Smart baggage management: AirPortr and Swissport partnership
Digital platform service provider AirPortr has announced a partnership with Swissport, the leading provider of airport ground services and air cargo handling operations. Frankie Youd speaks to those involved with the partnership to find out more.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic causing havoc for the aviation industry, the issue of passenger baggage was one that many airlines faced, with long lines of passengers waiting to collect bags to check-in queues.
As the industry reopens, congestion at airports is increasing globally due to escalated passenger safety and documentation checks. Paired with the issue of lengthy baggage check-in, this could be a key setback for the industry’s recovery.
The partnership of AirPortr and Swissport enables passengers to pre-book at-home baggage collection prior to their departure to the airport, which will see a courier collect their bags and digitally verify ID and travel documents at the passenger’s doorstep.
This process allows passengers to travel baggage free to the airport and proceed directly to security, as well as enjoying the streamlining of the last leg of the passenger’s journey – allowing their bags to be cleared through Customs and delivered to their destination within hours of landing.
Alongside providing a contactless, modernised baggage solution for passengers, the partnership also provides a sustainable, environmentally beneficial element.
According to data provided by AirPortr, 66% of customers using this service have switched from using their cars to get to the airport, to using public transport, which will assist the aviation industry on its journey of meeting its sustainability targets.
Randel Darby, CEO at AirPortr and Sadri Maliqi, project manager at Swissport discuss the new partnership and the benefits that it brings.
Frankie Youd: When did the partnership between Swissport and AirPortr come about?
Randel Darby (RD): The AirPortr and Swissport teams first met at Plug and Play, Silicon Valley at the beginning of 2020.
Despite the world of aviation falling apart shortly after this, we were able to continue conversations and work on ways to collaborate. We began the implementation phase of the project in early 2021.
Sadri Maliqi (SM): At the time, a team in Geneva had already been working on a Swissport-internal off-airport check-in solution. During 2020, the efforts of both parties were then combined to create a strategic partnership between Airportr and Swissport.
When is this technology going to be available for passengers, will this be at all Swissport locations?
RD: The first deployment will launch imminently, and by this, we mean within the next month.
Once this first market is announced, we will work together as a group to prioritise markets based on a number of criteria: size, readiness, type of customers flying with an airline (are they tech-savvy or tech-ready), whether the airline themselves are innovative or digitally progressive enough to support the product.
The footprint of Swissport’s 274 airports worldwide gives a great platform to create a global, connected network for airline clients. There is an immense amount of scale with this and the possibility to transform baggage from a customer and cost pain point into new revenue streams.
What is the process for passengers using the technology?
RD: Our model means that we work with organisations like Swissport on the supply side, giving us the infrastructure and services to provide the product globally.
We then work with the airlines to integrate and offer the service to the customer. The customers will book through the airline, powered by the AirPortr platform which is integrated.
AirPortr also provides customers with easy-to-use, intuitive web-based apps to track bags, couriers, amend bookings, etc.
The Airportr App allows passengers to travel to the Airport without worrying about their baggage. Credit: Airportr
What are the benefits for passengers and airports using this technology?
RD: The benefits for the passengers are plenty. It will allow them to save time, avoid queues, give them an enhanced customer experience, and open up the possibility of intermodal travel (e.g. using rail over private vehicles).
For airports, it gives them the opportunity to decongest terminals; alleviate pressure on the baggage processing by pushing it upstream, earlier, and off-site; as well as allowing optimisation of times (e.g. when the baggage system utilisation is low).
For airlines, the benefits include ancillary revenue, improved customer experience, improved revenue, and allows them to support their automation initiatives to enable more interactions to be handled with fewer agents.
Ultimately, this product moves more processes off-site – similar to online check-in and biometrics.
SM: For Swissport, the benefits include ground handling efficiencies, it gives us a new service in our portfolio, and brings about innovation.
Was this technology in development prior to the pandemic, or did the pandemic act as a catalyst?
RD: We first launched our digitised off-airport service in late 2016 with British Airways. Pre-pandemic, AirPortr was actively scaling the technology with airlines and airports, working with third-party handlers to leverage its tools and technology to transform the sector.
With the global shutdown of air travel and the impacts this had on revenues across the industry, our business model accelerated from consumer-focused to a global B2B platform for smarter baggage management for the industry.
Last year we doubled down on investment to push our platform and applications toward more of an enterprise offering for large scale B2B operating partners, like Swissport.
The pandemic certainly acted as a catalyst for our growth – by transforming the door-to-door customer experience for air passengers, and helping operators to reduce their costs and increase the throughput of their infrastructure, AirPortr is now at the forefront of a digital shift within the aviation industry.
AirPortr users are switching from car usage to public transport, do you see this number increasing?
RD: As confidence in new products like Airportr grows and are invested in by the air transport sector, giving customers the option to travel to the airport baggage-free, we will see a continued change in passenger behaviour and a rise in the use of intermodal transport.
Two-thirds of people are already saying they switch to public transport when no longer blocked by baggage.
I believe that with deeper integrations between technology providers like AirPortr, mobility and ground transportation platforms, allowing ‘one purchase’ of bag free intermodal journeys, will drive an even greater shift over time.
It will take a lot of collaboration between the industry, but as the last year has shown, a huge amount can be achieved in a short space of time, if the forces align and there is sufficient motivation across the industry to make it happen.
There has already been immense progress made to meet emissions targets for the industry, such as testing of sustainable aviation fuels, governments limiting domestic flying in favour of rail travel, airports increasing charges for taxis or passenger vehicle set down etc.
Do you feel that technology such as this will be the future for the aviation industry?
RD: It is evident that there was a place for this type of technology pre-pandemic and that the industry was trying to harness this, for example, to alleviate capacity challenges in airports.
Post-pandemic, the space for this is even bigger – it has accelerated the uptake of digital technologies and fast-tracked innovation across the industry.
We have seen huge shifts across other industries that we can draw parallels with when looking at the future of the aviation industry.
Take Amazon and the change in consumer behaviours towards ecommerce, for example. The way people shop now is vastly different to how they were – the high street is no longer as it was.
With at-home deliveries, rapid convenient service levels and online ordering now embedded with consumer segments that perhaps two years ago wouldn’t have considered it as an everyday option for them.
The airport of the future, I believe, will face similar positive disruption, and if it doesn’t change to adapt, will become the high street.
There is a long-term shift happening across the industry, and we know airports are master planning for 2030 to 2035+ for ‘passenger only’ terminals. This tells you that this kind of technology is becoming embedded in future design thinking.
SM: Digitisation and decentralisation of airport processes are the future of the aviation industry.
Digital passenger and baggage processes will minimize the number of touchpoints at the airport and thus the likelihood of bottlenecks and lost time. Off-airport baggage handling is gradually transforming the customer journey and airport baggage handling processes.