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Repurposing London's Infrastructure for remote luggage check-in

Repurposing London's Infrastructure for remote luggage check-in

Digital technology is rapidly changing the way that airports operate. Streamlining efficiency and creating new possibilities for improving `end to end’ customer experience. New technologies and innovations such as digital ticketing will make it easier to travel across modes of transport and optimise load factors and ridership. Airports are therefore tailoring services to customer needs to increase loyalty and differentiate the experience. Turning to interactive self-service systems to increase independence for the passenger. All gathering information and understanding customer behaviour to provide a more responsive and informed passenger experience.

The ambition is to transform airport security checks into a `walkthrough’ passenger experience. Understanding how this would greatly improve efficiency, reduce queuing times, lower customer stress levels and further opportunities for dwell time. In turn revolutionising departure lounge offerings as we know it. Moving away from the traditional focus on retail or hospitality offerings and an increasing focus on recreational, tourism and leisure facilities. Making it a destination in its own right, as airports begin to invest significantly in placemaking.

Currently the airport process from check in to boarding, is a disruptive airline passenger experience. A series of necessary security checks that heightens stress and impacts on customer satisfaction. In contrast technological advancement and the introduction of biometric technologies will look to minimise this.

A system where all subsequent touch points recognise the passenger’s biometric information removing the need to present travel documents.

Attributing to that experience, is that many travellers find transporting baggage to the airport stressful. Relieving passengers of their bags early in their journey would make the journey simpler. Globally, this concept is becoming more popular with new compact check-in and bag tag machines located in hotels, bus and rail stations providing new commercial opportunities. International cities such as Taipei, Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi and Las Vegas have all installed remote check-in within their central business districts to great success. Similarly leisure destinations such as Disneyland, Florida have also embraced it recognising the visitor benefits and impact on net spend at their resort.

​In doing so for the business case, the foreseen benefits are:

  • Initial funding and lucrative partnerships are formed with airlines to kick-start the concept.
  • Commercial opportunities are created to partner with hotels and baggage couriers feeding into the network. Creating the potential for joint ventures between rail operators and airlines to fund projects.
  • Remote check-in offers potential for long term revenue streams generated from renting space for the service. Also helping to reinvigorate the high street by introducing a new transport orientated typology.
  • Remote check in will make it easier for passengers to travel and encourage passengers to use public transport thus reducing road traffic.

The predominant cause of lost productivity, wasted resources and environmental impacts.

  • Off site check-in facilities will help to reduce the size of terminal processors in future decades and consequently the associated carbon footprint of future airports.
  • Unencumbered by baggage passengers can conduct further business and tourism activities. Encouraged to support the economy without having to worry about their baggage or returning to their hotel bag stores before they head to the airport.
  • Paddington to Heathrow via Crossrail
  • Liverpool Street to Stansted & Southend Airports via Stansted Express

Applying this conceptual thinking to the Capital, London has six commercial airports serving the city - Heathrow, Gatwick, City, Luton, Stanstead and Southend. These airports are served by good public transport links, with the rail connectivity map illustrating both National Rail and London Underground network. The proposal has been developed to integrate with these existing systems, reusing infrastructure without requiring extensive building works or excessive capital expenditure. Recognising the financial challenges large infrastructure projects face in the UK.

Research led to London’s Underground heritage network and a series of disused tunnels once used by the Post Office to transport letters and parcels around the City. With the advent of email technology the mail capacity declined and it became more expensive to operate the underground system than transport post by road. This led to its eventual closure in 2003. It is understood that sections of the network have recently been reopened as a heritage tourist attraction site. However to ensure its long term value to the City the proposal is to utilise this underground system to transport baggage from collection points to the rail stations which serve the airports.

The existing Post Office underground railway system connects east / west across London with 6 miles of track 20m below ground level.

The existing tunnel linking Paddington to Liverpool Street Station via Mount Pleasant which is less than 1 mile from Kings Cross Station.

