How Technology Combats Reduced Mobility for Air Travel

IATA Air Hackathon TIBCO
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TIBCO recently was a sponsor for the IATA Air Hackathon in Seattle where participants gathered to build innovative solutions to help those with reduced mobility travel more easily. The first solution was centered around enhancing the booking experience for passengers traveling with mobility aids (such as wheelchairs). With enhanced booking experience to account for mobility aids, visibility is increased at the earliest stage so aircraft capabilities can be matched as early as possible in the process. Participants could also create a solution around tracking mobility aids throughout the travel journey using blockchain or artificial intelligence (AI).

When it comes to air travel, oftentimes, many who have full mobility think that there are virtually no barriers in terms of who can fly, when, and where. But that is not the case. Traveling is a privilege, one not often experienced by those with reduced mobility due to not being able to navigate their journey to, through, and from the airport. 

The regulation (EC) 1107/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when traveling by air is already addressing this. In the United States, the Air Carrier Access Act prohibits any discrimination of disabled persons or persons with reduced mobility on the basis of disability in air travel. The idea is that no matter your condition, the sky should not be the limit. Groups are taking active steps to break down any digital barriers one may face, allowing anyone to travel anywhere in the world in the most seamless way. 

So what can prevent those with reduced mobility from traveling? There are a number of barriers, including:

  • Online ticket purchase: Only some airline companies provide an email address to send special needs related information to fully describe their mobility aid
  • Assistance request: Assistance is required by law to start within 48 hours before take-off, but most start much later than that, leaving little time to meet accommodations 
  • Flights with a layover: There is a complicated and long process to get one’s wheelchair post-flight during short layovers
  • Assistance at the airport: Lack of skilled personnel who know how to stow a wheelchair or power wheelchair 
  • Transport: High risk of wheelchairs being damaged by airlines and the claim process is not always clear especially when multiple carriers are involved (who’s responsible?)
  • Boarding: Some airlines don’t have the proper infrastructure such as ramps to make it easy to board the plane
  • Onboard: Oftentimes, the seat’s armrest can’t be lifted, making it hard to get into one’s seat and feel comfortable on the plane; some airplanes are not equipped with an accessible toilet; the seat is decided once onboard and the travel companion may have to sit somewhere else

The right technology can certainly solve some of the above pain points.

With the growing number and variety of different barriers, airports and airlines should care now more than ever. Easyjet declared: “We will fly around 100 million passengers this year and of those, over 659,000 required and were provided with assistance during their travels”. In fact, the airline saw a 27 percent increase in passengers requiring special assistance in 2018 from the previous year. 

Additionally, the World Health Organization stated that between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years old will nearly double from 12 percent to 22 percent.  

Technology to improve the journey

If we think of a “seamless” travel journey, this typically means on-time flights with short delays and all the tools we need at our fingertips. But, for those with reduced mobility, this isn’t always the case. We need to think of multiple types of travelers, each having specific needs that require a personalized seamless travel experience to go from A to B given their specific needs. 

The overall goal is to communicate in an asynchronous manner at every single point across the entire traveler’s journey to send the right information when an event happens.

To do this, airports and airlines turn to APIs, which can interact with all parties involved such as the airline site, the airport, the baggage handler, and the layover airport if applicable. For example, when booking transportation to the airport, the API could exchange information with the airport to request assistance on arrival. Or when booking a flight and creating a traveler profile with information on the specific wheelchair or power wheelchair. This passenger information could give valuable information to the airlines across the end-to-end journey, being able to offer the right transportation to the airport.

By introducing a microservice-based API architecture as opposed to a monolithic architecture, you can create many small highly-specialized, loosely-coupled services. These lightweight and flexible services can be individually deployed and scaled up or down, and support the orchestration and choreography needed to exchange information. The ultimate goal is to model your APIs to introduce the necessary flexibility to create a fully personalized customer journey and therefore remove any possible digital barriers. 

Going forward, air travel providers need to be inclusive when it comes to their customers and their experience so they don’t leave anyone behind. They can leverage microservices and API management solutions to overcome certain barriers. These smart technology choices can help accelerate success while shifting the mindset from a service economy to an experience economy. 

Learn more about how we can help your organization create personalized and seamless travel journeys to put your customers and their individual needs at the center.