5G & AI: Reimagining the Air Travel Experience for China Eastern Airlines

China Eastern has attained tremendous achievements over the last golden decade, with digitalization incorporated into all aspects of business operations and management.

Digitalization has always been integral to support rapid transformation of China Eastern. In 2019 September, China Eastern launched the 5G Smart Travel Service System at Beijing Daxing International Airport together with Huawei and China Unicom.

This move was initiated to address industry pain points and difficulties and cost control, such as long waiting times, complicated procedures, and inconveniences for passengers and low operational efficiency for airline companies to improve flight punctuality and cabin storage efficiency, in addition to high labor, counter leasing, and baggage compensation costs.

The 5G Smart Travel Service System is based on the entire airline travel experience. The system analyzes the various requirements and pain points of passenger flows, information flows, and baggage flows, then ultimately focuses on the aspects of “one face ID go through airport”, “one network for intelligent experience”, and “one chip for baggage management” to build a three-dimensional smart travel service. The entire system includes 3 categories of 11 scenario-based solutions, enabling the airline to realize the endless possibilities for smart travel.

One face ID go through airport
At Beijing Daxing International Airport, passengers of China Eastern Airlines do not need to show up their ID cards or scan QR codes any more. Thanks to the smart travel service system, passengers can complete all travel transactions from ticket purchase to check-in, luggage consignment, security check, and boarding just by having their faces scanned. Flight attendants can complete passenger confirmation and guide them to their seats by using the facial recognition system. Facial recognition also provides benefits for ground service personnel by allowing them to quickly identify passengers and remind them of boarding information to help catch their flights. With smart display terminals in the check-in, security check, and VIP areas, passengers can obtain information about their flights, boarding gates, and destination weather by having their faces scanned, removing the need for passengers to scan long lists of flights to find theirs. Services that notify the boarding start/end time and predict the time needed to take from the current location to the boarding gate are also available to help passengers.

One network for intelligent experience
China Eastern has launched the “5G + China Eastern Service Network” system to provide passengers with full information on various scenarios, including pre-departures, flights, arrivals, as well as any possible reschedules. Along with the usual notifications regarding issuing tickets, check-in, boarding, boarding reminders, boarding gate changes, and baggage carousels, the system also provides notifications on the time it takes to reach boarding gates, baggage loading, carousel loading, unattended children boarding, and layovers.

One chip for baggage management
On the basis of the first RFID permanent bag tag in the world, China Eastern is collaborating with Huawei to visualize the entire baggage transportation process by developing a 5G-powered baggage tracking solution. Passengers can check the status of their checked-in baggage at their convenience through the China Eastern app. In addition, full-process video surveillance that utilizes high definition (HD) video uploads and backend data identification has been implemented for baggage clearance throughout the entire Beijing Daxing airport. When there is improper packaging or handling of baggage, a detailed screenshot is transmitted to airport management. This research project is being jointly developed by China Eastern and Huawei, and the technology will be applicable to fields such as machine work and remote control once it matures.

The following data illustrates the value that 5G-based smart travel brings: China Eastern made it possible for passengers to go from check-in to remote boarding gates within approximately 20 minutes, with doubled efficiency of cabin storage and reduced error-rate of reviewing remote stands to 0%. The manned to self-service counter ratio at Beijing Daxing airport reduced to 0.11, substantially reducing labor, counter leasing, and irregular baggage costs.

China Eastern aims to achieve breakthrough by utilizing new technologies to redefine intelligent passenger travel and scenario-based convenience. The development and commercial use of 5G in China has made the realization of this idea a possibility. Additionally, China Eastern calls on more partners from the civil aviation industry to jointly participate in the current information revolution, redefine the travel experience, and accelerate the digital transformation of the industry.