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Increasing accessibility on transport through staff awareness

How can we do more to support accessibility on transport?

By | Accessibility, Feature, Technology, Transport | No Comments

With travel technology rapidly changing the way we get around, it’s never been easier to get around than right now. The growth of the smartphone, ubiquitous connectivity and endless access to data are making travel faster, safer and more convenient. But what about for those who mobility isn’t a given? How easy is it for the differently abled to access the transport we take for granted every day?

In recent years, new technologies have emerged to expressly respond to the needs of disabled passengers. But with the advent of AI and a growing focus on personal technology, there comes a real opportunity to raise the standard of travel for everyone, including those with physical or learning disabilities.

Mobility scooters to increase mobility on transport

Audioguides

Even before the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act, public transport companies in the UK took efforts to cater to people with visual impairments. Featuring braille at consistent locations on and around mass transit, installing tactile high-contrast warning surfaces along platform edges and making stop announcements inside and out transit vehicles have all gone some way to making travel safer for blind and partially sighted people.

Now emerging technologies are beginning to surface that focus on making journeys less challenging and more enjoyable for those with visual impairments. The Transport for Edinburgh mobile app comes with a feature that identifies the stop’s name and the bus services that depart from there when the user is nearby.

Wayfindr is an award-winning organisation aimed at helping the visually impaired independently manoeuvre indoor environments through audio-based navigation. With our increasingly connected environment, the dream that those with visual impairments could one day explore the world without limitations seems that little bit closer to reality.

Vibrating wristbands

The vibrating wristband concept has been touted as a solution for both deaf and blind commuters, but its value as a means of assisting disabled passengers is in no doubt. For those with hearing impairments, taking public transport can be more challenging than you think.

If you don’t know the area, finding when to disembark without a visual indicator can be a stressful experience. While modern buses and trains now regularly feature visual and audio notifications for the next destination, many older models don’t come with either.

That’s why the vibrating wristband could prove to be such a valuable tool. The device vibrates when the wearer approaches their chosen stop, with some designs incorporating a Bluetooth device that links up with the driver’s touchscreen or ticket machine.

Through further development and increased cooperation with transit companies, wristband technology could go on to redefine the travel experience for millions of people.

Wristband technology to increase accessiblity on transport

Audio-visual information

Navigating transport can be a major challenge for anyone. For those with learning difficulties, these challenges can be exacerbated by difficulties in understanding timetables and fact-sheets.

That’s why Mencap, the UK-based learning disability charity, has produced a series of factsheets aimed at helping those with learning disabilities understand and navigate the public transport system. The fact-sheets come in an easy-read format and cover every aspect of travel, including how to find your nearest transit station; how to request assistance in advance of a journey; entitlement to discounts; and overall accessibility of different transport types.

Outside the hustle and bustle of major cities, audio-visual information on transport is still heavily lacking. Compliance with PSVAR legislation is a requirement, but with rural and suburban public transport facing consistent funding issues, operators often lack the resources to retrofit their vehicles.

Speaking last year at a Lords debate on bus services, Baroness Jane Campbell argued that increased access for disabled passengers providing audio-visual (AV) announcements on buses would open up travel not only to people with visual impairments but also to those such as people with dementia, autism, learning difficulties and mental health conditions.

Onboard bus aisle with audio visual notifications

Smart Apps

Ride-sharing app Uber introduced the UberWAV app for wheelchair users back in 2016, although just like the company, the service has attracted criticism from some. For those looking to use public transport, however, more options are becoming available as developers look to better integrate new technologies with the surrounding environment.

Features like ramps and ‘kneeling vehicles’ now feature as standard for most modern coaches, while tactile paving helps alert people to where a tram or trains’ doors will open, making it easier for the visually impaired to find their carriage.

Apps like the Voice Dream Reader convert text-to-speech, and vice versa, to assist with communication for those with physical and learning challenges.

More developers are waking up to the need for dedicated apps for those with disabilities. With our the near ubiquitous connection that smartphones, roaming data and the IoT bring, we can begin to create a better, safer transport infrastructure for everyone.

Man relying on an app to navigate public transport

Improved staff awareness

Perhaps one of the most important changes transport networks can make to encourage accessibility is in the attitudes of staff. The past two decades have seen a marked improvement in how staff respond to the diverse needs of passengers, but there is still more to do to ensure every passenger is treated with the same level of care.

Lord Ahmad, the (former) Conservative junior transport minister, announced last year that the government was developing guidance on disability equality training. However, the ruling to introduce mandatory training across the bus industry was based on an EU regulation that was due to come into force in 2018, a regulation which could be delayed following the UK’s exit from the EU.

Following the Paralympic Games in 2012, the DfT began to consult with a number of different accessibility and transport groups to introduce more consistent measures across different transports. The results are slowly beginning to take shape. A draft of the Accessibility Action Plan (AAP) released for review was well-received but charity and disability rights campaigners argued the draft could go further, particularly in improving understanding among transport providers and staff to the needs of disabled people.

Whether these recommendations will lead to real change remains to be seen. While the AAP addressed the need for well-trained staff, the lack of consultation with Disabled People’s Organisations on what constitutes a good standard of training led many to see it as a token gesture.

Increasing accessibility on transport through staff awareness

In the UK, legislation on access to transport and facilities for individuals with disabilities was introduced in 1996, with the DfT establishing a comprehensive guideline for the design of accessible transport facilities. But accessibility on transport, particularly outside busy metropolitan cities, still has a long way to go. For citizens with disabilities, technology may provide a piece of the puzzle, but it’s up to everyone to realise the full picture.

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Looking down bus aisle in need of new transport technology

5 technologies to revitalise your coach hire service

By | Coach hire, Feature, Technology, Transport | No Comments

The commercial coach hire industry has weathered its fair share of obstacles in the past 50 years, including increasing costs, fluctuating demand and increasingly stringent safety and security regulations. But as we push further into the 21st century, urban transport is increasingly falling behind the innovations available. Some of these are unaffordable to all but the biggest companies, but there are still plenty of opportunities for independent coach hires to revitalise their fleet and bring their service into the 21st century.

