After the gloom and doom that characterised the Indian aviation sector in 2018, flyers can look forward to a better travel experience in 2019 as airports, airlines and travel providers eye increasing use of technology to make it easier for travellers to plan, book and fly.
Heading the list is the second busiest airport in the country, Bengaluru airport, which promises to go live with biometric-based, self-boarding during the first quarter of 2019. The airport also has fully automated check-in facilities, which too will gather momentum.
Bengaluru airport claims that it will take just 45 seconds to complete the baggage check-in at Bangalore International Airport Limited. The self-bag drop will use a two-step process — a passenger will first print a boarding pass and a bag tag at a self check-in kiosk. Once tagged, the passenger will go to the bag drop machine, scan the boarding pass to initiate the bag drop process. The bag will be measured, weighed, scanned and automatically fed into the baggage handling system.
At the moment, Bengaluru airport has 16 fully-automated self-bag drop machines, which it claims is the first in the country. The service is initially available to passengers flying with AirAsia and SpiceJet but will be extended to other airlines as well.
The airport is also on track to have a new runway scheduled to become operational by September 2019. The coming up of the second runway will facilitate airlines to operate more flights, which will translate into easier and faster access to the airport.
A spokesperson for the airport said that a lot of its digital initiatives will go live in 2019, making the airport more accessible and allowing easy navigation.
State-owned airport operator, the Airports Authority of India, is also promising biometric boarding at some of its own airports, including Kolkata, Varanasi, Pune and Vijayawada. Its Digi Yatra experience will see passengers registered under the scheme bid farewell to the physical verification of documents for entering an airport and boarding their flights. Passengers can get a Digi Yatra ID by sharing minimum details like name, email ID, mobile number and details of one approved identity proof where the Aadhaar ID is not mandatory.
Jet, too, has earmarked technology playing a key role, with smarter use of data and marketing automation enabling the airline to deliver relevant and personalised service, says a spokesman.
“Self-service tools powered by Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning like voice and chat-based assistants will be the focus areas in 2019, providing real-time flight status, loyalty details and fare search options, giving guests choice, flexibility and control of the content that they want to consume,” the spokesman adds.
The airline is also promising to enhance its e-commerce and digital portfolio focusing on self-service, payment options and lingual content, thus increasing reach and distribution.
Sharat Dhall, Chief Operating Officer, Yatra.com, points out that people are increasing their dependency on technology and things like Artificial Intelligence, NLP and Virtual Reality will be quite popular in the near future.
“Big data, cloud technology and personalisation are having a profound, positive impact on the travel industry, offering customer insights that were hitherto not available. Chat bots, AI, voice search and other enabling innovations are the next big thing that brands are trotting towards. Customers, these days, have a plethora of options available,” Dhall adds.
With an eye at making the flying experience more comfortable, airlines are also looking at operating widebody aircraft on more domestic flights. Jet has hinted that the airline will be operating widebody aircraft to certain airports, pointing out that some capacity constrained airports will “witness airlines with a wide body fleet.” Generally speaking, flying a wide body aircraft enhances the in-cabin experience for a flyer.
Jet also plans to induct more Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. While other domestic airlines also plan to induct more aircraft, their plans have not yet been made public.
Affordable pricing in 2019?
However, it is not going to be only good news in 2019. What could probably dampen travel sentiments are predictions that, with input costs going up, air fares too could increase, although no one yet is predicting by how much, and if at all.
A spokesperson of Kayak has a word of caution and points out that if the current scenario of increasing fuel prices and depreciating rupee prevails, “customers might have to shell out a few extra bucks to travel.”
Further, ICRA, the credit rating agency, too has a negative outlook for the airline industry.
According to it, strong passenger demand is offset by capacity additions leading to intense competition and continued pressure on yields. Many of the industry players have weak balance sheet structures and with rising losses in the near term, the industry will need around a ₹35,000-crore equity infusion over the next 3-4 years.
“While passenger traffic growth remained strong during fiscal year 2018 and the first half of fiscal 2019, the industry faced a double whammy with increasing ATF prices and rupee depreciation. The cost pressures are expected to continue in the balance part of fiscal year 2019, resulting in further weakening of the financial health of the industry,” says Kinjal Shah, Vice-President and Co-Head, Corporate Sector Ratings, ICRA.
However, in this confusing scenario, Dhall strikes an optimistic note when he says that airlines have not let various issues like hike in aviation turbine fuel prices, depreciation of the Indian rupee versus the dollar, among others, affect their fare pricing. “We do not foresee a vast hike in airfares in the short to medium term,” he says.
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