The future of air travel as envisioned by the NEXTT initiative
New Experience Travel Technologies (NEXTT) is a joint initiative of Airports Council International (ACI) and International Air Transport Association (IATA). NEXTT encapsulates the shared vision of both associations for the future of travel encompassing the complete journey from home to end destination by focusing on three concepts for passengers, baggage, cargo and aircraft operations, namely: (i) off-airport activities, (ii) advanced processing technology such as robotics and biometrics, and (iii) interactive decision-making (NEXTT, 2020).
The NEXTT vision used to remain a long-term focus on the future of travel for many airports, with its implementation considered in a phased manner. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the scenario is altogether different and the adoption of these concepts has become extremely relevant today and will certainly constitute the most relevant framework for airports willing to instil efficiency in their processes whilst at the same time complying with the needs of passengers for a safe, secure and healthy air travel experience.
Pre-COVID-19, NEXTT’s vision of off-airport activities was that passengers would have full control of their journey in the comfort of their home prior to reaching the airport by providing them with a number options regarding online or mobile check-in procedures, off-airport baggage or cargo drop-off, travel authorisations and customs procedures to be managed digitally, and online shopping and booking of ancillary airport services, amongst others.
These off-airport options, as envisaged by NEXTT, are extremely relevant now during this ongoing crisis to reduce contact and crowding at airports, to help physical distancing and to alleviate on-site capacity airport constraints, and will certainly become even more relevant in the post-pandemic world. In addition, with health declaration being part and parcel of the mandatory border control formalities, the concept of a passenger’s digital wallet, that will include all health-related information including COVID-19 test and vaccination, is bound to form an integral part of the off-airport passenger processing process in the future.
Pre-COVID-19, NEXTT’s vision of advanced processing related to the use of technology for identification purposes, automation and robotics to create a seamless, secure and harmonised process for passengers and baggage handling at various automated touchpoints at airports, viz. document check at entry, check-in, self-service bag drops, access to security checkpoints, border control and boarding.
In the post-pandemic world, the need for contactless processing will become an even stronger recommendation, if not a norm in the long term, as evidenced by the ICAO Council Aviation Recovery Taskforce (CART) Report and Recovery Guidelines released during the crisis, which now recommends the increased use of technology to facilitate contactless processing of passengers at various stages of their journey (ICAO, 2020). Thus, the passenger experience at the airport will involve the biometric verification of identity and health status at walking pace for a completely uninterrupted and touchless journey. Passenger touchpoints, such as kiosks and other process points, will be touchless, activated by biometric recognition, including voice or motion, and will the offer the possibility to seamlessly interact with mobile technologies.
Similarly, electronic bag tags will provide luggage with a digital identity and will help in reducing passenger and staff touchpoints to tag luggage, which is in line with the contactless journey experience envisaged during and post-COVID-19 crisis.
The third concept of NEXTT, i.e. interactive decision-making, is quite forward looking in terms of control and personalisation of the travel experience of passengers through a better communication and coordination of data sources. Airports would experience enhanced understanding of the needs of their passengers because of the collaboration offered with open Application Programming Interface (API) platforms. On the other hand, tracking technologies and situational awareness would increase the reactivity of passengers to changes made during their travel journey.
During the current crisis and in a post-COVID-19 world, the need for accurate, relevant and up-to-date information on travel requirements and authorizations, especially with respect to health protocols, has all its pertinence for passengers. For airports, advanced information on passengers and on their specific needs will also become key in anticipating potential issues and adjusting the processes and resources allocation to enable a pleasant and seamless passenger journey experience through the airport. Solutions, such as mobile apps and exchange of data through APIs, will be critical to enable passengers to navigate through their journeys.