Onboard WiFi is a must

These days, connectivity is seen as a basic human right on par with access to clean running water and free healthcare. It’s no secret that a country’s broadband speeds influences how it’s infrastructure is judged. Most people now don’t leave home without a mobile device, and while most of these devices will have some data to help people connect while on the move, this data is often in short supply, particularly on long journeys.

Providing your passengers with onboard WiFi shows you’re willing to ‘go the extra mile’ to ensure an enjoyable ride and keep them connected. By giving your passengers access to the outside world through their smartphones, you also remove some of the monotony from those long journeys – making it more likely that customer will book with you over a coach operator without an onboard connection.

It’s not just the passengers that benefit from an onboard connection – connected drivers are better placed to communicate with each other and manage pickup and drop-off processes, further streamlining journeys.

Man using his smartphone on a coach hire service

A mobile app

It’s hard to believe that only twenty years ago if you wanted to board pretty much any vehicle you would have to book your tickets in person from a travel agent or travel office. Nowadays, not only can you book online, you can book on the move, directly through a company’s mobile app.

Even if an official app is out of your company’s price range, ensuring your website is optimised for mobile and streamlining the online booking process can significantly increase the number of passengers. In the modern traveller’s world, convenience is second only to comfort.

A mobile app comes with several other benefits, including the direct line it provides to the passenger. An app can provide useful analytics on your passenger’s needs and enable you to better understand where in the sales funnel your company is losing potential passengers.

Of course, a mobile app is only useful if it works. Make sure to shop around for the best app developer for your particular needs. Your app should, above all, make browsing, booking and boarding easier for the customer.

Woman using smartphone airline app to book flights

Transport safety & security

As far as advanced mobility services go, safety and security technologies are often the last to be considered but they’re often the most easily accessible for independent firms. Onboard security features can cover any number of technologies, but CCTV and dashcams are the most commonly cited.

With a Sygnal CCTV system onboard, you can record every boarding and disembarkation and store it for future viewing, adding an additional level of security to drivers and passengers alike. Likewise, the Sygnal dashcam comes with a G-force sensor to store specific video if prompted as a result of increased G-force to prevent crash footage being recorded over.

These features don’t just increase security, they can lead to lower insurance rates, saving your firm money while ensuring total coverage in the event of an accident.

CCTV on bus and coach hire

Green transport features

Of course, the modern coach fleet comes with additional responsibilities – to the public and the environment. The transport sector today makes up around 23% of greenhouse gases internationally, with around 75% of that coming from road vehicles. That’s an awful lot of emissions – but green public procurement (GPP) initiatives have helped push green technologies to the fore – and could net adherents a handy tax break.

With more cities pledging to tax or ban outright diesel automobiles within the next ten years, now’s the time for coach hire services to look at upgrading their fleet. Some companies have even begun integrating photovoltaic solar cells onto their vehicles to power lighting and other onboard elements. They can be a costly investment but energy-saving technologies, particularly those based on harnessing renewable energy resources, can equal substantial savings in the long run.

Other technologies including hydrogen and biofuels should become more affordable, and thus a more viable alternative, in the future. Hybrid coaches are already reaping rewards for those willing to invest the time and money.

Onboard the vehicle, there are a number of features to reduce wastage. Most sectors are moving towards paperless operations, but almost 70% of UK coach hire companies revealed they still use paper ticketing for boarding passengers. Switching to e-ticketing doesn’t just benefit the environment, it provides long-term cost-cutting solutions to the business.

Public transport with green features on a coach hire service

Fleet management technology

With the developments in vehicle tracking, quantitative journey data and traffic flows, transport companies are slowly coming to realise that not every technology has to be prohibitively expensive or invasive.

Even today, ground travel management is too often rooted in traditional means of communication, vehicle monitoring and passenger tracking. The benefits go beyond a reduced corporate footprint – with onboard systems like that found in Sygnal’s standard consoles providing satellite GPS to track entire fleets and optimise travel times.

In fact, fleet management can be as simple as tracking overall usage of vehicles, distances, fuel consumption and passenger intake, all of which can be done through a simple data analysis. Big data is fast becoming an integral asset to transport companies. Its ubiquity as an optimisation tool among the big transport companies shouldn’t put anyone off, however.

Big data can be a simple and affordable means to gain valuable insights into passenger behaviour and vehicle performance. With additional technologies like e-ticketing and mobile apps, this data will only become more accurate as time goes by, for both large and small companies within the coach hire service sector.

Using data to control coach hire service fleet

None of these technologies is a substitute for recognising your passengers as people. The thing is, appealing to your customers as people is a key element of developing and integrating new technologies. By adding new levels of comfort, connectivity and security, coach operators can begin to entice customers away from the rails.

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Using big data in aviation to increase efficiency

How is big data in aviation transforming the industry?

By | Data protection, Feature, Technology | No Comments

What does the introduction of analytics mean for the future of air travel?

Despite the recent growth in homegrown holidays, air travel is still big business in 2017. As more people look abroad for business and pleasure, airlines have to become savvier if they want to find an edge up on competitors.

Increased competition has made it more important than ever for companies to embrace new technology. The only problem? The biggest development in modern air travel technology is still only being embraced by a handful of companies. Big data has the potential to revolutionise every aspect of air travel – from the second a customer searches for their next holiday to the moment they touch down.

Processing the data

With the reams of data generated daily by the travel and hospitality industries, there’s no end to the number of consumer measurables that can be tracked and observed, including reservations, enquiries, itineraries, rental cars, fare charts, geolocation and customer feedback. With so many airlines competing for the same passengers, the data gathered from these variables is essential to enhancing consumer value and retaining customer loyalty. The airline industry’s approach to customer feedback has evolved because big data has dramatically increased the level of feedback available. With a constant stream of data on customer behaviour, airlines can leverage the insights gained from analysing the data to improve the entire passenger experience.

Using big data in aviation as innovative travel technology

Responsive pricing

Traditional manual fare analysis is now a thing of the past for most airlines, replaced by automated data gathering and the analysis of existing and real-time data from multiple sources. With this data-gathering, airlines can track competitors pricing and combine sources to build a comprehensive pricing strategy. Similarly, this data can feed into algorithms which track price changes and predict potential upcoming changes to ticket prices.

