Airports are vital waypoints, but they’ve also become increasingly chaotic and stressful to navigate. Even the act of getting there causes stress. From parking to getting past similarly inconvenienced passengers in long security screening lines, the frenetic atmosphere builds and builds. Cancellations, delays, gate changes, it just never ends.

What if artificial intelligence (AI) could streamline the whole process? What if engineers, architects and logistics types could optimize the layout by leveraging a series of technology-based solutions that would transform this overwhelming ordeal into a more sedate, perhaps even enjoyable experience? Looking into a crystal ball, five years into the future, AI is going to change everything and begin a revolution that’ll finally end the hassle of the notoriously frustrating airport experience.

Source: Kit8 d.o.o/Adobe StockSource: Kit8 d.o.o/Adobe Stock

AI will reshape airport transitions

These transitions are jarring. From the moment a passenger steps into a terminal building, all they want to do is sit in business economy and enjoy a short takeoff while familiarizing themselves with the back-seat entertainment system. But there’s so much to do first.

A hop from the ticketing and baggage drop-off desk to the security line. Then, the screening line and the shops and restaurants are always overcrowded. These unsettling transitions leave you drained and short-tempered. Expect these jarring and time-consuming transitional phases to fade away as AI solutions are implemented over the next few years. For starters, Dublin Airport is already conducting a trial on contactless boarding pass linkages to biometrics data, thus ending check-in bottlenecks.

Face and fingerprint recognition via AI software seem to be the likely biometrics candidates, but airports in China are also testing “gait” recognition systems. This means having surveillance cameras tied into machine learning, which then compares and correlates the uniqueness of how an individual strides around a terminal. It’s a disconcerting thought, one that conjures up images of a Big Brother-like future. Moving away from personal privacy issues, let’s think instead about what’s happening to passenger baggage.

Baggage gets lost. There are lost luggage offices in airports, and the subject has become part of every good stand-up comedian’s material. It’s not a joke when it happens, though. For an AI-based answer to this second most stressful situation — the first being security — real-time control of baggage and automatic rerouting will make sure that lost luggage ends up in the same airport and country that the passenger has arrived in. There’s a similar solution for unattended luggage that has gone astray, but more on this later.

The idea is that, instead of talking to an airport representative and finding a convoluted route for a return path, specially deployed AI systems automatically optimize this journey, validating the route at every step. No more frustrated phone calls, no more walking around in the same clothes for two days in a row. The baggage is digitally tracked and quickly returned by AI.

Reminiscent of the “gait” tracking technology being trialed by China, Hitachi is also testing out their baggage finding software. This AI system, however, doesn’t just track luggage through labyrinthine airport routing systems, it also accesses security cameras to locate and identify unattended luggage, too. Again, privacy is the concern here, but that might just be the price for safe and efficient navigation through a busy airport.

Redefining the airport check-in process

While efforts have been made to introduce self-service facilities in terminals, major bottlenecks still exist. Frankly, they’re hard to eliminate, what with the overzealous nature of airport screening procedures. The only advice travelers ever get is to arrive at least 2 to 3 hours before departure. AI is about to introduce a game-changing, sci-fi-flavored answer to this problem.

Starting with mobile apps, passengers can already look at mini versions of the flight departure arrivals boards that are fixed above departure lounges. Boarding passes are also downloaded and attached, along with an email that helps even the most brain-scattered traveler synchronize their schedule. AI goes further.

Think about self-service screening pods that take the pressure off of overburdened U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers, then there are automated car parking projects being called into life at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. A further example of this approach can be seen in action at Dusseldorf airport, with “Ray” providing the futuristic gear.

The point is this: there’s a plan taking shape that’s bringing AI to bear on a five, 10 and even 20 year airport development roadmap. Discrete elements are in place by the first five years. This means the car parking and check-in pods and that boarding pass biometrics technology are all time-tested and functioning.

What comes next? Synergy, of course. AI ties all of these discrete parts together and synchronizes each element. A passenger buys a ticket, texts and emails ensure a parking robot is waiting for a curb-side deposit, and then it rolls the vehicle into a tiny slot. Baggage is scanned and routed, checked in via a real-time link that’s continuously updated and sent to an app.

The bottlenecks disappear, biometrics and paired boarding passes ease the travelers’ passage through a self-service screening pod, and things like pandemic risk factors fall away into obscurity. It’s all contactless, all app-based, and seamlessly integrated as a background flow of data that’ll hopefully turn travel disruption into a thing of the past.

More examples of AI airport integration

Finishing off with a few more carefully selected examples of AI integration, Eindhoven Airport IATA: EIN, in Germany, is already pushing the envelope in this regard. AI is present on the runway and aprons. Guilty of one of the biggest carbon footprints internationally, all airports should be paying attention to this development. AI is also an integral part of the airport’s baggage system at Eindhoven, so the administrators at this airport are clearly already well on their way to full system synergy.

Finally, trust Las Vegas to make an impact on this engineering-focused article. Vegas knows all about traveler psychology; they just want to get their casino visitors to their final destination as quickly as possible. Maybe that’s why they’re investing so much capital in the final-mile link, from airport to hotel. McCarran Airport, serving Las Vegas, is entering fleets of autonomous cars, which will take their precious cargo to over 3,000 drop-off points through the city.

AI, it’s a discrete, isolated group of services for now, but give it five or 10 years. That’s when all of these separate parts will come together to create one bottleneck-eliminating, airport-streamlining whole, right to that last self-driven mile.