Category Archives: Travels

Adventures while traveling

To App or Not? The Question Remains

By Tom Smith
Airport apps.  They sound sexy and cool. An airport with its own app appears so cutting edge.

But is an app the right strategy for your airport?

The topic of airport apps and wayfinding was explored in the June Centerlines and at the recent Marketing and Communications Conference in Sacramento.

At two-plus years into the world of airport apps the trend is still fuzzy and business plans remain to be proven.

An airport faces three decisions when exploring the world of airport apps and mobile wayfinding.

  • Decision one – develop a mobile version of the airport’s website.
  • Decision two – develop your own branded airport app.
  • Decision three – defer to a third-party app.

As part of an on-going Airport Cooperative Research Program paper on airport social media trends, a survey has found that of the 280 airports surveyed only 21 percent currently have a mobile website. The advantage of making an airport website smartphone-friendly is both the cost and the ability to control the information without a lot of technical know-how.

(Time out for definitions: A mobile website is a website that has been adapted for easy viewing on a smart phone or other mobile device. An app is a software application or program that needs to be downloaded and installed on your device.)

For example, Dallas-Fort Worth and Montréal chose to develop mobile sites before diving into airport apps. Montreal’s strategy is to grow the site and continually add new functionality and links. The airport now gets 100,000 to 125,000 visits per month on their mobile website.

The first mobile website that DFW rolled out was primarily text-based, like many mobile websites. It has since been re-designed extensively using icons and colorful graphics.

Phoenix Sky Harbor won the best website award in the recent Marketing and Communications Contest with its mobile website design. It too relies on icons to help guide users through the site.

In their presentations, Montreal and DFW both said they are now exploring the next step – building their own app sites.

The key advantage of an airport-owned app site is that an airport has greater control of the site and can extend its brand.  From a user perspective, an app has greater flexibility and functionality than a website, especially with its geo-location features.

A major problem with an airport-owned app is that few people may know it exists. A local traveler may be familiar with it and may have seen the local ads. However, a connecting traveler may miss the notices within the airport and never use it.

Minneapolis-St. Paul thought it had the best solution in 2010 when it paid to have its own app developed that would be part of the goHow network. The deal held out the possibility of sharing a revenue stream from advertisers.

In the end, the MSP site has generated about 24,000 users per year and not any revenue. The goHow network has been limited to less than a handful of full airport partners. In a deal that was implemented earlier this month, the network has been re-branded as FlySmart as new corporate partners become involved.

Third party airport apps run the gamut from those firms that simply harvest information from an airport’s website to those that develop a relationship with the airport. These firms provide free apps on most platforms and attempt to make their money through advertising and coupon deals.

There are more than a handful of these firms now distributing their apps. Two years ago when ACI-NA had its first airport app panel at the Marketing and Communications Conference in San Diego, one app maker predicted that within a year there would be a be shake-out and he speculated that Apple, Microsoft and Expedia were considering launching their own airport apps or buying one of the existing firms. It has now been two years and everything remains the status quo.

GateGuru, which has the highest profile, noted in its presentation in Sacramento that it now works with airports to update their databases as frequently as monthly. It has a program to provide coupon or discounts to various concessions within an airport.

While a third-party app may put an airport on the map at no cost, the airport has no control over its image and loses any branding opportunity. However, the third-party app is going to exist in the market place whether the airport cooperates or not so it is probably in the airport’s best interest to work with those third-party apps with a national reputation and a large user-base.

So what is the best strategy? Talk with your peers to see what is working best for them. An O&D airport could probably get by with a mobile website; however, it may make more sense for any airport with a substantial amount of connecting flights to thoroughly explore all the airport app options.

Terminal of the Future Opening in Vegas

By Annie Russo
With about two months to go, Terminal 3 at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas is well on its way to being ready for its first passengers at the end of June. While attending the ACI-NA Environmental and Ops Tech conference in Las Vegas last week, I had the opportunity to tour the new state-of-the-art terminal.  There wasn’t a more fitting place to have the best minds in airport environmental procedures and technical experts than to be hosted by an airport about to put advances in airport operations, technology and efficiency into use in a new terminal.

Terminal 3 utilizes common use practices and technology to offer passengers efficient no-hassle travel.  Technology in the new terminal offers the capability to check in at a kiosk, self tag their luggage and even self board.  Since Terminal 3 will house McCarran’s international gates, a great deal of thought has gone into ensuring an easy trip from the gate to Customs and Border Protection. The terminal also relies on dynamic sign capability for communicating with passengers from the curb and throughout the terminal that will allow the airport to make quick changes thus adding to the flexibility of the terminal’s facilities.

From an environmental prospective, Terminal 3 is equipped with some of the best advances for energy and emissions savings available to airports today.  From use of solar energy, to the newest air exchange systems and control systems that help regulate energy use, Terminal 3 has instituted many of the best practices and advancements talked about during the Environmental conference.

The terminal will open in three separate phases, first welcoming international travelers at the end of June, then domestic passengers in July and full integration with the carriers in August.  For aviation and airport enthusiasts, Terminal 3 is going to be one destination you won’t want to miss.  However, it’s the millions of tourists that visit Las Vegas every year and the Las Vegas residents that will gain the most from this state-of-the-art facility in the years to come.

