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London Heathrow Installs Pioneering Technology to Help Improve Punctuality of Departing Flights

London Heathrow Installs Pioneering Technology to Help Improve Punctuality of Departing Flights

London Heathrow is the first airport in the world to use pioneering technology across its terminals that will help improve passenger experience and departing flight punctuality. ‘Positive boarding’ will help reduce airlines’ last minute searches for passengers or their bags, as well as give passengers more accurate information to help them smoothly through their journey. 

The computer software now live in Terminals 1 and 3 has been designed so it is compatible with all airlines’ computer systems. It enables airlines to see what stage of the departure process a traveller is at and gives passengers bespoke information to help make their flight on time.

Previously when a passenger went through security search an airport security officer checked their ticket details, but now the passenger presents the barcode on their ticket at an automatic gate which, if the ticket is verified, opens to allow them through to security.

When the passenger presents their boarding pass, details from the barcode are compared against the central flight information and tailored information for the individual flashes up on screen. For example, if a passenger is in the wrong terminal the message will tell them where to go, or if they have limited time, they are instructed to go through security and straight to the gate. If a passenger tries to go through with too little time before their flight is due to depart, they are asked to return to check in and seek assistance from the airline. This also allows the airline to begin unloading their baggage as they have the ‘real time’ information of where passengers are in their departing journey.

Passengers who have checked in their luggage but fail to get to the gate on time can cause delays to the departing aircraft as the crews spend time trying to locate them. If the passengers can’t be found, it then takes even more time for baggage handlers to hunt in the belly of the plane to unload their bags – no bag can travel without its owner. Positive boarding helps the airlines make timely decisions to remove the baggage and keep to their departure schedule.

Having been extensively trialled at London Heathrow, Virgin Atlantic is the first airline to adopt the process in Terminal 3 and Little Red in Terminal 1. During the first week 35,000 passengers successfully used the positive boarding technology as part of their departure journey. The data shows that 44% of the departing Virgin Atlantic and Little Red flights had passengers who could have potentially delayed the departure. Of these travellers, 700 were informed by the automatic information display to promptly make their way to the departure gate to ensure they didn’t miss the flight. Ten late running passengers were instructed to go back to check in as they didn’t have sufficient time to clear security and make their flight. This meant the airline could unload their luggage and depart on time.

In September Terminal 4 will take delivery of the system, which can be used by all airlines and builds on the success of a similar system used by BA in T5, ‘Ready to Fly’.

Kathryn Leahy, Director of Terminal 3, said: “We are thrilled that the new technology is now live in T3 and will help our passengers have a stress-free flight. It also enables us to work with the airlines to improve the punctuality of departing flights.”

Positive boarding is the latest innovation that is being used by passengers throughout the departure process, from checking in via mobile phones to ‘self-service bag drops’ that were introduced in November 2012. The self-service bag drop enables passengers to generate and attach their own bag tags before placing their luggage on to the automated bag drop facility.

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NEIL STEEDMAN has been a trade journalist, editor and proofreader for 53 years, and ITTN's News & Features Editor for 43 years. His travel blog is at www.thetravelbuddhist.com.

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