The Impact of Digital Transformation on Airports


Today, airports are addressing increasingly complex operational challenges with exciting new business and technological innovation. Smart digital investments demonstrate an attractive business case for airports, offering the potential to increase revenue and lower costs. Airports are undergoing massive transformation internally and digital tools are enabling new thinking as it relates to advertising, digital stores with interactive displays, loyalty programs and mobile applications for passengers.

When it comes to airports, digital transformation is not just about embracing technology; it is also about business transformation in a digital world. It is about evolving processes and services to deliver a better experience for passengers and customers. Such a transformation allows for both a seamless customer experience in the airport and a seamless integration of systems and services, including partners such as airlines, security, customs, concessions and ground handlers. Digital transformation in airports leverages technology solutions such as indoor geolocation, identity management, passenger flow management, data mining, artificial intelligence (AI) and internet of things to both improve safety and security and streamline their business and operations.

Key areas at the forefront of digital transformation in leading airports today include:

Digitization Area

Transformational Objective

Digital Transformation Benefits

Passenger Journey

  • Maximize the time spent in shops and lounges vs. waiting in a queue for dropping luggage or getting a boarding pass
  • Push real-time travel information to passengers to help them anticipate changes to their journey
  • Guide the passenger throughout his or her travel journey via a smartphone
  • Increase level of self-service to save time and avoid queues

Operational Efficiency

  • Streamline processes to achieve better efficiency in ground activities, i.e., security, ground handling, runway and maintenance operations
  • Reduce operational risks causing potential delays or incidents


  • Automate ground activities, including luggage management and security checks with potential for automated runway activities over the longer-term
  • Automate proactive measures for irregular operations (caused by weather, political events, technology outages by carriers, etc.) with right use of AI platforms.
  • Monitor operations in real time to quickly deal with issues and anticipate incidents
  • Optimize preventative maintenance leading to cost savings

Retail, ancillary revenue

  • Maximize revenues generated through travel retail
  • Optimize the use of valuable space at the airports
  • Proactively push commercial information to customers, e.g., special deals or tailored offers
  • Optimize retail space to increase revenues, e.g., using digital walls to order duty-free products
  • Introduce new retail possibilities, e.g., online order and pick-up at the airport


Enhancing the passenger journey experience at airports

Airports are focusing more and more on enhancing their passenger journey experience. From a passenger’s perspective, a better experience will come from personalized, individual experience and a seamless flow through the airport, starting even before they arrive at the terminal. Artificial intelligence and the use of smart algorithms can enhance the personalization by “learning” and pushing the right information to each passenger at the right moment, based on location, time of flight, passenger persona, profile, preference and spend habits. Whether it is about getting to the airport, having access to promotional offers for products and services or reacting to an emergency, every passenger has a specific context with unique needs and interests.

A leading international airport that has been consistently recognized as the world’s best airport by airport ranking site Skytrax built an award-winning application for its passengers to further enhance customer loyalty and passenger’s overall experience. Some of the features provided to passengers in their mobile app include real-time updates on flight status and gate changes, access to the airport’s wide selection of retail stores and dining outlets, the chance to earn and redeem rewards points and learn about the airport’s latest promotions and events. Passengers have the flexibility to build their own itinerary or allow recommendations based on personalized interests and dwell time. It also provides geospatial intelligence capabilities that help passengers seamlessly navigate the airport with interactive maps and wayfinding and book ground transportation ahead of their visit.

Another leading airport in India, which recorded tens of millions of passengers in 2019, recently upgraded its mobile application for passengers on App Store and Google Play. The upgraded app allows passengers to get real-time flight information, navigate with Google Indoor Maps, use one-touch Wi-Fi connect with Android devices, receive notifications based on their location, access the “must try” and “must buy” services for food and beverage and retail and provide feedback about their experience.

Even the reigning industry body, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), has created its Fast Travel program, which helps airports drive implementation of self-service options to address growing customer demands, reduce industry costs, improve the efficiency of airport infrastructure and enhance customer service.

While the sky is the limit when it comes to digital transformation at airports, initiatives must put airport and passenger security first. This requires careful assessment, governance and progress monitoring by the entire team, which can be challenging. ISG helps airports navigate the digital transformation journey and smart investments. Contact us to find out how we can help.