FAA to Re-Review Electronics Ban

By Matt Griffin
Lately, it has seemed, you couldn’t pick up a newspaper or open your ACI-NA Daily Clips (contact ACI-NA if you would like to sign-up) without finding an article or opinion piece dedicated to the highly-sensitive subject of personal electronics on airplanes.

This topic has grown from a dull rumble just 10 years ago to an all out roar thanks to the rapid acceptance of the iPad, smartphones, and e-readers. One only needs to look around them to see the popularity of these devices. In fact, as I write this article on my train ride into work this morning, at least half of the passenger within my eyeshot appear to be reading from one of these devices (I hope the engineers radios are still working!)

It appears that the FAA has finally decided to heed the cry of the traveling public, just this past week they have agreed to take a “fresh” look at this issue.  They are exploring ways to bring together the airlines, airframe and avionics manufacturers, electronics manufactures, and the regulators, the FAA and FCC, to discuss the certification of a number of these personal electronics.

After a little bit of research (a Google search and review of a Wikipedia page), there appears to be a lot of circumstantial evidence, but nothing that can conclusively support the idea that the use of personal electronics cause an interference to aircraft avionics. It appears, as the regulations are written today, the approval process is on a device by device basis.  So that is to say, the Amazon Kindle could go through the approval process and be cleared for flight whereas the Barnes & Noble Nook is not.  This could lead to misunderstandings in the cabin and just as much policing by flight attendants, if not more.

I don’t mean to sound negative, in my humblest opinion, given the amount of money being made in the personal electronics market it is certainly in the best interest of these manufacturers to help develop (and possibly fund) a solution to this problem.

One last note, don’t plan on joining a conference calls at 30,000 feet just yet, these talks will not include the usage of cell phones.  The FCC bans the use of these devices for a whole different issue.

Kneaded by TSA

By Stephenie Brooks
Faced with the prospects of an eight-hour total travel time—including flight time and layover—what passenger wouldn’t welcome a free massage? But who would expect if from TSA? That’s right. You read it correctly: TSA!

While traveling over the weekend from an airport in the Mountain States, I was the recipient of this unexpected treatment. After going through the AIT, I stepped aside while my gumby image cleared. I was then asked if a female TSA agent could check my hair. I was surprised, but didn’t make a fuss. At six-feet, the agent had to stand on her tippy toes to check my hair. Luckily for her, I was not wearing my customary 3-inch (minimum) heels. After three quick kneads to my scalp it was over. “Free head massage,” she commented smilingly as I grabbed my bags and headed to the gate.

Sitting in the departure lounge thinking about the incident, I smiled. At least I hadn’t been kneaded south of my neck nor did I have to warn her not to “touch the junk in my trunk.” However, I did wonder if in this part of the U.S. whether or not people were used to seeing dreadlocks. (In case you don’t what they are or look like, here’s an image). In a more cosmopolitan city, my dreadlocks don’t even warrant a second glance. But then again, neither would I have received a free head massage . . . compliments of TSA.

After doing some research and talking with a security expert, I learned that in certain cases a travelers’ hair or headwear could potentially conceal items, and may need to be screened by TSA Transportation Security Officers. The TSA Blog  and public Web site provided some useful information about the reason I received a free massage.

A Worldview on the Future of Aviation Security

By Christopher Bidwell
In the years since 9/11, governments have added more aviation security layers with each new threat. Simply continuing to do things the same way and add even more layers is not sustainable over the long term. Further, there is a general reluctance to rescind measures, even when the threat or countermeasures has evolved, due to the concern for being accused of being weak on security. Although security layers are necessary, they should be routinely assessed to gauge their effectiveness, and cost needs to be part of the equation.

With the United States, Canada and the European Union driving aviation security policy, there is an opportunity to preserve limited resources. Doing so necessitates increased collaboration and coordination between governments, and the need to develop mutually recognized security standards and screening technologies. As an example, the European Commission sets aviation security standards but many European Union countries impose additional measures, creating an uneven patchwork that perplexes even the most seasoned traveler. In many cases, passengers and baggage must be re-screened when crossing international borders.

In Europe, airports – not the government(s) – provide almost all the aviation security operational costs. Indeed, 29 percent of airports operating costs and 41 percent of airports staff are security related. With security costs increasing exponentially, there is even more need for a coordinated approach to aviation security.

As aviation traffic continues to grow, we need a risk-based aviation security system that uses available data to more effectively balance customer service and detection. Information is available at multiple points that can be readily utilized to help focus limited security resources on those about which the least is known. Following the roll out of TSA’s Risk-Based Security initiatives, the European Commission has accepted the idea of risk-based security and has embarked on an industry-government working group to develop a model. Similarly, in Canada aviation regulators have embarked upon a risk-based program to streamline the security process for travelers enrolled in the Nexus program.

In needing to plan for the future aviation security system that harnesses the risk-based strategy, the International Civil Aviation Organization has established a Next Generation Screening Checkpoint Technical Advisory Group. ACI, in partnership with other aviation organizations, and regulatory authorities is participating on the advisory group to design a future system capable of maintaining the appropriate level of detection while increasing efficiency and reasonable costs, so that it is sustainable in the long term.