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People who fail to turn up for flights cost airlines dearly, especially if their luggage has to be removed from the plane.
But Heathrow is rolling out a new system of smart boarding cards that it believes will put an end to the last-minute frantic search for lost passengers and could improve the punctuality of nearly half of flights.
Boarding passes already include a bar code in which the passenger’s flight details are embedded, including the gate and terminal. Instead of being read by airport staff, the pass is scanned by an automatic gate and can be used to tell airlines if, for example, a passenger has entered the departure lounge.
If the passenger turns up less than 30 minutes before departure — the cut-off time set by airlines to reach the gate — the traveller is sent back to the check-in desk.
The smart boarding pass is also able to redirect a passenger to the correct terminal where necessary.
In just one week of trials at Terminals 1 and 3, Virgin Atlantic and Little Red — Virgin’s domestic arm — found that 44pc of the 35,000 departing passengers were in danger of arriving at the gate late. About 700 were told to hurry up, and another 10 were instructed to go back to check-in because they had not allowed enough time to clear security.
Offloading luggage because owners have failed to turn up can lead to planes losing their take-off slots, leading to delays which, according to industry estimates, cost £67 for each minute the plane is on the Tarmac or stuck on the stand. Once a slot is lost, the aircraft has to go to the back of a queue, and a 20-minute delay is not uncommon. The smart passes are aimed at reducing these hold-ups.
According to the airport’s own calculations, late-running passengers are responsible for 50,000 minutes of delays a year at Terminals 1, 3 and 4, creating a bill of £3.5m.
Should the information show passengers are in danger of not reaching the gate in time, a message on a screen warns them to hurry up and not dawdle at the duty-free shops.