An Insider Shares His 5 Predictions for the Future of Air Travel

Courtesy ICRAVE

Self-driving cars that bypass prescreening and high-tech luggage tags could be the future of air travel.

Although planes have become more efficient, security more stringent, and terminals chicer, the basic principles of air travel have not. You arrive at the airport, drop off your bags, perhaps grab a snack, and board a plane. But with the coronavirus taking hold of the world and the travel industry shuttering because of it, there's no doubt that jet setting will change. 

Related: What the Future of Private Aviation Looks Like Post-COVID

Just how will it look different? We tapped Lionel Ohayon, the founder and CEO of ICRAVE, a leading design firm based in New York City responsible for the food and beverage designs at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Boston Logan International Airport and Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. Here he reveals his five predictions for the future of air travel. 

Related: Could We Be Using Flying Cars by 2030?

1. Security Screening Before the Airport


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"The process of leaving your house and arriving at your airport terminal for departure is destined for revolutionary change. Automated cars and self-driving technology are poised to change the game. In the future, a self-driving vehicle will pick you up at a designated location in the city. This vehicle will have screening technology for security and biometrics and will drive you directly to your gate for departure. 

In doing so, you will skip the process that we have come to know so well in our modern lives: finding transport to get to an airport, dealing with traffic, arriving at a packed departures hall, battling through crowded lines to check-in, check bags and go back into a crowded line to go through security, only to go through another long journey to a crowded gate, which may include getting on another shuttle or train. 

Once at your departure gate, you are once again corralled in the holding pen, only to get in line one more time to board the plane. The self-driving vehicle can bypass all this by prescreening and dropping you exactly where you need to be. This innovation will revolutionize airports, addressing the stress and anxiety of getting from your home to your flight, while cutting out countless inefficient and highly susceptible contact points for virus transmission." 

2. Making Bag Routing Smarter


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"The question that begs to be asked is, 'what about my bags?' The technology that you're going to see in the future is the implementation of smart bag tags. Your tags will be associated with you the same way your cell phone is. They will essentially be part of your identity. This sorting makes sense, as we have seen in distribution science used by Amazon and other package distribution services. 

Imagine how different your experience would be if you parted with your bag when you boarded the automated vehicle and were reunited with your bag at your destination? Wipe it down once, unzip it and get on with your day. Separating the passenger from their bags is an essential piece of evolving the travel experience and, again, reducing contact points where transmission of viruses or germs can be avoided. 

So I'm here. I'm at the airport, bag free, and checked in thanks to the automated vehicle that screened me and whisked me right to my gate. My bags are on their own journey, and I'm freed up from all the travel-related stress and all the anxiety that we spend a lot of time thinking about at ICRAVE. Our work has been largely involved in creating an improved passenger experience, and much of it around food and retail."

3. Opening Up the Retail Landscape

"Expect retail offerings to be dramatically different. Many things are easy to order online, but others require more hands-on research. Dwell time at the airport means you have time to engage. We can start to imagine a terminal becoming an open format landscape that allows passengers to interact with bigger-ticket items that they want to purchase. Still, in today's world, they are more reluctant to go to specialty stores to buy. Think of the products you need to see, touch, and compare. Would it make sense to buy an appliance or a car at an airport? How many times in our lives do we have a full hour to engage in something with real focus? 

Shopping for items that you are expected to carry onto a plane is not a model that can expand, so the types of products you will start to see are the ones you need to explore and can have sent to your home. That will be capitalized on by major retail brands which will also harvest the personal information that every ticketed passenger surrenders when they board a plane."

4. Reimagining Gates to Hold Personalized Experiences


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"Implementing a seamless arrival and building out terminals as large-scale retail hubs support the next big evolution we will see in airports: the reinvented gatehold. Americans tend to be what has been described as 'gate huggers.' This behavior served as inspiration for ICRAVE's first iteration of reinventing the gate hold experience. We introduced iPads at every seat so that food could be delivered to passengers as they wait at their gate. Post-COVID thinking will expedite the gate's elimination as a lobby and be made more akin to lounges, where passengers can be delivered cocktails, phone chargers, headphones, iPads and other things to make the time pass in a relaxed and efficient manner."

5. Boarding as the Final Sanitization Point


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"We will see innovations that increase the efficiency of boarding and address the evolution that airlines will need to undertake to shift the paradigm on how we currently perceive this process. Today, most everyone sees the plane as a high-risk proposition for infection. The airlines will use the boarding process to change that perception and make sure everyone on the flights feels safe, screened, and assured that they and their fellow passengers had entered a clean and safe vessel. The gate area is the perfect venue to address that, with spaced-out seating, hand-washing stations at every row, and a body temperature scanner as the last checkpoint before entering the jetbridge. I see the boarding process more like a ready room before a rocket launch than the banal passive waiting room that it is today."