Passenger Experience

Passenger Segmentation Trends


In the half-century since the inception of commercial air travel, the industry has matured and the nature of air travel has changed dramatically. In this time, the expectations of the traveling public have also grown and become more refined. The changes in the industry and in the expectations of the traveler have begun to alter the way we approach our understanding, and thus the segmentation, of passengers.

The key to successful segmentation of any population lies in the selection of the criteria on which the portioning is based. For example, although it is possible to segment travelers based on the color of their luggage, it is unlikely that such a partition will lead to significant insights, or a deeper understanding of what influences the passenger’s experience in a terminal building.

Increasingly, the basic criteria used to segment passengers (purpose of trip and frequency of travel) no longer provide adequate insights into the passenger experience.  This is reflected in emerging research which is looking at more meaningful ways to segment and understand the modern traveling public. We are beginning to recognize the need to explore, at a deeper level the drivers and characteristics of passengers.

A recent study at Copenhagen International Airport resulted in a novel segmentation of the airport’s traveling public. The Copenhagen segmentation (Attention Customers; Experience Customers; Efficiency Customers; Selection Customers) extends the traditional breakdown based on frequency of travel by augmenting it with a pseudo “degree of engagement” by the passenger in the airport environment. As an example, the Attention class of passengers has high expectations of service, yet few expectations of the airport environment (with which they have limited engagement). By contrast, the Experience passengers are most highly engaged in the service, and the environment provided in the terminal building.

In another recent study of passenger retail behavior, Livingstone found that retail activities are strongly influenced by the structure of the passenger group: whether it be sole traveler, a traveler with companion travelers, or a traveler accompanied by non-traveling wavers. Extrapolating from Livingstone’s results, it seems logical that a segmentation based on the structure of the passenger group could yield more meaningful results than the traditional approach based on the basic criteria (nature of trip and frequency of travel).

A  further example of a trend towards a deeper level of segmentation is the research recently undertaken by Swedavia AB. In this work, the researchers also departed from the basic segmentation criteria and instead created groups reflective of general lifestyle preferences (of humans), rather than specific characteristics of passengers in airports. As an example, the Swedavia “Active Cosmopolitan” category is described as the set of passengers who: “Live in the now, indulge and treat themselves to things; career is important; gender equality is important; like challenges and risks; high demands on comfort; appreciate environmentally friendly alternatives; important to follow fashion and look young”.

The above examples are indicative of the emerging, although as yet un-articulated, industry trend towards passenger segmentation based on the core values of the passenger. The idea of extracting a set of core passenger values is loosely based on the Japanese design philosophy Kansei.  Extrapolating from the characteristics and ethos of Kansei design, we can describe the core passenger value(s) as the set of minimal, authentic factors which influence passenger experience.

Based on research conducted at BNE, we have segmented passengers based on their core value, time. Segmenting passengers on the basis of the core passenger value constitutes a novel approach to understanding airport passengers, and one, which ultimately, is likely to lead to better understanding and insights of the customer. Leveraging lessons learned from work in service design, as well as insights from the rich field of human-centered design, there is suggestive evidence that this approach may be the vehicle through which we can make the transition from service design to experience design.


Livingstone, A. 2013. “Passenger experience in an airport retail environment.” PhD, School of Design, Queensland University of Technology (QUT)
Persson, M. 2013. “How to build customer oriented airports the Swedish way.” Paper presented at the Passenger Terminal Conference, Geneva, Switzerland, 9-11 April 2013
Pine, B and J Gilmore. 2011. The experience economy: Harvard Business Review Press
Shaw, S. 2007. Airline marketing and management. 6th ed. Cornwall: Ashgate
Shostack, G. 1982. “How to design a service.” European Journal of Marketing 16 (1): 49-63
Tarbuck, S. 2012. “Copenhagen Airport: Meeting our passengers’ expectations for the future, today!” Paper presented at the Passenger Terminal Conference, Vienna, Austria.

Passenger Experience

Segmentation based on core values


We know that to design something really well, you have to understand the core values of your target consumer. The entire field of human centered design is based on this notion. In order to design terminals for passenger experience, it is essential to understand the core values of the passenger.

From our research at BNE, we know that the core passenger value is time. Additionally, we have discovered that passengers relate to their airport time in three different ways, namely the Airport Enthusiast, the Efficiency Lover and the Time Filler. Understanding the characteristics, or the DNA, of each of these passenger-time relationships can lead us to make better terminal design decisions.

Airport Enthusiast

This category of passengers love being at the airport. For them, their trip – whether business or holiday – begins when they get to the airport. Airport Enthusiasts love to people watch, they love to dine, they love to shop. These passengers come to the airport ready to spend.

The Airport Enthusiasts have fairly high tolerances for how fast they expect to be processed. Queues do not adversely affect their mood, although of course they do affect how much time the Airport Enthusiast will have available for spending. This group represents the airport’s high yield passengers.

In Brisbane, this category accounted for about 30% of travelers. This proportion may vary for other airports around the world. We found no correlation between the Airport Enthusiast category and the frequent flier status, or reason for travel, of the passenger.

Efficiency Lover

Efficiency Lovers are the passengers who are greatly inconvenienced by any inefficiency, even when they are in no great danger of missing their flight. They hate queuing and they hate waiting. They are happiest when they are through the processing as fast as possible.

The Efficiency Lovers do not generally purchase anything at the airport. As such, they are very low yield passengers: they complain, they take up space and they do not spend. In Brisbane, this category of passengers corresponded to approximately 15% of travelers. Again, this proportion may vary for other airports around the world.

Surprisingly, we found no correlation between the Efficiency Lover category and the frequent flier status of the traveler. There was also no correlation to the passenger reason for travel: holidaymakers were as likely to be in this category as business travelers.

Time Filler

The Time Fillers are the people who are bored being at the airport. They see their airport time as wasted, or a “write-off”. Quite surprisingly, we found that unlike the Efficiency Lovers, Time Fillers were not bothered by queuing. This is most likely due to the fact that they arrive at the airport with the expectation that they will be “wasting time”, and as such, are not that fussed when their expectations are met.

Like the Efficiency Lovers, the Time Fillers are low yield passengers. They very rarely spend, or engage in the airport experience. In Brisbane, this category accounted for about 50% of all travelers. Once again, this proportion may vary for different airports around the world.

Once again, there was no correlation between the Time Filler category and the frequency or reason for travel.

What kind of time traveler are you? Cast your vote in this easy, one question poll

Source: results based on data collected at Brisbane International during 2012 (212 outgoing passengers were interviewed). Partial results were presented at PTE2013 Geneva. Full results will be published later this year.