London City Airport: Please arrive (at most) 20 min prior to departure

What if we tell you that you could be sitting in a meeting at 5.20pm, reach for your phone as an alert pops up “You have a flight to New York JFK at 6.00pm. Traffic is light: leave now to arrive on time”, grab your suitcase and still make it in time for some duty-free shopping and a quick macchiato before catching your next flight?

London City (LCY) is the only airport located in London itself. Just seven miles from the City (London’s financial district), over 60% of its passengers travel on business, and over 40% hold a position of senior manager or above1. With such a high profile passenger, LCY’s management knows what their passengers lack and demand: time. This year, CEO Declan Collier publicly announced his goal to make LCY the ‘fastest airport’, with a walking distance of 20 minutes between entry and departure gate2.


In line with those goals, the Technology Strategy Board, UK’s public innovation agency, awarded LCY a grant in 2013 to run an ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) pilot3. The one-year pilot allowed management to get a glimpse into the full potential of IoT integration with their current infrastructures: from time savings and operational efficiencies, to driving top-line growth through targeted advertising in their retail operations.

Piloting The IoT

LCY established a sensor network that captured data such as passenger location and flow patterns3. Information was then analyzed at a hub, prompting a response from the airport, which interacted with passengers at key touch points via an app that would release push notifications to their smartphones depending on their location, scheduled flight, and LCY’s level of operations.

For example, while in the cab to the airport, you could be perusing through the Duty Free catalog or the Starbucks menu, receiving offers personalized to your purchasing history. You could buy and select ‘at seat’ delivery to receive your order once on-board the plane. Moments after entering the terminal, your phone would also display a message informing you where to go for self-services of check-in and bag drop-off.

As you moved towards the security lines, the app would tell you which line was faster. Meanwhile, cameras would analyze volume and flow pattern of all passengers4, allowing LCY to predict and prevent longer queues. Furthermore, on the airside, GPS and 3G enabled devices would track airport equipment to ensure the fastest aircraft turnaround services and decrease delays.

Sky Is The Limit

LCY deemed the pilot a success, but its full potential was far from reached. Nowadays, IoT devices are already capable of much more5:

  • Baggage tracking: in the near future, passengers will know where their suitcases are at all time and their ETA to claim belts. Additionally, delayed baggage will automatically prompt notifications informing of new arrival time and details of courier drop-off at destination.
  • Security: instead of manual checks, IoT could allow passengers to self-identify through their devices and fingerprints. Cameras at LCY are already running facial recognition software that could double check passengers’ identities.
  • Deeper integration with airline operations: delays and cancellations severely impact the overall satisfaction of passengers. Live updates will help passengers react in time to readjust their travel plans.
  • Emergency situations: health-monitoring devices could be synced to improve reaction time in case of emergency. Response to security threats would also improve through better connectivity with passengers.
  • Retail operations: targeted advertising will help drive commercial revenue of airports, which accounts on average for 62% of their total revenue6.

Battling Headwinds

While IoT might improve our overall travel experience, there are major concerns surrounding this technology.

First and foremost, privacy is a concern for most of users. Corporations gaining access to personalized data might deter passengers adopting these advancements. Kaspersky Lab has also warned of potential phishing and hacking issues7, which might put LCY’s reputation and operations at risk. Understanding how to analyze, share and secure that data will be key. For that purpose, the Airports Council International is leading an initiative (Aviation Community Recommended Information Services, ACRIS) to set collaboration standards among entities in the industry5.

Second, terrorist threats and overall security in the post 9/11 aviation world will probably delay onset of these technologies, as added time pressure and need for adapted systems will play a key role in regulation.

Last, but certainly not least, airports and airlines should address the issue facing travelers around app overload. Under the ACRIS initiative, ACI is working on developing industry-wide functionalities that will allow passengers to receive uniform information through their preferred method or app5.

Going Forward

The capex required for airports to implement these technologies is substantial, and returns won’t be realized in the near future if the operators don’t adjust their business model to the new reality.

However, LCY has several ways to monetize this investment. Benefitting from quite an inelastic demand and an enviable location, LCY can afford and justify an increase in airline services fees (takeoff and landing, slots, navigation) and an update to lease agreements with retailers without losing any business. The whole supply chain will considerably benefit from this technological leap forward through increases in passenger satisfaction and commercial revenues.

