Five ways IoT will change how you experience air travel

By | 4 minute read | October 13, 2016

IoT and travel and transport

Remember your last cross-country flight? Between the hassle of checking in, the security lines, the fear of missing luggage and the ever-diminishing legroom, the experience probably left plenty of room for improvement. But there is good news on the horizon for airline passengers. Your air travel experience — on the ground and in the air — is about to be radically transformed thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT).

Sensors and connected devices, combined with intelligent analytics, are allowing airports and airlines to make rapid advancements toward a better passenger experience. According to SITA’s 2015 Airline IT Trends Survey, most airlines already recognize the importance of IoT: two-thirds see immediate and clear benefits to IoT, and 86% believe it will generate benefits over the next three years. Although only 37% of airlines have allocated budget for IoT implementation today, that number is expected to rise to almost 60% in three years.

Here are five ways you can expect IoT to change your typical travel day:


What if an airport could detect who you are at check-in, and send you on your way without further wait or hassle? It may sound like science fiction, but it’s not. Dubai’s airport, for example, is already using smart gates to automatically detect travelers based on facial and retinal recognition, cutting check-in time to as little as 20 seconds. Passengers must first register their biometrics (a one time-process), but once the recognition is made, the gate opens automatically.

Easier navigation and shorter lines

When traveling, it often feels like security stations are understaffed, causing long queues and bottlenecks. IoT will allow security services to know specific times to expect passengers and staff up accordingly, helping cut down the long lines.

Miami Airport, for example, is already using 400 IoT sensors across to help customers navigate the via their smartphone app. Today, the app can geolocate customers and provide personalized directions, directing them through the airport to restaurants and gates. On the other side of the Atlantic, London City Airport has begun a similar program that allows security checkpoints to communicate with each other, and then to send notification to a traveler’s mobile device with estimated wait times and delays.

Fewer maintenance delays

Speaking of delays, unexpected maintenance delays may soon be a thing of the past. Today, aircraft maintenance is mostly performed at operating-hour intervals, which means more downtime without the promise of any greater efficiency. Smart sensors and analytics will allow aircraft systems to be remotely inspected and repaired when necessary, based on asset health monitoring. Simply changing the way aircrafts are maintained using IoT insights will mean fewer maintenance delays, while extending the total lifespan of the engine.

And, when maintenance does need to occur, travelers will be able to receive automatic notifications to their mobile devices, resulting in more transparency and fewer hours waiting at the gate.

In-flight experience

Once you’re in the air, IoT presents opportunities for a much more personalized experience. Airlines will be able to tell, not only when they are unable to meet your specific request, but if they have failed to do so in other ways in the past. This gives the flight staff a more accurate view of your total satisfaction. Sensors embedded in cabin seats will be able to read your level of anxiety, hydration and temperature, and notify the flight staff or change the cabin environment to make it more comfortable.

Real-time and historical data will let the flight staff know if you had a disruption on a connecting flight, your food and beverage preferences, even your preferred hotel or rental car chain, all of which can be used to offer more of a personalized, luxury experience. Even when you’re flying coach.

And you can relax without stressing about your connecting flights. Once you land, you’ll receive a notification right to your smart phone, providing you directions to your gate and an estimate of how long the walk will take. The airline, in turn, will be able to see you’re on your way to ensure they don’t shut the door prematurely.

Checked baggage

Startups and major consumer brands such as Samsonite are in a race to develop smart luggage – suitcases equipped with features such as GPS tracking, fingerprint locks and weight notifications. Airlines, as well, are leading the charge by implementing connected beacons during the baggage handling process. By 2018, SITA estimates that nearly half of airports will be using IoT sensors to transmit baggage location information to customers at bag drop and baggage claim. This will lend more transparency to what is today a major concern for airline passengers.

There is little doubt that further proliferation of the technology-driven advancements we’ve begun to see today, and the rise of new advancements in the near future, will change the way we travel. Thanks to IoT devices and analytics, we’re poised to see the airline industry move toward greater efficiency and better customer service – a win-win proposition for airlines and the customers they serve.

IBM is leading the way with connected travel and transport options. Take a look at how we’re transforming the automotive industry, and the impact of smart, connected vehicles.