Dynamic analysis of competitors’ pricing enables service providers to remain competitive at all times. These metrics allow travel sites to forecast changes in pricing over time for better serving their consumer requirements. By analysing data collected from on-site forms, social media platforms and call centre conversations, airlines can identify customer intent with a greater degree of accuracy.

Likewise, by studying the numbers behind customer purchase patterns, drop-off and click-through rates, companies can build a coherent and responsive commercial strategy that is easily adapted in real time as needs develop.

Searching for airline prices made easier with big data

The booking process

Most established travel companies have already begun utilising data in its commercial applications – identifying customers through the booking process and sending them targeted location-based offers. But by studying passenger’s browsing behaviour during the booking stage, airlines can also gain ancillary revenue from offering secondary services from recognised commercial partners.

These services can include partner company-specific deals and cover a huge range of possibilities, including providing options for car hire when they land, linking to local SIM cards to reduce their roaming charges or offering discount rates on day-trips. As Abhishek Singh, product manager for tourism and hospitality at Infosys, explains:

“Ancillary revenue should not just be about baggage fees or unbundling, but should aim to create value propositions based on increasingly real-time information about customer preferences and needs and using that information for targeted services.”

Intelligent check-ins

It’s not just the booking process that provides opportunities for data-gathering. Checking in, and the multitude variables that can come with this process also provides airlines with valuable insights. Big data analytics allow travel companies to understand their customer, and studying check-in data can enable them to optimise the experience and streamline the boarding process.

With this relatively new level of insight, travel companies are now determined to leverage data into a streamlined travel experience. After all, passengers won’t book with an airline again if they’re left high and dry at the check-in desk. Building a snapshot of ‘customer DNA’ enables airlines to account for potential delays (for instance, by offering a hotel room suited to their particular needs), provide customised airport lounge services and even suggest the best routes to the airport at any particular time.

Airport departure board populated using aviation big data

Baggage tracking

One of the biggest challenges for airlines is in keeping track of the millions of pieces of luggage that go through airports every day. After over half a century of air travel, the process of ensuring the right bag ends up at the right destination in the right hands has been sufficiently refined, but until the arrival of big data in aviation, reassuring passengers of the whereabouts of their luggage is another matter.

Delta airlines were one of the first companies to provide an application allowing passengers to track their luggage from their mobile devices. Although a relatively simple concept, providing that additional level of transparency endears passengers to the brand and gives them peace of mind in the process.

Personalised experiences

Customers expect travel solutions tailored to their specific needs – big data provides the means to do that. Gone are the days of travel companies forming their commercial strategies from the aggregated feedback of a small cross-section of the customer base. Today, commercial air travel enjoys access to a near-bottomless well of information from which to dredge new observations. Companies can now gather data from almost every stage of the travel process, and those that do are in the best position to respond to changes in customer expectations.

In studying the data generated by a potential passenger’s holiday planning, incorporating price search and comparison process, booking, cancellation, and feedback, airlines can build a detailed picture of their customer’s interests and, more importantly, their needs.

Man staring out of window at airport terminal in monochrome

Optimised travel

Service providers can also track their customers and make location relevant real-time offers by enabling GPS technology with data analytics. In Brazil, where aviation traffic has been growing rapidly, airports introduced a GPS system that analyzes data from flights to optimise travel space and prevent unnecessary ‘bunching’ of flights. The system has already been credited with reducing the time planes spend in the air, optimising flight times and reducing fuel consumption. Airlines and airports alike are now harnessing data as a means of assigning ‘value-scores’ to flights, enabling them to prioritise flights in the event they need to be diverted

With increased connectivity and flight-tracking technology, airlines now have the opportunity to optimise not just journey times but vehicle performance too. By incorporating weather data into the flight plan, airlines can anticipate potential weather hazards and adapt accordingly. For commercial airlines, this means simultaneously saving money on fuel and reducing the corporate carbon footprint.

In-flight optimisation

For commercial flights, combining historical data like dieting and seating requirements, with real-time information is already an integral part of the travel experience. Big data, however, makes studying the needs of your passengers easier and far less invasive than the traditional ‘in-flight questionnaire’.

Just as data gained from the booking process can guide subsequent offers from strategic partnerships, airlines with onboard WiFi can study the analytics of individual passenger’s in-flight browsing and push personalised advertising accordingly. It’s a win-win for everyone; it increases ancillary revenue and brand loyalty for the airline while providing a more personalised experience for the passenger.

Airlines using big data during booking process to optimise seating process

Big data in aviation is still in its infancy despite the industry being one of its earliest proponents. The airline industry can be a fickle place, with customers inclined to jump between brands according to who has the cheapest flights. That’s why responding to feedback and keeping prices in-line with the competition is so essential. Integrating the responses found in big data is the most effective means of turning this feedback into real actionable insights. The airlines ready to embrace the power of quantified feedback into their commercial strategy now will be at the forefront of new data developments.

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Seatback screens

Is it time to say goodbye to seatback screens on airlines?

By | Feature, Technology | No Comments

2017 marks a pivotal moment in travel. Not only is the smartphone now the number one travelling companion, but this year also marks the beginning of the end for a staple of the in-flight experience. That’s right, 2017 will be remembered as the year passengers turned their backs on the in-seat screen once and for all.

The future’s wireless

Earlier this year, American Airlines announced that they would drop their seatback entertainment screen from their new fleet of Boeing 737MAX Aircraft. In explaining the decision, the company sent a statement to employees:

“More than 90 percent of our passengers already bring a device or screen with them when they fly. Those phones and tablets are continually upgraded, they’re easy to use, and most importantly, they are the technology that our customers have chosen.”

Thanks to the growth of mobile smart devices in the past decade, the public has come to expect entertainment delivered through the device they’re familiar with. While it’s true that a 2015 APEX Global Passengers Insights Survey found that 70% of respondents would rather watch in-flight entertainment via individual seatback screens, passengers increasingly expect a personalised experience in streaming content – something easier to achieve through a passenger’s personal device. As the aviation expert and freelance writer Marisa Garcia argues “giving passengers what they value most is the new brand loyalty builder.”

