Air New Zealand turns to IoT to connect unaccompanied minors with parents or guardians

It's always nice to see cutting-edge technology being applied to a somewhat mundane problem area. This aviation story is a great example.

Air New Zealand IoT NFC wristband wearable unaccompanied minors
Credit: Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand, the national airline that has long had a reputation for edgy marketing (see the inflight video below), is extending its innovative approach to more operational tasks. The company recently updated its approach to how they deal with unaccompanied minors on their flights and, in the process, showed the extra value that technology can offer customers.

For those who've never experienced the unaccompanied minor (UNMR, in aviation-speak) process, it generally involves special ID cards and lanyards stuck around the passenger's neck, wads of paperwork, and a flight attendant to shepherd the individual from gate to seat and back again. While much of that won't change, Air New Zealand is offering a service to the parents and guardians of the UNMR's a constituent group who, after all, are generally the ones who actually pay the fare.

Traditionally, there is no way for parents and guardians to be kept appraised of the UNMR's location and progress. At the most, there was potentially the option of a phone call once the UNMR had reached the final destination. Which, frankly, seems crazy in this world where we have real-time updating of location and status.

So Air New Zealand got thinking and developed an interesting Internet of Things (IoT) offering. An NFC-enabled wristband is given to the UNMR and scanned various points along the journey. Automatic SMS updates are sent to up to five individual nominated numbers whenever the status of the UNMR changes. The device (named Airband by the company) leverages existing NFC capabilities that Air New Zealand already has in place. Messages are sent on check-in, when boarding, upon landing, and at handover to ground staff. In the event that the UNMR has connecting flights, transit notifications are sent, as well as eventual pick-up by their designated guardian.

This is an interesting initiative, but also speaks to a broader application of NFC technology within the aviation industry - an NFC-enabled boarding pass, for example, could give updates to ground crew as to the whereabouts of passengers, but also deliver passengers themselves updates in terms of flight delays, boarding calls and the like. At a recent event in Brussels, I spoke with the CEO of Dubai Airports, who discussed their use of NFC to reduce the likelihood and incidence of delayed flights due to late-boarding passengers.

The aviation experience is one which holds as much stress as it does excitement and joy. Innovations like this help to ensure the balance tends more towards the joyous end of the spectrum.

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