This week: Heathrow protests, Amsterdam’s robot & more

We’ve been away for a bit – so it’s about time to report back about the latest airport related news from around the world. Here’s what we found:

This week wasn’t a good one for travellers to and from London Heathrow’s terminal 1, 2 and 3. As The Telegraph reported five people have been arrested after anti-airport expansion activists blockaded a tunnel leading to Heathrow Airport (LHR). The protest, held on the day Parliament is due to debate airport expansion in the UK, left long tailbacks to terminals 1,2 and 3. The long-awaited final report of the Airports Commission, which will present the findings of an inquiry into Heathrow expansion, is due to be debated in the House of Commons.

It’s the Thanksgiving weekend in the USA which always means masses of people travel around the country leading to guaranteed delays. This week the New Jersey news website published an article about the general time it takes planes taxiing. It reported that airplanes spent 23 minutes and 32 seconds, on average, taxiing between gates and runways during the first nine months of the year. That’s the longest it has been since the Bureau of Transportation Statistics started tracking taxi times in 1995 and a 50-second increase over last year’s average. The website argues that the creep in taxi times is attributed to a series of changes: massive runway construction projects at some of the nation’s busiest airports; schedule changes that increase the number of flights at peak hours; and new, distant runways that relieve congestion but require more time to reach.

We’re staying the the USA for our next article where The New York Times reported that soon celebrities coming through Los Angeles International airport (LAX) will be able to avoid the paparazzi — and security lines, the long walk to gates and contact with autograph-seekers — now that a plan has been approved to set up a private lounge for the rich and famous. Under the proposal, approved on Thursday by the Board of Airport Commissioners, a security firm that caters to the 1 percent will turn an old cargo facility into a special lounge for those who can afford it, to open as early as next spring. For a fee that will most likely run to about US$1,800 per trip, a movie star, sports legend, diplomat, business magnate or regular private citizen who craves privacy will be able to enter through a private gate, avoid the infamous airport traffic, and wait far from the crush of people at the central terminal of the airport.

And for our last story this week we go back to Europe. There Forbes reports that airports have been experimenting with technology to better help transiting passengers for the last few years in an effort to cut down on paid staff while maintaining some degree of customer service.  One of the most recent innovations revolves around virtual assistants, either through a remotely-staffed help desk or through an automated hologram such as at London Luton airport (LTN). Now, researchers are taking the virtual assistants mobile. Called SPENCER (or socially situation-aware perception and action for cognitive robots), the technology combines a digital help desk with advanced spacial detection tools, allowing the robot to both interact with travelers and navigate through a busy airport. A product of 36 months of work, six universities and  €4.2M of funding, the earliest public-facing stage of SPENCER is slated for testing in Amsterdam’s Schipol airport (AMS) starting on November 30th. Watch the YouTube video below for more details about the program:

That’s all for this week – safe travels!

[Title photo by @MikeButcher via Twitter}