Qatar’s airport plans launch of new self-service technology

Hamad International Airport

Sanjiban Ghosh/Flickr

Hamad International Airport

Self-printed luggage tags, automated baggage drop and e-gate facilities for visitors are among the new services planned for Hamad International Airport (HIA) as it struggles to operate beyond its capacity.

This week, airport officials said they are testing out “smart” technology that would make everything from check-in to boarding entirely self-service.

This would “improve efficiency” and cut waiting times, officials announced yesterday.

However, it is unclear how the new features would help with passenger complaints about long waiting times at immigration and at passport control in transit.

@RoryWSJ / Twitter

@RoryWSJ / Twitter

@RoryWSJ / Twitter

According to HIA’s chief operating officer Badr Al Meer, the facility has already exceeded its planned capacity, with more than 30 million passengers recorded as passing through in 2015.

Plans to expand the airport include doubling the size of the main terminal to more than 1 million square meters, nearly doubling the number of contact gates to 61 and bringing the number of remote gates to 14, airport officials said in September 2014.

And the addition of D and E concourses should help to raise the airport’s capacity to 50 million, officials previously said.

While D gates are already in operation, the full extension is not planned to be finished until 2020.

New systems

This week, Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, and Minister of Transport and Communications Jassim Seif Ahmed Al Sulaiti were shown some of the new technology that is being tested, HIA said.

In its statement, the airport said these new systems will be publicly launched “soon,” but has not given a more specific timeline for their official roll-out.

The above video shows sticky luggage tags being printed out at the airport. In a statement, HIA said it is planning to also launch a system for home-printed luggage tags.

An HIA spokesperson told Doha News passengers could use both systems.

The technology is already being used by a number of airlines, including Swiss Air, for passengers traveling from Zurich and Geneva.

Travelers can print out an A4 document, which they can fold and insert into a transparent folder they can get at the airport, which attaches to their luggage.

Bag drop

The airport is also planning to have automated bag drop machines.

The service is designed to be quicker for passengers while cutting airports’ costs because they theoretically require fewer staff.

However, the system can be confusing and time-consuming to use for passengers unfamiliar with it.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

United

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Still, HIA maintained its system would be quicker for passengers.

“The new self-service bag drop system will make the process of checking in much faster with less queuing time,” a spokesperson said.

Other automated services planned include the ability to pay for excess baggage, buy upgrades and gain access to lounges.

HIA is also planning to expand its e-gate service to visitors, although it is unclear when this service would start. Currently, e-gate is only available to Qatar residents with a biometric RP.

Similar fast-track, smart and e-gate systems for visitors of some nationalities are already in place in the UAE.

The system should process passengers much quicker than conventional methods and is useful for frequent fliers who don’t want their passport pages to be filled up with stamps too quickly.

‘Staff shortages’

While the new services will help streamline things in some ways, other problems persist, including staff shortages at HIA’s passport control.

The chief executive for Qatar Airways, which manages the airport, said earlier this year that the airline, the Ministry of Interior – whose staff man the immigration desks – and other unnamed parties were “trying to resolve the issue as a team.”

Still, the queues continue to draw complaints from passengers arriving and transferring through Qatar.

Self-service machines at boarding gates have also been trialed, the airport said, although it did not give any further details of how this system would work or when it would be fully deployed.

“These technological advancements … will also allow the airport to be better connected to its passengers and provide need based assistance. Several aspects of the program have already been implemented and the remaining is being trialled with phased completion planned in the near future,” HIA’s COO Al Meer said in a statement.

Automated systems are often used as cost-cutting measures in airports, however an official at Qatar’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) previously said there will be no budget cuts at HIA.

Have you used any of the new systems at the airport? Thoughts?

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