JFK Displays Actual Wait Times Using Beacons That Monitor Mobile Phones

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New York’s busiest—and one of the world’s largest—airports is now displaying real-time wait times for major queues. The wait times are powered by beacons monitoring passenger mobile devices.

Passengers moving through JFK Airport’s Terminal 4 are now presented with estimated processing times on 13 new screens. The large and prominent screens are placed at TSA Security and Customs and Border Protection checkpoints, as well as the indoor taxi queue.
“It continuously updates,” says Daryl Jameson, vice president at the company JFKIAT, which runs Terminal 4. People like to know how long they are going to wait in queues. Nobody likes to wait in lines and signage helps to manage expectations.”

JFK Displays Actual Wait Times
JFK Displays Actual Wait Times

The wait times are driven by beacons that anonymously monitor passenger’s mobile devices as they move through the airport. The BlipTrack solution, invented by Denmark-based BLIP Systems and installed by Lockheed Martin, detects Bluetooth or Wi-Fi devices in “discoverable” mode, found in mobile phones and tablets. When a device passes the beacons, its non-personal unique ID—called a MAC address—is recorded, encrypted and time-stamped. By re-identifying the device from multiple beacons, the travel times, dwell times and movement patterns become available.

With this data, JFK is able to display accurate wait times to reduce passenger frustration and to notify staffing if areas in the terminal are becoming congested, so staff can identify and rectify bottlenecks before they escalate.

“We’re probably reaching 19.5 million passengers this year in total. It’s a big operation, which is why we’re introducing innovations to enhance the operations of the building. This new system will help us manage and eliminate problem spots within the facility, and sharing the processing time with our travelers will provide them with peace of mind so they may continue to expect a pleasant travel experience. Additionally, data from travelers’ phones could eventually influence future airport design,” says Gert-Jan de Graaff, President and CEO of JFKIAT.
In the past, cameras and stopwatches were used to manually track how long it took fliers to get through lines. The data this methodology created was often inconsistent.

Airport advocates such as Joe Sitt of the Global Gateway Alliance praise the new technology. “For too long, passengers were left on long lines at the airport, with no information,” says Sitt. “Countdown clocks at JFK Terminal 4, however, are the kind of modern technology that infinitely improves the passenger experience and helps advance the airport into the 21st century. Now, it is time for the other NY and NJ terminals to bring this critical amenity their passengers.”

A recent Expedia survey found 94% of leisure traveler’s travel with a mobile device. Considering that 64% of American adults now own a smartphone, monitoring mobile devices is an accurate method for predicting and examining passenger traffic.

The screens are privately funded and cost more than $250,000, according to JFKIAT. No other airport in New York has the screens.

Cincinnati CVG have been using the BlipTrack solution since last summer. In addition to providing passengers with waiting times, CVG have been able to cut queue time by a third by optimizing operations by using the collected data.

“Our use of BLIP Systems’ technology has proven quite successful. BlipTrack has enabled CVG to continue our close collaboration with TSA to ensure that the passenger experience at CVG is one that enhances the journey experience—not detracts from it,” said Candace McGraw, CEO at CVG.

In addition to monitoring passengers at JFK and Cincinnati, the BlipTrack solution also measures in Toronto, Dublin, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Manchester, Dubai, Auckland, Oslo, Helsinki, Milano, Brussels, and Copenhagen airports. The solution is also employed in optimization efforts in road traffic in the US, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, UK and Switzerland, at railway stations in the Netherlands, and at the world’s busiest passenger port in Dover, England.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Airports would not need to invest in this equipment if the TSA would better manage the staffing of its security lines in terms of staff availability, screening devices in service and the like. TSA should be able to predict passenger flows each day based on data that every airline can provide.

  2. By re-identifying the device from multiple beacons, the travel times, dwell times and movement patterns become available. With this data, JFK is able to display accurate wait times to reduce passenger frustration and to notify staffing if areas in the terminal are becoming congested, so staff can identify and rectify bottlenecks before they escalate.

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