“As we move toward a more automated culture, most travelers will adapt to a Jetsonian, automated lifestyle. Every industry we know will be disrupted. For those of us in aviation, this signals the shift from aviation as a service industry to a transactional one that is potentially devoid of the personal touches that made the romance of flight an event.”
As I board my flight to Denver to speak at the AAAE Conference on “Autonomous Airports,” I can’t help but question. What does autonomous airport really mean? The customer experience value of an airport itself is not autonomous. Rather, the emerging autonomous airport experience aims to birth, enable and empower autonomous customers.
This presents even more questions for customer experience professionals. Especially those in the aviation world.
What is an autonomous customer?
The autonomous customer uses time better and has more of it. Today, we have a “holding room” at airport gates. Even the term sounds limiting.
What is a customer supposed to do in a holding room? Be held?
Autonomous airports are open spaces with no physical or process boundaries between the individual customer touch points (check-in, bag drop, etc.). As a result, there is no barrier between crewmember and customer. Eliminating barriers shifts the power from the airport procedures and processes to the traveler. This makes travel more enjoyable.
Because of this customer experience-driven design, the autonomous customer can navigate the experience at his/her own pace. The customer is not “held” anywhere. Instead, the airport becomes a menu of tools and services he/she is empowered to choose. Who wouldn’t want that?
What about Grandma’s journey?
Autonomous airports enable both customers and crewmembers. A roving crew has access to more information and more tools on-the-go. This helps them take care of customers of all ages, especially those who don’t want to or are not able to do so themselves.
Perhaps Grandma will be intimidated the first time (although not all grandmas are alike!). However, she will quickly appreciate the self-driving device that whisks her and her bags from one gate to another in mere minutes.
What about privacy? Does autonomy mean my airline knows everything about me?
Autonomy is also about accountability. On both sides. Customers want information and services at the right times. It is not possible to deliver that without access to certain customer information or preferences.
Additionally, customers want seamless journeys across the airport. To design that journey, airlines and airports need to access certain customer history. For example, if you want the airline to wait for the customer one extra minute at the gate, the airline needs to know the customer is physically at the airport. Even more so, the airline should know if the customer has passed security.
In the case of JetBlue’s autonomous airport CX design, Bag Buddy, one of my ideas, was designed to pick up customer bags at their homes and transport them directly to their destinations. That seamless movement of objects and people rests on the foundations of data sharing. Specifically, it rests on good data that is appropriate and useful in delivering the experience customers want.
Questions remain. As customer experience experts continue to design autonomous airports and meet the needs of the autonomous customer, new questions arise. For now, let me demystify the autonomous airport for you.
Information that will allow the airport as a physical asset to expand its boundaries and reach people’s homes is at the heart of the autonomous airport. Data allows physical boundaries to merge. It creates one big experience of transporting people and their belongings across space. That is a future we all want, Jetsons fans or not.
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