Man using tablet onboard flight with onboard network

For the airlines

Savings

Because of the numerous safety checks required for each one, in-flight entertainment screens can cost as much as $10,000. To outfit an entire plane can cost up to $4 million dollars.

There are other added financial incentives to removing seatback screens from commercial air travel. Companies can save on the cost of headsets and the seatback screen installation process. Meanwhile, airlines flying sans screens have the option of installing slimmer seats, which means more passengers and more revenue per flight.

Weight

By opting for an onboard streaming server, airlines can remove a huge amount of weight from the plane and reduce fuel consumption. For instance, an airline IT provider speaking to the Wall Street Journal estimated that the removal of screens from a standard 260-seat Boeing 767 could conserve 80 metric tonnes of fuel per year.

Not only does this save airlines money (savings which can then be passed on to the passengers), it also reduces the environmental impact – which is good news for everyone.

Ancillary revenue

The decline of the in-seat screen also presents some unforeseen opportunities to the airlines. Pushing specific advertising requires individual sign-ins, but also enables travel companies to continue the conversation after the flight.

By requiring passengers to use their own devices, companies have more access to personal browsing behaviours. This means more data with which to personalise the experience and a richer travel experience for the passenger, with the potential for more ancillary revenue in the long run.

Sun setting over wing of airborne plane with onboard network

For the passengers

For the passengers, the shift to projecting content to personal devices comes with a range of benefits, not least that unfamiliar headsets and devices will become a thing of the past.

More room

The absence of a power pack beneath the seat in front means added leg room or luggage space for those long journeys. Shifting to a handheld screen also eliminates the frustration of staring straight ahead or trying to watch a movie whilst the person in front insists on putting their seat as far back as possible (you know the type).

More privacy

The extra privacy afforded by watching through your own device reduces the amount of light cast around darkened cabins and allows passengers sat next to young kids to watch more adult-themed content without feeling embarrassed.

More choice

The direct supply of content to a passenger’s device makes updating libraries simpler and more efficient for the airline – meaning greater choice and a richer travel experience all round.

Personalisation

With several airlines offering an app-based sign-up system, passengers want to personalise their travel experience to suit their own needs, allowing them to jump back into movies and shows when they next board. As Marisa Garcia points out: “This isn’t about the industry’s largest seat-back screens or more content than you can consume on 100 trips around the world. It’s about personalization.”

Woman using smartphone while flying

Potential pitfalls

The move to a wireless IFE system does come with its own set of challenges. With content streamed directly to passenger’s mobile devices, the risk of content being downloaded is too high, and film studios will respond by dropping the “Fresh from the cinemas” format that allows new releases to be shown on planes. This will prove a sticking point for some, with ‘New Releases’ one of the most popular categories in current IFE libraries.

Evolving entertainment

Of course, airlines wouldn’t just pull the plug on an in-flight ritual without offering something in return. New fleets are being decked out with onboard streaming servers, inbuilt WiFi and individual USB charging points, meaning the entertainment hasn’t changed so much as the means of delivery. Ensuring that everyone has the ability to get (and stay) connected is key to retaining customer loyalty. With an increase in device usage, USB charging ports are a must. Some airlines have taken the added step of allowing passengers to rent out tablets if they don’t have their own device.

Man using onboard network looking down centre aisle of plane

The technology that drives transport to new speeds is constantly evolving. Likewise, the technology behind onboard entertainment develops in accordance with the world around us. Just as the demands for wireless connection in our home lives have influenced our expectations around travel, the growth of 4G internet and personal smart devices has nurtured our need for round-the-clock personalisation. In their quest to optimise travel for a huge range of demographics, travel companies would do well to remember that technology needs to do more than optimise content for specific regions; it must cater for passengers as individuals. The retirement of seatback screens on airlines is an important step in the right direction.

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Using your mobile device to book flights

Is in-flight WiFi really the next frontier in air travel?

By | Feature, Technology | No Comments

The world is changing. For one, we now see an internet connection as a basic human right. Despite being a relatively new technology, mobile connectivity has developed hugely in the past two decades, to the point where the availability of WiFi influences our perception of a country’s infrastructure. Connectivity is now deemed so essential, we expect it in the most unlikely of places.

But do we really need WiFi when we’re 35,000 feet up? Do passengers really expect to be connected when they’re halfway around the world? And just how far are airlines willing to go to keep passengers entertained on those long-haul flights? Sygnal takes a look at the pros, cons and obstacles to providing connection six miles up.

The sun over the wing of an airborne plane using inflight wifi

The history of in-flight entertainment

Of course, the commercial flying experience has changed beyond recognition in the past fifty years. Whereas the early days of commercial air travel focused on providing a genuine experience, modern air travel has diverged into two very separate aims – to provide the ultimate in onboard luxury, and to provide an economical but comfortable means of reaching far-off destinations.

The onboard entertainment of the late sixties through to pretty much the late eighties required watching a grainy film projected onto a screen at the front of the cabin. In time, this developed to multiple screens that hung down from the cabin ceiling in the aisles. Eventually, airlines began to integrate inseat entertainment that allowed passengers to view a choice of films and TV from a seatback screen directly in front of them. As technology developed, screens became clearer, larger and more oriented around providing a simple, clean user interface.

The growth of smartphones in the 21st century added an entirely new element to air travel. For the first time the means of audio-visual entertainment lay in the hands of the customer, and airlines struggled to adapt. As WiFi and data-roaming became integral to the lives of those on the ground, airlines remained a bastion of unconnected solitude. But today more airlines are turning to in-flight WiFi providers in a bid to keep their passengers connected.

Passengers enjoying inflight wireless entertainment on plane

Staying connected in the sky

So how exactly do you get WiFi 35,000 feet in the air? There are two principal means of getting WiFi to your passengers in-flight.

With air-to-ground (ATG) WiFi, the signals go from the aeroplane directly to antennas on the ground. Of course, this method is usually limited to flights that don’t leave the country, as it requires a singular network and signals relayed from multiple ground cell towers.

With ATG WiFi, the connection jumps between towers just as a mobile signal on the ground does. The bonus of using ATG WiFi is that it doesn’t require the costly network infrastructure of a satellite, although the signal is prone to outages and can get overwhelmed if too many passengers try to connect simultaneously.

