Staffing pressures remain a key limiting factor for airlines as they are trying to bring operating capacity back to the market. As airlines and airports continue to recruit, the prospect of alternatives, enabled via technology, was broached at the World Aviation Festival in Amsterdam. IATA Director General Willie Walsh addressed the concept head on, suggesting, “There is scope for further automation or digital transformation. I think we’ve got to keep our eyes open, keep our ears open, and look for opportunities.”
What, exactly, those opportunities will look like remains rather unclear.
One company demonstrated a robot that can move bags, seeking to capitalize on this issue. Whether it can handle odd shapes and sizes, reach into the back of a cart, or manage some of the other realities of the work is less clear.
Walsh, however, it optimistic on the idea, if a bit vague on which jobs will be most easily automated. Instead he suggests that the industry must look outside to find opportunities:
We look at other industries, how they’re applying automation and digital solutions and see if we can transfer that knowledge to our industry. “We’re still doing a lot of things today in the way we used to do them in the 70s and 80s. And the technology available to us today is significantly greater than it was then.
Inevitably, it comes down to costs. And also improving the passenger experience. That’s a delicate balancing act for airlines to strike, but one Walsh believes still has some opportunities for airlines to score wins. Automation and digitalization appear to be part of that plan.
Switching to more kiosks at the check-in counter or even self-service bag drop arguably fits that bill. Spirit Airlines, for example, is betting big on the self-bag drops to cut costs and improve the passenger experience. The carrier continues to roll out those systems in airports across the country.
As an added bonus, they actually increase revenue for the carrier because travelers don’t argue as much with the machine and just pay the fees for their bags. Spirit also digitized its delayed baggage claim form, transitioning to a self-service model last year. Both employees and passengers prefer it, and the new process reduces staffing requirements in the terminal.
Similarly, United Airlines rolled out a digital interface to contact a customer support agent while at the airport. Rather than waiting in line for the handful of agents who might be in the building, travelers can connect quickly with a larger pool of agents working from anywhere.
That the agents could be working from home, on more flexible shift timings, is a big win for the airlines as well, as it helps them in the hiring process. Those agents don’t have the expense and hassle of an airport commute, nor the badging requirements. In the same conversation, KLM’s new CEO Marjan Rintel called out that (lack of) flexibility as a factor the company faces in recruiting today.
All of which is to say that airlines have very much made progress since the 70s and 80s. Digital solutions play a major role in the travel experience for the vast majority of travelers today.
But there could always be more. And Walsh sees plenty of opportunity to improve, even if he didn’t name any specific targets.
More news from World Aviation Festival 2022
- Looking Beyond NPS as a customer satisfaction metric
- easyJet snags AirFi for digital inflight transformation
- Airlines see a renewed digital transformation push from IATA
- Can inflight Wi-Fi ever be profitable?
- BAGTAG targets North American expansion, adds homing solution
- AirFi LEO aims to alter the inflight retail landscape
- Pairing, casting and streaming: The next generation of inflight entertainment emerges
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