolute minimum. A sure challenge is to do this in a passenger friendly way which can be related to a positive airline experience – this is extremely important in these modern days as brands can be made or broken on social media almost overnight.

The passenger experience element of self service especially has always been in the heart of our development. The bag tag’s unique adhesive that only sticks to itself allows the instructions to be one picture – language neutral – of simply joining two dots. This led to spectacular growth, resulting in over 50 airports worldwide serving an eezeetag in either a dedicated or common-use offering, including Amsterdam Schiphol, Frankfurt, London Gatwick and Heathrow, and airlines such as Air-France-KLM, Lufthansa, British Airways and easyJet. Used by 50 million passengers over the course of 2019, the growth outlook for the years to follow was both challenging and appealing.

The first two months of 2020 indeed showed spectacular growth of over 60 per cent in the use of eezeetags. Then, all of a sudden, life as we knew it came to an end with the coronavirus impacting every human being on the planet, and the travel industry being amongst the most severely impacted sectors.

In the midst of what now seems the peak of the corona travel crisis, with 95 per cent of all world-wide scheduled flights being cancelled for a longer period, a piece on eezeetags does not seem to be the most important priority. My company is of course also being affected with a complete order stop due to the direct relation of passengers’ bags and eezeetags bag-tags.

However, IATA has indicated that it will not be earlier than the end of 2021 when passenger volumes will reach pre-corona levels again. Alongside this, the capacity challenge for the airports has become even bigger: What is the square footage per passenger without the fear of jeopardising the distancing rules? With all the experience gained over the last few years, I realised the spectacular results of self service and digitalisation will contribute to facing the new normal that lies ahead for aviation. In combination with new routing, virtual queue management, smart terminal lay-out and off-terminal initiatives (hotels, train stations, parking lots) all of the above have been done before, and eezeetags is already a part of these proven initiatives.

Mass adoption of market-ready technologies to restore confidence and overcome travel reluctancy will become paramount. The biggest challenge will be CAPEX. On the other hand, the lack of passengers and a non-agile OPEX structure can easily become a life-threatening challenge for airports and airlines.

OPEX has always been at the heart of our offering, we have huge confidence in the eezeetags product and now even more – although the term ‘social distancing’ was not invented when eezeetags was born – it appears to be an acronym for self service to the max. Alongside the easy and fast pay-offs, we use a clean method, meaning the bag-tagging process does not create any rubbish; there is no need for staff members to clean or discard liner paper that has been touched by potentially contagious hands.

eezeetags has always been a small but very important part of the passengers’ self-service journey, and will be even more so in the near future.

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