Unlike onboard flights with ATG WiFi, planes that operate using satellite signals receive their WiFi (unsurprisingly) from an orbiting satellite. The signal is broadcast from the plane to the satellite, which is then broadcast down to the ground.

The speed of onboard WiFi depends very much on how many other aeroplanes are in the satellite’s transponder “footprint”. A modern satellite can have dozens of transponders to support a large number of simultaneous connections. Of course, transoceanic flights have to rely on using satellite to provide their WiFi, because there are no cell towers in the ocean.

Woman using smartphone with inflight wifi while flying

Changing the way we travel

Air travel is no longer the luxury spectacle it once was. The economy of scale ensured airlines would push to squeeze greater profits from passengers, but they must also provide something in return. With budget airlines taking an increasing share of the market, companies have turned to other, more economical means of providing value.

It was always a given that the next evolution in air travel would focus on providing greater autonomy to passengers. People want to retain control and access entertainment through their own media device. Passengers don’t want to grapple with an unfamiliar (and often unresponsive) seatback screen for all to see, particularly when watching a film with adult themes while seated next to kids. Still, there’s still something ineffably strange about using your own smartphone to access the internet mid-flight.

On the bright side, by losing the seatback screen airlines also reduce the weight of an aircraft, saving fuel and money in the process. No more seatback screens mean no chunky power packs stored beneath the chair and more leg room for passengers. Likewise, replacing the seatback with a wireless router gives passengers the freedom to watch from a position they find comfortable – a relief for anyone who’s disembarked from a long flight with a sore neck after trying to watch a film on the small seatback screen.

Going through travel security checks in airport

The next evolution in commercial air travel

Modern connection technology is geared to increasing WiFi access in even the most remote of areas. The challenge lies not in the distance of the receiver from the ground but in staying connected when travelling over various countries with differing access regulations. For instance, a flight from Paris to China would have to navigate the issue of providing access to Google for some of the flight, then dropping the search engine when it reaches Chinese territory.

But in-flight WiFi implementation faces a myriad of other technical and global challenges, including the laptop and tablet ban in place between several countries on US-bound flights. These new security measures have limited the technology allowed onto commercial flights, and airlines must consider the possibility that this could extend further to deny passengers a chance to use their personal devices despite paying for in-flight WiFi.

Some companies have already circumvented the ban on devices by offering branded devices for hire. While this solves the issue of passengers being denied access to the WiFi they paid for, it suggests the use of personal devices could present problems down the line for any fleet-wide rollout of in-flight WiFi.

Passengers viewing inflight entertainment onboard

The future of in-flight WiFi

But what is an acceptable price for passengers to pay for in-flight WiFi? It’s likely that, for the next few years at least, WiFi will be the reserve of the bigger airlines, while the budget options will be slower to adopt the technology. As the technology becomes more widespread, and airlines invest more in satellites dedicated solely to the provision of WiFi, you’ll be able to board more flights safe in the knowledge that you won’t lose any connection.

Based on the evolution of other forms of onboard entertainment, in-flight WiFi will eventually become available to all, but right now the trend is to prioritise first and business classes, with ‘lower-speed’ or pay-per-user options for those in economy class. As the technology becomes more prevalent, airlines will likely move to provide ‘free WiFi’ for all, with the additional maintenance costs passed on through ticket price.

It might seem fantastical now, but the history of IFE points to a time when the technology is cheap and reliable enough to become a standard feature on most flights.

Silhouette of plane taking off with sunset in background

In-flight WiFi is fast becoming a common feature on planes around the world.  Qantas is already working to install in-flight WiFi on 80 domestic aircraft in its fleet. While it may seem like a frivolous luxury to some right now, the history of air travel, and indeed wireless technology, suggests that won’t always be the case. Those that can’t or won’t adapt will struggle to stay relevant in an industry that puts comfort and convenience at the forefront of the customer experience.

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Using your smartphone while flying

Can an official airline app really increase flight bookings?

By | Feature, Holiday, Technology | No Comments

The smartphone is changing the way we travel, but what does it mean for the airlines?

New commercial technology can be both magnificent and terrible. At its best, new technology refines a process and simplifies tasks we once thought were impossible. At its worst, new technology adds a whole new set of problems to an already challenging procedure.

Technology is designed as a direct response to our needs, but when it makes our lives harder, it endangers the public’s perception of the brands to which it’s tied. That’s why airlines looking to develop a smartphone app for their customers should think long and hard about what they include. One path leads to increased bookings, greater customer loyalty and more overall revenue. The other – where an airline app actually frustrates the check-in process – leads to lost sales, angry customers and a damaged brand.

Woman using smartphone airline app to book flights

Simplify the process

A branded airline app has a myriad of benefits for the typical passenger, but at its heart, an airline app works because it invariably makes the booking, boarding and flying experience more convenient – and that’s good news for the customer and the airlines. For passengers, it means there’s no need to worry about remembering tickets, as they can download digital plane tickets direct to their smartphone (and who’s really going to forget their phone in this day and age?).

The airline app also makes booking easier by centralising the process on one, easy to navigate platform. The structure of browsers on mobile makes it difficult for a booking site to cache all the details entered, especially if the process isn’t finished in one. Customers are more likely to look elsewhere when a website forces them to jump through hoops to reach the payment page. An official airline app allows the passenger to save their details and book a last-minute flight securely and quickly through a personalised platform.

Plane booked through airline smartphone app taking off

Apps = increased sales opportunities

An app can do far more than just simplify the boarding process. It also provides many more opportunities to sell than the traditional online site. Airlines that think of the entire travel process, and make provisions for it, are in a better position to increase ancillary revenue. In-app check boxes inquiring the customer’s preferred transport for getting to the airport can lead to additional sales opportunities, if not by the airline, then by a partner company.

In turn, airlines can push through new offers and upgrades and offer cut-rate flights tailored to the optimum times for that individual based on previous in-app behaviour. An app can provide useful links to other services offered by the airline. For instance, EasyJet’s official app links to their car hire service, so passengers can book a car from the airport when they arrive. In this way, airlines can look to increase ancillary revenue and encourage brand loyalty.

