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Personal Assistants for Plane Passengers

Paxflow has designed an electronic boarding pass that can alert passengers about departure times, flight delays, gate changes and discount offers at airport shops.
By Beth Bacheldor
Feb 15, 2008— All too often, you arrive at the airport early to clear security only to find your flight has been delayed for who knows how long. Then comes the dance of killing time by wandering around the airport shops and rushing back to the gate in the hope that you haven't missed your flight. Paxflow, a startup based in Singapore, thinks there's a better way. The company has designed an electronic boarding pass that can alert passengers about departure times, flight delays, up-to-the-minute gate changes, and even special discounts being offered at duty-free shops and other retail outlets within airports.

Paxflow's airport solution is called the Personal Passenger Assist (PPA). The e-passes, which are roughly the size of credit cards, contain 2.4 GHz active RFID tags. A wireless network of sensors sends data to and from the tags, while software serves as the information hub and provides a real-time view of each passenger's location within the airport. The e-passes beep, alerting passengers to new messages.

Earlier this year, Paxflow conducted a pilot of the PPA system with Swiss airline Flybaboo at Geneva International Airport. Paxflow CEO Jon Lowther says a network of the sensors was installed in key zones in the airport—between the check-in area and the boarding gate, in retail areas within the concourse and at security gates. Flybaboo passengers received the electronic boarding passes at check-in and returned them when they boarded the aircraft.

Lowther says the PPA would also benefit airlines and airports. For example, airports could track passenger flow to better understand where bottlenecks occur and make changes to improve the travel experience. And airlines could summon people who aren't at the gates, minimizing passenger-caused flight delays.

Paxflow has been researching and developing the PPA system for the past three years, building relationships with Hewlett-Packard; SITA, a provider of IT business solutions and communication services to the air transport industry; the Airports Council International (ACI), an industry group representing airports; and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade association representing and serving the airline industry. Paxflow is in discussions to conduct pilots with airports in Asia, Europe and the United States. The company expects to roll out a commercial version of its technology within a year.
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