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Sensors and Data Mining Help Airports Fix Passenger Wait Time Anxiety

Informed travelers are happier and less stressed, resulting in an improved travel experience. The Internet of Things can make this happen.
By Christian Bugislaus Carstens
Oct 02, 2019

Nobody likes to wait in line, yet in some places—like in airports—it is completely unavoidable. But what if there were a way to make those inevitable queues move faster and keep the experience more pleasant for those in line? It all comes down to understanding why queuing is so painful and then doing something about it.

The Torture of Waiting
Throughout the last twenty years, the airport environment has grown much more pressurized. With more security checks worldwide following 9/11, growth in passenger and flight numbers each year, and limited space to expand existing infrastructure, modern airports frequently have to contend with long lines of tired, frustrated people. This puts increasing pressure on management to ensure personnel are correctly deployed, gauge the flow and number of people through processes, and deal with unforeseen events, like delays or severe weather conditions. Just one delayed or late-arriving flight can cause all planning to go awry.

Most international airports have implemented automation to help reduce lines, including self-check-in options and self-service bag drops, among others; but that doesn't eliminate the need to stand in line. If everything is running smoothly and at top efficiency, things will move reasonably quickly, but when things go wrong, it's a recipe for extremely agitated passengers.

It's simple: standing in line with no clear understanding of what's going on can make travelers frustrated, angry and stressed, and for good reasons. Plenty of research has been conducted on the psychology of lines, and much of that research agrees: most queue-based frustration is caused by a combination of boredom and a lack of information.

In the case of boredom, having nothing to occupy your mind can make the duration feel much longer than it is. People have been shown to overestimate the length of time they spend in line by around 36 percent, which means that boredom changes the way they perceive time. As for a lack of accurate information, when people don't know how long they can be expected to queue, their frustration immediately increases. They resort to guessing and hoping things will move quickly enough, while caught in a web of uncertainty.

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