Man in monochrome gazing out of airport terminal thinking about official airline apps

Increased personalisation

Smartphone apps come with a range of dividends for the passenger, but their real value lies in the direct link they provide between the airline and the customer. Encouraging passengers to book through the smartphone app enables airlines to study customer behaviour on an individual level, and tailor subsequent offers around this knowledge. Because the app caches previous interactions, airlines can build up a more accurate profile of the customer and, from this information, they can provide offers specifically tailored to the customer’s needs.

An official airline app can also provide additional features for passengers, like a handy travel guide. Digital guides to the weather, currency rates or cultural practices may seem like a simple gesture, but they actually serve a double purpose. Not only do they give passengers a convenient and enjoyable start to their holiday, guides establish the airline as a travel authority, making it more likely passengers will refer back to them for their next flight.

Bald man using official airline app on tablet mid-flight

Cut out the middle man

By using an app, customers can be sure they’re getting their tickets directly from the source, without the worry of third-party hidden fees. There’s nothing more frustrating for passengers when they check flight times on a third-party meta-search engine and see one price, then realise there was a better offer through the company’s official website, or vice-versa.

For customers, the appeal of an app comes down to the impression they are communicating directly with a corporation, and are therefore getting the most up-to-date offers and information. Flight changes can happen in an instant – push notifications sent through the app can alert passengers immediately and give them more time to react; an essential feature in a large airport that can take hours to navigate. With this direct connection, however, comes a responsibility on behalf of the company. To maintain the trust garnered through an app, airlines must constantly develop, update and innovate their line of communication.

Departure boards falling out of use in favour of airport apps and mobile travel technology

With opportunity comes responsibility

While features like mobile notifications of flight landings, gate announcements, delays and an onboard flight tracker can streamline the boarding procedure, these only work when they’re managed effectively. Failure to regularly update information on the app opens airlines up to a slew of potential complaints. That’s why it’s vital airlines consider their capabilities before investing in an official airline app, and automate as much of the process as possible.

Likewise, a poorly designed app is unlikely to inspire confidence in first-time customers. Ensuring the app has a functional, clean user interface (UI) will go a long way to bringing customers back for their next holiday. A cluttered, glitchy UI, on the other hand, could put customers off for life, particularly if an in-app error has cost them money or, worse yet, caused them to miss a flight. Consistent branding is also key; a branded app has succeeded when a customer can’t book a holiday without first checking the app.

Passenger using her smartphone while flying

Of course, airlines that can offer a stress-free check-in are more likely to get return customers. Those that fail to adapt now will be left behind as the smartphone generation becomes the ultimate source of revenue for airlines.

Ironically, the rigmarole of a holiday can be a stressful enough experience – embracing technology brings us one step closer to consolidating all these little chores into one, manageable platform.

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Low angle shot down bus aisle featuring smart technology

5 ways coach companies can increase fleet security

By | Road, Safety, Sygnal Bites, Technology | No Comments

Running your own commercial transport fleet can be a stressful experience. Whether it’s a local bus service or an international airline, some features of travel are essential to ensure happy passengers: comfort, accessibility, punctuality and, of course, safety.

With new technologies comes the opportunity to build on these key requirements and improve the travel experience for everyone. Here are just five technologies that can help increase security on your coaches – making for a safer and more secure journey for all.

CCTV to monitor passengers

While a fairly regular feature on most trains, CCTV is still fairly scarce on local bus services. But CCTV technology is becoming cheaper every day, while the advantages to using it are substantial. For one, CCTV allows you to track who boards the vehicle. Not only does this record everything that happens in the event of an incident, it also acts as a deterrent to anyone on board considering anything dangerous or illegal.

With a data connection, captured footage can be stored on an internal server, or sent directly to an external source. CCTV provides added security to those outside of the bus too, as any passenger that goes on to commit a crime later that day can be identified from the CCTV footage.

CCTV for security on buses and coaches

Vehicle tracking with GPS

For companies with a large fleet, keeping track of where each coach is at any given time can be a logistical nightmare. But GPS enables companies to know the location of every vehicle in an instant, centralising the information and saving valuable time in the process.

With GPS, discrepancies in the route are identified immediately. Companies can contact the driver to ensure there are no problems and resolve any potential safety/security issues as and when they arise. This isn’t just useful for working hours. If a coach goes missing outside of service hours, the GPS can guide police to its location while relaying valuable information about the driving behaviour of whoever is behind the wheel.

Bus travelling past bus stop with GPS for coach security

Dashcams for exterior visibility

Dashcams are becoming increasingly popular in commercial transport, but are still absent from many of the smaller fleets. Despite the industry’s reticence, dash cams are a great additional security feature. Not only do they provide an additional level of visibility, dash cams can be used to report dangerous drivers on the road.

If the worst should happen and a coach is involved in an accident, dash cams present clear, incontestable evidence as to what happened. With a Sygnal unit installed on a coach, the crash footage is saved and protected even if the cameras are damaged, much like a black box on an aeroplane. They can also double as external security cameras when the coach is stationary providing the operator leaves them on. Additionally, dash cams enable operators to review footage and optimise journeys based on variables such as traffic flow, road works and pick-up points.

Looking down interior of long-distance coach

Mobile ticketing

More of a fail-safe solution than a security feature, mobile ticketing nevertheless makes the entire transport system easier and more secure. This method also makes for a more reliable tracking and measurement system, digitally recording every passenger and sending the information directly to a fixed server elsewhere.

Mobile ticketing enables operators to track everyone who boarded the vehicle through their unique ticket code. After all, a personal mobile is infinitely easier to track than a generic paper ticket. Not only does this allow companies to build up a more accurate depiction of their passengers, it also removes any element of human error through a secure operating system with digital authentication. To ensure everyone can board, most digital ticketing systems use a QR code system to allow passengers that don’t want to use their smartphone to use a printed ticket.

Passenger using mobile smartphone device for onboard safety

Constant network connection

These days, passengers expect an omnipresent internet connection – either through their own mobile network data or, better yet, free WiFi courtesy of the coach company. We’re now at a point where an internet connection is second only to breathable air and a seat in terms of expected amenities on a long journey. But adding an onboard network also provides coaches with an extra level of safety and security.

