Large groups of passengers face having their bookings on connecting flights switched to a later departure if their first aircraft is even slightly late, under plans to cut delays at Heathrow.
New passenger profiling technology is reportedly being employed for the first time at the airport to identify the slowest travellers who may have trouble making transfer flights on time.
The “big data” system, which was tested at the airport over the summer, could allow airlines to push slow passengers on to later departures or use transfer buses to make sure they hit their flight schedule.
It will also allow the Border Force to provide extra cover at passport control desks at the busiest times to cut queues.
The move is aimed at reducing delays caused by the 66,000 passengers - a third of the total - who transfer through Heathrow every day en route to long-haul destinations.
The new passenger profiling system, which has been funded and managed by air traffic control network Eurocontrol, analyses 33 pieces of information to predict which passengers will struggle to make their connecting flights through hub airports.
Bert de Reyck, director of the school of management at University College London, who is leading the development of the technology, told The Times that it can flag up potentially slower passengers hours in advance of their arrival to allow airlines to make contingency plans — preventing them from holding up connecting flights.
Relevant information includes the cabin class of traveller, whether they have bags, whether they are part of a group, their nationality, the type of aircraft they are travelling in, their arrival gate and the terminal.
Business class passengers, who often travel without checked-in luggage, often disembark quicker and make it to their connecting flight much faster than the average traveller, Professor de Reyck said.
By comparison, the system may flag up passengers who are part of a large family group with bags, who often sit together in economy class and take much longer to transfer through the airport.
Other factors include the type of aircraft passengers arrive on, with those on wide-body aircraft such as the Airbus A380 superjumbo taking the longest time to disembark.
The system, introduced at the London hub in July, was providing “extremely accurate” data which was being analysed and put to use by airlines and the Border Force, Professor de Reyck said.
“This allows the airlines to decide hours in advance whether certain passengers will make it [to their connecting flight] so they can reload the bags and transfer them to another flight. Alternatively, the airport can say, ‘we want to do something special to get them from one aircraft to the gate’, like sending a bus.”
The technology, which has yet to be named, could eventually be expanded to all leading hub airports in Europe.
“Heathrow is the most congested airport on the planet, handling 75 million passengers per year with only two runways. Any interruption causes further delays not only throughout the day, but throughout the entire European network,” Professor de Reyck said.
The newspaper quoted figures from the FlightStats website showing that almost a quarter of flights from Heathrow were delayed by more than 15 minutes in August.
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