Carnegie Mellon University

person pushing wheelchair at airport

Optimal Escort Dispatch for Airport Travelers with Reduced Mobility

An important component of airport landside operations involves providing assistance to passengers with reduced mobility. These operations are typically managed by third-party contractors, which leverage a team of escorts and a set of wheelchairs to provide mobility assistance services. Airport security lines have become a major bottleneck of air travel operations, a major source of passenger dissatisfaction, and a recurring news story.

The performance of these systems relies critically on the dispatch of escorts and wheelchairs to serve each traveler request. Sub-optimal dispatch can lead to negative individual and system-wide implications, such as long passenger wait times, customer dissatisfaction or added delays in flight departures. Throughout the project, the team collaborated with the Pittsburgh International Airport and followed a three prong methodology.

First, the team collected and digitized the data to provide visibility into the demand for mobility assistance services and historical performance of the system. Second, the team proposed an original integer programming model to optimize and support the assignment of escorts to traveler requests, and then developed an efficient solution approach based on a rolling algorithm to enable the implementation of the model with realistic problem sizes. The team verified that the model’s outputs are consistent with insights obtained from the historical records of operations, and identify opportunities to enhance the level of service without increasing system capacity. In particular, the results suggest that improvements in information flows and in communication between airlines, the central dispatcher and passenger escorts can result in significant dispatch improvements.

Finally, the team leveraged these insights by developing a tablet application to provide real-time visibility into traveler requests, dispatch recommendations, and data visualizations for continued performance assessment and enhancement.

Project Update (January 11, 2020):

The team developed an original integer programming model to optimize the matching of escorts with traveler requests to minimize wait times, subject to travel times and work shift constraints. The team also implemented a rolling horizon solution algorithm that provides solutions in a reasonable computational times. This model identified opportunities to increase escort utilization and reduce traveler wait times through enhanced dispatching procedures by an estimated 45% without adding escort capacity in the system. The team believes that the further enhancements in levels of service can be achieved through better information sharing and communication between the airlines, dispatchers and escorts.

The team published a full article with their findings that can be found at the following link: