JFK installs phone-tracking beacons to better estimate wait times

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JFK installs phone-tracking beacons to better estimate wait times

More than 19 million travellers pass through JFK airport each year. That leads to a lot of standing around in lines, either waiting to get through customs or waiting for baggage at the carousel -- even just getting a cab. So, to improve the queuing experience for passengers, JFK airport is rolling out a beacon-based wait time estimation system.

The system, called BlipTrack, looks for Bluetooth- or Wi-Fi-enabled devices in "discoverable" mode. When one of these devices passes a specially-designed beacon, the system pulls, records, encrypts and timestamps the device's MAC address. As the device passes more beacons, the system estimates how fast people are moving through the airport. It then displays a real-time guess of the wait in various lines -- such as at the TSA or Customs and Border Protection checkpoints -- across 13 monitors situated throughout JFK's Terminal 4.

"It continuously updates," Daryl Jameson, vice president at the company JFKIAT, which runs Terminal 4, said in a statement. "People like to know how long they are going to wait in queues. Nobody likes to wait in lines and signage helps to manage expectations." And not only does the system tell passengers how long they're going to be standing around, it also alerts airport employees about developing bottlenecks which allows them to react to the situation more quickly.

"This new system will help us manage and eliminate problem spots within the facility, and sharing the processing time with our travelers will provide them with peace of mind so they may continue to expect a pleasant travel experience. Additionally, data from travelers' phones could eventually influence future airport design, Gert-Jan de Graaff, President and CEO of JFKIAT, said in a statement. "In the past, cameras and stopwatches were used to manually track how long it took fliers to get through lines. The data this methodology created was often inconsistent." JFK is the first airport in New York to install the screens, which reportedly cost more than $250,000, though Cincinnati CVG has been using a similar system since last summer.

[Image Credit: Getty Images]

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