Coaches with in-journey WiFi can communicate quickly and efficiently with a network operation centre (NOC). Not only that; as long as the coach has monitoring software installed, the NOC can monitor the coach’s performance. This means any problems experienced by the coach can be resolved promptly and effectively. Serious issues that could pose a risk to the passengers and driver can be identified quickly, adding a further safeguard against potential injury.

Bus turning with onboard coach security features

So there you have it; just a few modern technologies to modernise your fleet and ensure a safer journey. If you’re interested in making your coaches more secure, get in touch with Sygnal and we’ll find the best options for your specific requirements. Remember, it’s not just passengers that benefit from added fleet security features; your staff will feel more secure and your vehicles less at risk. In these times of rapidly changing fortunes, anything that limits risk and increases comfort must be a good thing.

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Woman using virtual reality headset on blue sky

Is VR technology really going to revolutionise the travel industry?

By | Feature, Technology, Travel | One Comment

It may sound like a redundant statement, but technology is changing every aspect of how we live our lives. That’s doesn’t just mean in the way smartphones have become an extension of our bodies, but also in the way we experience the world around us.

So it should be no surprise then that VR is being touted as the next horizon for the travel industry. After all, it makes sense that virtual reality and selling a travel experience would go hand in hand – you want to preview an experience before shelling out your hard-earned money, and donning a VR headset is the closest you can get to experiencing a location without actually being there.

Woman using virtual reality headset for travel tourism

With a market value estimated to hit US$70 Billion by 2020 and new research showing virtual tourism to be in the top five most popular activities for virtual VR users, the next few years will be interesting for VR and travel, to say the least. Tom Harding, director of VR and immersive products for Samsung Electronics America summed up the technology’s potential, “VR is incredibly powerful because it allows travel businesses to intimately showcase their expertise as curators of experience — be it destination options, restaurant suggestions or hidden gems that only the locals know.” While this is true, there are still some issues we have to work through before this VR can be adopted across the board. For one, VR today only covers one or two senses at the most. IN the future, travel companies will look to integrate the other senses to create a totally immersive experience, including adding location-specific scents – picture sea air and paella for Spanish beach holidays – and a temperature controlled environment.

Before you book

The location
Sure, VR isn’t the same as actually being there, but it’s the closest travellers will get to actually experiencing locations without visiting them. As detractors line up to argue against getting too carried away, developers are slowly filling in the gaps with what is still a relatively new technology. Plus, with additional sensory features like immersive audio, moving platforms and, as we mentioned earlier, even ‘smellovision’ on the horizon, VR use as an original visual marketing tool is becoming more relevant by the day.

The accommodation
Booking a hotel comes with its own unique challenges – not least of which is deciphering the size, scale and layout of a room from the cleverly-placed camera shots found on-site. But with VR, travellers can get a virtual walkthrough of potential hotels and choose from more than just the standard 2D thumbnails afforded by most booking sites. Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts trialled their own VR experience as part of a worldwide sales push. Brian Windle, vice president of sales and marketing for the Americas for Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts argued, “It’s easy to talk about square footage and hardware, but VR lets clients virtually step into event spaces to envision not only the space but also an experience for their customers.”

The journey
When Thomas Cook trialled their ‘Try before you fly’ campaign, commercial VR and 360-degree video were still in their infancy. The campaign invited customers to try on a VR headset and try to decipher clues from the surrounding environment. In the video, users are seated aboard a Thomas Cook plane and can choose between economy and premium classes, with clues indicating to which exotic location the flight is headed. The campaign proved a big hit, earning the travel company a 190% uplift in their New York excursions and a 40 % ROI.

Thomas Cook uses VR travel technology to sell holiday experience

When you’re there

The way over
With its myriad applications, VR isn’t just limited to the booking process. Qantas is already experimenting with putting Samsung Gear VR headsets onto flights for first-class customers. The headsets allow passengers (or those lucky enough to be in first class, anyway) to escape the humdrum of flying with virtual tours of different exotic locations – also acting as a nice precursor to the passenger’s own adventure. While the scope of VR use on planes is limited today, it could point to a wider trend for years to come.

Finding your way around
It’s easy to envision the uses for immersive multimedia technology in the booking process, but what about when you actually reach your destination? You don’t need to visualise the sparkling beach or the luxurious hotel room when you’re there. Augmented reality, on the other hand, could hold some real applications after you’ve arrived. The popularity of Pokemon Go proved people are more than ready for AR, and that’s good news for the travel sector. Augmented reality allows you to find all the top spots in a new location – presented in a ‘Google Street View’ like display with markers identifying all the nearby cafes, bars, restaurants and public attractions.

Your own virtual travel guide
As one of the better-known AR travel apps, Wikitude stands head and shoulders above the rest. Utilising a range of resources to present the best in bars, restaurants, activities, attractions and more, Wikitude is like having a digital pocket tour guide with the added bonus that you can curate your own unique journey. This is the true future of travel – sharing experiences through insightful, mobile-oriented apps that give you the information you need while allowing you to construct your own narrative.

Augmented reality as travel technology showing streets with attractions and reviews

Back home

The future of holiday reviews
Just as AR apps now allow travellers to document their journey with reviews and pictures, VR can capture your experiences and share them in an immersive environment for other travellers. Reviewing a travel attraction through VR gives you an entirely new dimension with which to work. Imagine, witnessing a travel review through the eyes of the reviewer – watching the waiter bring the wine, seeing which hotel offers the best sunset views or comparing walking tours, all without leaving your living room.

A new kind of slideshow
Down the line, travellers could compose their own VR experience to show friends and family back home – probably a welcome relief for anyone who’s had to sit through hours of monotonous slideshows from recently holidayed relatives. Grandma can’t make it to the wedding in Barcelona? With VR, you could film the entire day and allow her to enjoy it as if she were really there. Want your parents to witness your first bungee jump without the nerve-rattling experience of having to stand on the bridge alongside you? With VR, they can see for themselves without taking the leap themselves.

Virtual reality shot of a beach

Travel VR: some unresolved issues

Getting the footage
Right now, there aren’t enough professional companies capturing locations with high-definition, virtual reality technology. Of course, this will change over time, but right now the content just can’t keep up with the technology. Likewise, only the most renowned locations, like Machu Picchu or the Eiffel Tower, have actually been captured in a way that would allow travel companies to curate a truly immersive experience. As time goes on and the technology develops, we can expect far more locations to become accessible through VR, but until then our experiences will be limited.