(Word Count: 790 words)


1 London City Airport website, ‘Passenger profile’, accessed at

2 London City Airport website, October 28, 2016, accessed at

3 London City Airport website, March 26, 2013, accessed at–internet-of-things-trial

4 BlueSky, ‘Interview with CCO for London City Airport’, March 10, 2015, accessed at

5 SITA, ‘2016 Air Transport Industry Insights: The Future is Connected’, accessed at–reports/360-degree-report-the-future-is-connected-2016.pdf

6 CAPA, ‘Airport Financial Results 1H2015’, accessed at–primary-airports-hubs-alliances-retail-sustain-profitability-240555

7 Financial Times, ‘Internet of things at London City’, April 14, 2014, accessed at


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Student comments on London City Airport: Please arrive (at most) 20 min prior to departure

  1. As someone who absolutely hates airport queues this sounds like a great proposition! However, I think that this is not an entirely new concept. Airports have tried to increase throughput by creating programs such as TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and digital passports. From my personal experience, this has sped up the process for a small group of people that is willing to pay but the wait times at the airport have hardly decreased. I was curious if it was just my perception or a fact and it seems like this is not unique to my experience (see link below). Would be curious to hear why you think this IoT program won’t just turn into another PreCheck: increasing throughput for some but then creating another bottleneck by shifting resources away from the masses?

  2. As a tech-passionate myself this does indeed sound like an alluring future of air travel.
    However, LCY and other airports around the globe still face a significant challenge before we can expect a full implementation.
    One main reason for that would be that IoT still involves questions we don’t have answers too yet.
    As the FTC recently uncovered in its report about IoT ( each of the electronic devices and relating softwares represents a potential entry point for a network attack by either insiders, hackers or criminals.

    Furthermore, according to these recent studies, more than two thirds of the most commonly used IoT devices face significant security vulnerabilities. It seems then that before allowing this technological leap-frog, we ought to ascertain that users and countries hosting these airports are not handing away the keys of the castle to any ill-intentioned group out there.

  3. Juan – thanks for the interesting article! As someone who regularly traveled through LaGuardia – the “third world” airport of the U.S., according to Joe Biden – I would certainly appreciate a tech updated travel experience. That said, I wonder how often passengers would use the services mentioned? If they don’t use if often enough, will there be a loss in the overall efficacy of these products due to a loss of network effects? While Shane G mentioned that TSA PreCheck and Global Entry have seen an impressive number of enrollees, other TSA projects have seen questionable success. For example, the TSA publishes security wait times through its app and several other independent apps also provide this information. I’d be interested to know how many people are using these apps to their benefit? I personally have never used these products and generally show up at the last minute hoping to make my flight.

    While the consumer experience may depend on adoption, I think we could all agree that smart baggage tracking would be beneficial for everyone. It’s incredibly frustrating to find out that your baggage did not make it to NYC but may be in Chicago, DC or Boston (to be determined). I look forward to learning more about LCY’s tech adoption in the future!

  4. This technology sounds neat! I would be in favor of this as a customer because it would ensure that I get more productivity out of my day by wasting less time in lines or arriving too early for a flight. The big value add here is increasing two way information flow to improve the operations of the airport while improving the customer experience

  5. Thank you for the interesting post! As mentioned in many comments above, it does seem like airports have been frustratingly slow to integrate digital advancements into their processes. I think a major challenge for airports is working with so many different airlines (who each may have unique systems and processes in place). Airports that are trying to create seamless and hassle-free experiences will not only have to invest in infrastructure but also collaborate across airlines, governmental agencies, and in-airport vendors.

    As we saw in the United Airlines case, much of the frustration in flying comes from operational issues that lead to delayed or cancelled flights. I think there is a real opportunity for airlines and airports to work together to utilize digital technology on the back-end to get a better grasp on the location and status of assets and people. Below is an interesting article about how Heathrow airport working with its airlines to bring innovation onto the airfield.

  6. It’s great to see an airport use the IoT to provide a faster and more convenient flight experience. I do find it ironic, though, that London City Airport is where the pilot was conducted, given that the airport already provides a great experience. LCY was the fastest airport I’ve gone through, and I used to only budget enough time such that I got to the gate 10 minutes before takeoff.

    On second thought, perhaps that’s why LCY was a great place to conduct the pilot. With fewer passengers and fewer first-time flyers, volume and glow data would be easier to analyze and less likely to be biased by other factors (i.e., the data set would be cleaner). Plus, there did not exist a sandbox environment to test this pilot — it’s not like there could be a fake airport that could be used for the purposes of this test — so choosing a smaller airport with fewer variables to control makes sense.

    I like your suggestion to use the IoT for baggage handling. This is a huge pain point for flyers and it seems possible to tag every item of luggage with an RFID, which would transmit location data to sensors within the airport. Airlines already have to tag bags, right?

    Your concerns about privacy are also valid. I imagine that some travelers would not feel comfortable being tracked multiple ways once they enter the airport. I suppose, though, if the values are clearly communicated to travelers, then they would be more receptive. After all, a lot of privacy is already given up by passengers as they go through security.

    Now, if LCY could only fix the London fog which always delays outbound flights from that airport…

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