Readers of this piece will be unfortunately familiar with the trials and tribulations of using airports. Even with access to lounges and priority boarding, the process can often feel both stressful and unpleasant. It can be exacerbated by crowds of less frequent fliers who do not know their way around so well. Delays don’t help either. Your author was reminded of all the above when at London’s Heathrow this past weekend. It did, however, get him thinking: how could AI be used to improve the airport experience?

Algorithms can help reduce friction. Imagine, even before getting to the terminal, how automated parking guidance could help passengers arriving by car to find parking spots more efficiently. Drivers could maybe ask an AI-powered assistant on which parking garage floor and aisle there might be the most number of open spots nearest the elevator. In a more distant future, autonomous vehicles could take passengers straight to the airport, removing the hassle of parking. Given that such vehicles would be secure and surveyed, security screening could occur on the way to the airport rather than once there.

Extend this logic and once at the airport, passengers could employ a smart assistant to pre-book dedicated security screening slots. Alternatively, once you’re through security and killing time, think how intelligent solutions could provide travellers with insights into which food outlets were least busy. They could also pre-book you a table.  Not all the above is fantasy. Airports such as Seattle-Tacoma are already using technologies such a spot-saver to expedite screening. Others such as San Francisco and Phoenix in the US as well as Amsterdam’s Schipol and Munich in Europe are trialling various similar innovations too. 

Project even further ahead. Airports might get smaller and closer to urban centres. We have made the case for drones and eVTOLs (electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft) for some time. Vertiports might be the future. Think small, often urban locations, where eVTOL flights could replace regional plane (and train) journeys. Delta Airlines has already partnered with Joby Aviation to trial such services. If the technology works, then what about ‘pop-up’ airports for seasonal resort locations or events such as festivals? A prototype has already been designed in the UK. Remember all the above next time you’re in a queue and cursing at the airport.

28 February 2024

The above does not constitute investment advice and is the sole opinion of the author at the time of publication. Past performance is no guide to future performance and the value of investments and income from them can fall as well as rise.

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Alex Gunz, Fund Manager

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