When you overlay the postal network with the current airport transport map, the system will then have connectivity to all the City airports via the rail stations which serve them:

To maximise the potential of the remote check in network, the concept proposes the construction of a new one mile section of tunnel. This is built to connect into Kings Cross International station, extending the reach of the service to an additional international terminus, connecting;

The context diagram illustrates how these remote check in principles could be applied to a generic high street setting. Considering future passenger experience at a strategic level through both spatial and service planning. As the public interface with the network it recognises that the baggage drop off should be easily navigable within an urban setting. Possessing an active frontage, adorned with succinct, brand identity and integrated amongst strong commercial counterparts will help integrate it into the passenger travel routine. Expressing the airport itself within a central business district, marking the gateway to the airport. This includes being easily accessible, with connections to public transport to cater for users with heavy luggage, mobility issues, pushchairs etc.

Focussing in on the detail, the process diagram illustrates It should allow for independent luggage check in, transporting it to the airport in advance of the passenger’s departure. Inside the unit passengers will check in using the Biometric technology which links their passport, travel documents and baggage together. Overseen by a trained security representative, it would enable bags to be screened earlier in the journey prior to boarding. Selecting available locations by understanding the impact security requires in the spatial performance of the site. Secure automated baggage systems would then load the luggage on to the cargo transportation, removing any interference or tampering opportunities. These will be transferred to the passenger’s departure airport, decentralising airport operations and some security checks. Ensuring the passenger is then unhindered to maximise the rest of their time in the City without having to allocate time to collect their luggage before embarking on their journey to the airport.

Taking these principles, I have applied them theoretically to Paddington Station to demonstrate its integration into the system. Exploring how to integrate a check-in facility and how to transfer bags between the modal splits. Served by Network Rail, London Underground and soon to be Elizabeth Line services the station is suitably located for Feeder stations such as Marylebone, Edgeware Road and Marble Arch. These are interconnected with large hotel chains such as Hilton and Novatel, with car parks that support passenger interfaces with the station and Potential Baggage Drop-off Services.

Whilst I am aware that a remote BAA check has previously been attempted at Paddington for its Heathrow services between 1999 -2004, there is a strong basis for it to be successfully reintroduced. Previously user numbers were low and airlines did not want to man desks both at the airport and railway station meaning it failed to justify its cost.

Nevertheless it was recognised for positively reducing demands on check in desks at the airport.

Therefore the advent of new automated technology makes it a viable solution once more, with lower operational expenditure. Where a single facilitator could principally oversee a number of desks maximising efficiency. Additionally its failure at the time can be attributed to its locality, with minimal commercial or recreational offerings that draw or keep people within the space. This has since changed as Transport Orientated Development regenerates the area and the sense of place. By locating it within MacMillan House, that forms the western boundary of the historic station and the interface with the new Public realm of Departures road, it would give it a prime setting. Situating it on the main thorough fare between Brunel’s Paddington Station Concourse and the new Elizabeth Line Station, maximising the customer interface.

In summary seamless interchange is one of the main goals for improving customer experience and reducing stress. The convenience and accessibility aspect key to meeting the demands of the modern passenger. If passengers are divested of their baggage earlier they are more likely to spend more tourism and business time in the City boosting the economy. By bringing check-in into the Central Business District, it frees up valuable airport floor space improving the landside passenger experience and reducing queue times at the departure gates by staggering passengers for bag drops. At the airport if they are more relaxed they are more likely to interact with commercial offers and to enjoy their journey. Catering for a new type of passenger experience, afforded to them through the digitising of airport operations. Also, by integrating circular economy principles at the heart of the concept, will help make it an attainable prospect. Minimising waste and maximising the existing infrastructure network to make a futuristic transportation proposal a genuine 21st century solution for London’s Airports.

We are actively exploring opportunities to develop this piece with an accompanying business case. If this is of interest, please contact for further information.

This proposal has appeared in the following:

  • New London Architecture (NLA) – New Ideas for Transport, Pecha Kucha Session (18th July 2018)
  • New Civil Engineer (NCE) Future of Airports 2019 Conference (16th May 2019)
  • BBC Radio Surrey Breakfast Show (11th June 2019)
  • BBC Radio Sussex Drivetime Show (12th June 2019)
  • Shortlisted for the Airports Visionary Award at the New Civil Engineer (NCE) TechFest Awards 2019 (25th August 2019 – Winner Announced 29th September 2019)

Related Thoughts

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