JFK Airport Now Tracks Passengers’ Mobile Phones to Predict Airport Wait Times

JFK Airport Now Tracks Passengers’ Mobile Phones to Predict Airport Wait Times

By Andrew Liszewski on 20 Aug 2015 at 4:30PM

The worst part about air travel isn’t the cramped airplane cabins, the terrible food, or the awkward security pat-downs. It’s all the waiting and queuing you have to do at the airport. So New York’s JFK is now using a new mobile phone tracking system to predict just how long you’ll be standing around.

At JFK’s Terminal 4, passengers will now find 13 new information screens that provide surprisingly accurate wait time predictions for the queues at security, customs and border protection, and even the taxi pickup. And it’s all thanks to passengers with smartphones and tablets who’ve left Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on.

JFK Now Tracks Passengers’ Cellphones to Predict Airport Wait Times

In the past (and still in use at most other airports) stopwatches and surveillance cameras were used to help predict wait times. But JFK’s Terminal 4 recently installed Blip Systems’ wireless beacons that record, encrypt, and timestamp a device’s MAC address. By keeping track of the movement of multiple MAC addresses as they pass through queues, and the entire terminal, the system can calculate wait times down to the minute, with impressive accuracy.

Blip Systems’ approach to tracking will probably raise some privacy concerns with some passengers. But the company promises the information is secure, and can’t actually be tied back to a specific device or traveller. It doesn’t require every last person in line to be participating for accurate predictions, though. So passengers who don’t want to be passively tracked can also just put their devices in Airplane Mode (ironic) temporarily, or make sure both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are turned off until they’re on the plane. (Where they’ll just have to turn it off again before take-off.)

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