Coming soon to your airport: What happened to all the lines?

March 20, 2015

With advances in technology, airport queues may soon be a thing of the past

By Tom Schaeferle


Don’t you just love the lineups at airports? The good news is that with all the technological advances in airport design these days, we are rapidly approaching the point where you will be able to walk directly from your arrival at the terminal to your aircraft seat, with no waiting. How is this so?  Over the last decade many of the tedious tasks of checking your credentials, ticket, carry-on, security, and confirmation at the aircraft have been assisted by new technologies: specifically near-field communication and biometric identification.



Let’s walk through the steps:

First, the check-in process. Where you once waited in line to check in, you can now check in at home, on the train, or via your smart phone or kiosks in the parking lot. That’s one line-up gone.

Now you need to check your bag!  If you are carry-on only, you can proceed to the next step. If not, the new advance in baggage handling is the “self-drop” baggage portal, where you can scan your boarding pass, get a tag, and drop your bag on a take-away belt where it disappears, only to reappear at your destination.

By the way, while you have been walking through the check-in hall, your smart phone has been talking to the airlines and giving them the “I’m here” sign, populating the passenger manifest documents required by security. Security database bots will now scan their records to make sure you are not on a “do not fly” list, and (assuming you’re not) presto! You are pre-cleared. (This is, of course, provided you are willing to trade a bit of personal information in return for one of the trusted traveler programs.) 

Next comes security, the tension-producing line-up (even if you’re a super-clean kind of guy or gal) that seems to move sooooo slowly. Although advances here are lagging behind most other processes, primarily because security types want to actually see the whites of your eyes, it is evolving. The break-through will be when low-dosage methods of screening (ultra-sound, MRI, etc.) are affordable enough to allow passengers to walk through one of dozens of portals and on the way to their gate. Certain forms of this kind of screening are now in trial.

The final major step, provided you don’t stop for a glass of Merlot and a duty free “sorry I’ve been gone” present, is the reconciliation of passenger and boarding. This is an automated process in operation now at a few airports that simply involves inserting your boarding pass and identification (whether your eyes or a passport) and having the technology make the match and let you board, much like a transit fare turnstile checks if you have paid your fees.

You made it!  From entry to your airplane seat without a lineup or a stop!  Congratulations – now where’s that glass of champagne? There must be a robot for that around here somewhere.


Tom Schaeferle is a senior principal and architect who specializes in airport design.

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