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The waiting game


Virtual queuing is coming to an airport near you soon and could represent the future of waiting at airports, writes Steve Covate.

With the notable exception of the current COVID caused disruptions, it could be argued that airports – and the airlines and businesses that operate within them – have made giant strides in reducing wait times and improving the queuing experience over the last few years.

However, some waits remain inevitable. And how people wait can make all the difference between a positive experience and a negative one, and virtual queue management platforms are poised to reimagine the way people wait at airports.

We already use remote check-in via airline apps when we fly. Imagine having the ability to check in not just for your flight but also for service with a ticketing agent and airport security checkpoints.

For airport, airline, and vendor employees, shift changes can be a flurry of activity. What if digital queuing software could ensure security protocols are followed but with a faster, more efficient system of scanning badges so workers report to their stations in a more timely manner?

Three use cases for virtual queue management stand out. One could revolutionise the method by which passengers get to their gates, and the other two show how the future is already arriving.

Use Case No. 1: The Passenger Security Checkpoint

Express lines, redesigned layouts, and two decades of travellers understanding what they need to do when going through security have helped improve efficiency at airport security checkpoints. Digital queuing has the potential to move passengers to their gates even faster.

Virtual queuing could eliminate most of the standing and guided pacing through the queue. Through the software, travellers could receive a time to report to security by checking in remotely from their phone, tablet, or computer when they arrive at the airport by scanning a QR code on their smartphones or scanning their boarding pass at a kiosk.

After checking into the virtual queue, passengers would receive notifications on their phone for estimated wait times, including an alert to come to the checkpoint to begin the screening process.

Instead of standing in a long line, they could visit the restroom, check out a gift shop, get food for the plane, or say goodbyes to loved ones. The amount of time required to get through security wouldn’t change, but passengers would have greater control over how and where they spent their wait time.

Studies of retail establishments support the notion that happy customers purchase more. It stands to reason the same holds true for happier, more relaxed passengers in an airport.

Travellers who aren’t pressed for time can enjoy a more leisurely bite to eat or a relaxed browse in the airport bookstore instead of rushing by restaurants and bypassing shops where they might find last-minute gifts for family and friends or perhaps replacement items like travel pillows and headphones.

Managers of airline and airport workers can monitor passenger traffic patterns throughout the facility to appropriately staff services that require more attention. For airline and airport personnel, digital queuing could make their jobs more predictable and less stressful. Employees could feel productive instead of hectic during busy periods.

This use case isn’t a reality yet – many things need to come together for it to happen. But such a system is on the horizon, and it promises to make the airport experience better for travellers and employees alike.

Use Case No. 2: The Badging Office

Airport security measures require every airport, airline, and vendor employee – including contractors doing various repair, maintenance, or construction work – to have a badge granting them access to certain areas of terminals, and the badging office presents a unique opportunity to increase efficiency.

Virtual queuing is already making a difference at some US airports in how new employees and contractors are screened before admittance to the building(s). Similar scenarios pertain to the badging office: Instead of waiting in long lines to report for duty, workers can instead check in remotely or at an on-site kiosk. Afterwards, they can wait wherever they choose, receiving updates to their phones about their place in line.

But virtual queuing doesn’t just make the wait easier for contractors, who also might be allowed to check in via text message before arriving at the badging office. The software introduces a host of additional efficiencies that include:

  • The system can automatically send an update with document requirements that contractors need to be badged. They can retrieve those documents, ask questions, reply to the office, or leave the queue and reserve another time later.
  • Certain contractors who are waiting can be prioritised based on the nature and urgency of their work, how long they’ve been in the queue, and anything else the office deems important.
  • Important updates can be sent via text directly to workers and contractors about anything that could impact their shift based on their role and level of access: weather, terminal closures, flight delays and cancellations, supply availability and delivery, job assignments, and more.
  • Data that the system generates can inform the badging office’s operational strategy, from staffing to training to budget.

Virtual queue solutions have a positive impact on the customer experience but can also play an integral role in improving employee satisfaction. Real-time updates delivered right to their phones and the ability to move quickly and efficiently through screening so they can reach their stations in a timely fashion are just two examples of things that workers feel valued because they feel like their employers values their time and talents.

Use Case No. 3: Airline Customer Service Counters

Airlines are just beginning to use virtual queue management in ways that create efficiencies for their operations and make a positive impact on the airport’s operations, too. Digital queuing delivers perhaps the biggest benefit to the customer experience.

Just like the first two use cases, passengers who need customer service check into the system and receive updates on their phones. Free from the requirement of standing in a long line, travellers can go to the airline’s lounge, sit down at a restaurant or browse airport retailers (another benefit to the airport and the vendors), or find a place to get comfortable until their turn comes up.

Moreover, with the customer’s details and dilemma already entered in the system, the service counter’s back office can start working to meet travellers’ needs while they wait.

When a passenger returns for service, the customer service team might already be halfway to booking another flight, reserving a hotel room, finding the traveller’s luggage, and so on.

The system can also prioritise certain travellers, so someone who might catch an upcoming flight doesn’t miss it by standing in line. And if passengers are waiting for an unusually long time, the platform can automatically send digital offers (e.g., restaurant vouchers, admission to the airline lounge) to their phones.

Given the speed at which business and technology move, it is critical for airports, airlines and vendors to meet the evolving expectations of passengers and the needs of employees.

When travellers believe their wait was shorter (even if it wasn’t) because they had more control over their time and they’ve received a more personalised level of service, they feel valued. Satisfied customers tend to be repeat customers who also buy more.

Likewise, airport, airline and vendor employees want to do their best when they go to work. Screening their badges and delivering updates right to their phones so they can more quickly report to their stations could reduce tension at shift changes and improve morale because they feel like management values their contributions.

Airports will never fully eliminate the wait for passengers and employees. However, the future promises to make those waits more manageable, less stressful, and full of opportunity. With virtual queue management, that future is already here.

About the author

Steve Covate is Qtrac’s vice president of sales. The company sells, configures, services and maintains virtual queuing solutions across the globe.

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