Artificial intelligence to change check-in procedures at Edmonton International Airport

The WestJet check in at the Edmonton International Airport Monday, Jan. 25, 2016. Kendra Slugoski, Global News

What you do from the time you get to the curb at the Edmonton International Airport until you’re finally boarded is quickly changing thanks to artificial intelligence.

A forum Monday heard a whole new vision in aviation reality that will come from digital staff in a virtual lounge.

That’s how Ed Sims of WestJet sees it. Supplemental information on top of what you now get from uniformed staff will be available in pop-up virtual lounges that will emerge in busy times at the airport, and will disappear when things aren’t so rushed.

Sims is in Edmonton to share his vision, and get some ideas from the artificial intelligence experts at the University of Alberta.

“We are developing that concept, the intelligence that sits behind that concept,” Sims told reporters.

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He talked about the group’s commitment to use Edmonton as the starting off point, following a lunch-hour forum at Rogers Place.

“It’s not something we’re ready to roll out today, but we have made a commitment as part of our relationship with the mayor and with Edmonton Airport that we want to joint co-create that with our good friends in Edmonton.”

The folks behind the customer counter won’t be able to tell you about a parking spot in the airport parkade that emerged in the last 10 minutes — but the touchscreen concierge will, Sims said.

WestJet wants to compare ideas from artificial intelligence experts here with other centres in Canada.

“We really want to work with people on two criteria. One — that they’ve got the intelligence to develop product that hasn’t been seen in the aviation world before and two — they’ve got the same sense of commercial urgency that drives speed to market that allows us to roll out a concept within months of describing the concept rather than years.”

Ed Sims of WestJet, Cameron Schuler from the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute, Mayor Don Iveson and EIA CEO Tom Ruth at a forum in Edmonton on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. Scott Johnston, 630 CHED

Airport CEO Tom Ruth said the digital strategy is being expanded, and will roll out over time. But passengers will begin to notice changes within the year.

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“For people to know how long a security line is, where they can buy things… Over time, we just want to make sure that we’re putting a lot of information in the hands of customers so their airport experience can be that much more enjoyable.”

He envisions a bag drop in several locations in the departure terminal, not unlike what happens at the Jet Set parking, where you can hand over your bags there, well before you take a shuttle after parking your car.

Ruth said they’ve already made progress at customs.

“When you’re coming in from anywhere in the world now, you don’t have to fill out your customs forms. That happened about a month ago. We’re one of four airports in Canada where you can come and literally, I can put my information here on my cell phone, and when I go through Edmonton customs I can put this (phone) with its bar code and I’ve pretty much got everything done. We’re going to more and more of those things.”

Sims expects more phone use in other ways.

Within three years, he anticipates the paper boarding pass will be a thing of the past. Ninety per cent of travellers in Australia are that way now, but only 45-50 per cent of Canadians.

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“There’s a sense the app might not be as physical and as tangible as paper boarding pass, but we need to remove that dependency on that piece of paper.”

“People thought the removal of paper ticketing would take 10 years, and it was essentially within three.”

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