Just how accessible is it?
The same is true for those wishing to view locations using their own technology. With high-end VR kits (such as Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive)  still out of reach for the majority of people, experiencing locations in full HD requires attending travel conventions or shelling out large amounts of money. Of course, there are cheaper options out there. Google Cardboard, at only $20, can give you a unique VR experience without breaking the bank – but for that truly immersive experience, you may want to wait until the high-cost models come down in price.

Man using VR on Qantas flight as entertainment

A technology that provides a visual medium to showcase destinations certainly sounds like the holy grail of travel marketing. Despite its relative success, the sheer cost of hosting VR devices and of capturing locations for use in these virtual realities makes it unlikely we will be using the technology to book our next holiday. However, to the sceptics in the travel sector that argue the real-world costs and difficulties will drive VR back to the realms of contrived novelty gadgets – be patient. Costs invariably go down as we discover new, more efficient means of capturing those high-quality visuals and transporting customers to new worlds.

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Data on a computer screen used in transport Technology

The transport tech that will revolutionise the next generation of travel

By | Feature, Technology, Travel | No Comments

Technology and, by extension, the mechanics behind travel, are perpetually evolving, but the rate of new developments can be hard to keep up with. The growth in mobile computing, GPS and data — not to mention the myriad forms of automation – are all shaping the future of travel in ways we can’t imagine, but some of these evolutions are closer than you may think.

The booking process

Big data is already influencing the passenger experience in commercial travel. From airlines using it to gauge which additional features to offer you to subway systems tracking your journey to learn more about your travel patterns, big data already informs several key commercial transport decisions. In the future, data will be used to define every element of your travel experience. Already, some companies have coupled automatic vehicle location data with signal prioritisation systems to improve scheduling.

As the technology develops and data becomes a more pervasive aspect of route planning, the way we travel will shift too. Likewise, data gathered from booking processes online are already influencing the way travel companies market and supply their journeys.

Mobile ticketing will become the means of boarding transport, with mobiles saving on costs for travel companies (passengers pay for the equipment, not the company). Add in that passengers have confirmed they would be willing to pay more for mobile ticketing – as it centralises the entire ticket booking and collection process – and it’s a wonder every travel company hasn’t already embraced the power of the mobile ticket.

Man using transport technology tablet and smartphone while drinking black coffee

Getting onboard

Travel tech covers more than just the vehicles used to get us around – it includes the way we board these vehicles. As technology develops, so does our understanding of the other factors influencing our journey. Chief among these factors is how the design and layout of a building affect the way in which we move around and interact inside it.

Optimising airports, in particular, is fast becoming of major interest to travel companies and aviation authorities. While bodies like the International Air Travel Association (IATA) dictate how big an airport must be, engineers, architects and designers have more technology at their disposal than ever to streamline the boarding process and improve the often frustrating waiting experience.

Analytics quantifying boarding times, as well as data detailing waiting times, the number of visitors and their behaviour whilst inside the building, are all factors that will have an increasing influence on the way the airports, train and bus stations of the future are designed.

Woman in green dress walking with red suitcase to get her flight with in-journey wifi

The journey

Despite being the most over-hyped technology of the modern age, AI has all kinds of potential when it comes to travel tech. AI already plays a role in commercial transport but, of course, when people hear AI and transport, they’re most likely to picture the self-driving car. Whilst self-driving commercial transport is certainly in development, it’s too soon to say to what extent it will be incorporated into everyday journeys.

Automation is already being integrated across different transport modes, but they still largely still require some level of human input. Likewise, AI that provides companies with adaptable eco-driving support systems are being trialled across Europe, but it’s too early to say how they will impact on the passenger experience. What is known for certain is that AI will influence how passengers experience their journey.

Of course, no piece on the transport of the future would be complete without mentioning the Hyperloop. The brainchild of Elon Musk, the train-like concept has been under development by American aerospace manufacturer and space transport services SpaceX for several years now, although the project is still frustratingly short on expected dates. Despite this, the project has received significant coverage in the media and is being touted as the future of commercial transport.  With speeds supposedly reaching 760mph, it would cut travel times dramatically and usher in a new era of transport. Whether the Hyperloop will ever become a viable means of transport is another matter.

Using in-journey wifi as transport tech while looking out of a train window

Greener transport

Energy efficiency is this generation’s hot ticket, with travel companies investing substantial amounts of time and money in developing more environmentally friendly means of transport. While traditionally transport companies focused on developing and integrating technology into infrastructure, companies are coming round to the idea that a more technology-driven approach can be used to cut down on costs through increased efficiency and reducing wastage.

Through the use of intelligent systems, companies will continue to improve each stage of the process, from fare collection to scheduling, further decreasing energy consumption. However, the changes to commercial transport efficiency have, so far, been largely unremarkable. That was until Beijing-based company Transit Explore Bus unveiled the ‘bridge bus’ – a raised rolling bus that straddles two lanes of traffic and allows cars under 7 feet to pass beneath it.

While the timeline is still sketchy, Transit Explore Bus announced several successful tests late last year. The bus, which can transport up to 1,400 passengers, is cheaper and more economical than underground transit systems because it doesn’t require digging underground.

Model Chinese rail bus as an example of green transport tech

Onboard entertainment

Whilst most airlines already have an internal LAN system that allows passengers to access a range of movies, music and TV shows, they’re by no means standardised and are far less common on other modes of transport. This is rapidly changing, however, with Sygnal in particular dedicated to bringing the latest content to passengers going by rail, road and sea. The key difference between the standard airline entertainment system and the next generation of onboard entertainment is the way in which it’s delivered.

While most in-flight entertainment systems rely on seatback screens to view the content, the new generation of passengers has brought their own screens with them. With almost everyone bringing their own mobile device onboard, commercial transport systems are adapting. The next generation of travellers will be able to access centralised content platforms once onboard from their laptop, smartphone or tablet without the need for an external internet connection or the limitations of trying to store large amounts of content on their device.

Using a smartphone as transport tech for travel booking

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