Passenger Experience

Form Follows… Workflow


M.C. Esher’s “Relativity”

The form of the passenger terminal building is shaped by many influences. Available real estate, budgetary constraints and the size of aircraft servicing the terminal all contribute to the eventual geometrical layout of the building. In addition to these factors, the physical architecture of the terminal building is also heavily constrained, or influenced, by the business logic surrounding passenger processing. These logical/business processes are directly reflected in the layout of the terminal building. An excellent example of this can be found in the stairwells of Zurich International Airport (ZRH).

Following Switzerland joining the Schengen countries in 2009, ZRH underwent a major expansion and refurbishment project. A key focus of the project was to make accommodations for the processing of Schengen and non-Schengen passengers.

Passengers arriving at ZRH may have begun their trip in either a Schengen or a non-Schengen country. On deplaning at ZRH, passengers could be terminating in Zurich (Schengen), or transiting to another airport (either Schengen or a non-Schengen). Of the transit passengers, those travelling to a “One Stop Security” (OSS) destination need not have the in-transit security check.


Figure 1: The physical design of Pier B at ZRH is a direct reflection of the underlying logic associated with processing Schengen and non-Schengen passengers
Source: Zurich Airport, “Reconstruction of Pier B” (used with permission)

Logically, this gives rise to five possible scenarios for processing arriving passengers, namely (Figure 1):

  1. Schengen to Schengen
  2. Schengen to non-Schengen
  3. Non-Schengen to Schengen
  4. Non-Schengen to non-Schengen (OSS)
  5. Non-Schengen to non-Schengen (non-OSS)

Each of the above processing scenarios is associated with different immigration (visa) and security requirements. Hence, the arrivals process would differ depending on which of the above scenarios held for a given passenger, i.e.:

  1. Schengen to Schengen: no visa or additional security check required.
  2. Schengen to non-Schengen: visa check required, no additional security check required.
  3. Non-Schengen to Schengen: visa check and additional security check required.
  4. Non-Schengen to non-Schengen (OSS): no visa check and no additional security check required.
  5. Non-Schengen to non-Schengen (non-OSS): no visa check but additional security check required.

In order to facilitate the correct routing of passengers arriving at ZRH, the airport commissioned the construction of specialized stairwells linking the skybridge to the terminal building. The stairwells are equipped with physical switches to route arriving passengers down the correct processing path (marked as “doors” in the figure above. For example, passengers arriving from Schengen countries and terminating their trip at ZRH (scenario one above) would proceed down the path which had the immigration pathway closed (as not required) as well as the additional security pathway closed (again, as not required).

The elaborate design, construction and operation of these stairwells mirrors the complexity associated with the underlying processing logic. It follows therefore, that any simplification of this logic would likely result in a direct simplification (and thus cost reduction) associated with the architecture of the corresponding physical structures.

Source: sincere thanks to Pawel Kolatorski, formerly of Zurich International Airport, for his collaboration and insights.

Passenger Experience

The Osaka Experience


This week, I rediscovered the joys of being a tourist in a foreign land. For a few glorious days, my senses were overwhelmed with the sights, sounds, flavors and curiosities of Osaka. As I reflected on my adventures in the city with colleagues from KIX, I had a private “Eureka” moment… let’s call it The Osaka Experience.

For the last several years, I have been immersed in researching passenger experience at airports. However, my experience in Osaka reminded me of a key ingredient in the passenger experience equation that is overlooked when the lens is narrowly focused on the airport: the reason why passengers travel. Examining the psychology of the traveller outside the terminal building can be leveraged to improve their experience within the terminal. More specifically, it can be the key to influencing the expectations of future travellers – which in turn, affects satisfaction and the bottom line.

Let’s take the case of the holiday or vacation traveller. Passengers go on holidays to collect experiences. The recollection of these shared experiences lives on past the actual holiday itself, and continues to influence the experience of future travellers. Now, we know from studies of human behavior that human memory is fallible, prone to remembering only the beginning, the ending, and the highlights in between.

As passengers begin and end their travel in an airport terminal building, there is a very good chance that this is the part of their trip that they will readily recall. We know that the parts of a passenger’s vacation that are remembered indirectly shape the expectations of many future travellers through direct (word of mouth) and indirect (social media) channels.

The outbound passenger who has just finished their vacation is likely to be bursting with anecdotes and photos from their trip that they could share while waiting (bored) in the departures hall. Why not help them share their stories? Imagine an interactive giant digital wall displaying these photos and anecdotes. This would create instant engagement for the passengers waiting to board their flight, and build a repository of social capital for future travellers.

In effect, the departure hall would become the training ground for the airport’s army of social champions. Additionally, by reinforcing the highlights of the trip in the departing passenger’s thoughts, the seed for a return visit would be quietly planted.

Sources: a big “Arigato” to my wonderful hosts in Osaka – Goto-san and the team from KIX and Ando-san from All Star Osaka Walk. A special thank you to Murata-san, my generous and tireless host in Kyoto.

Passenger Experience

Maintaining a Transient Advantage


The dominant idea in the field of strategy – that success consist of establishing a unique competitive position, sustained for long periods of time – is no longer relevant for most businesses. They need to embrace the notion of transient advantage instead, learning to launch new initiatives again, and again…

Rita Gunther McGrath, Harvard Business Review, June 2013

A short presentation which examines the critical role of research in sustaining a transient advantage in business, and answers the question Why invest in research?

Download PDF Transient Advantage

Passenger Experience

Reduce the fear: own the passenger


Despite a century of developments in terminal construction, there are as yet no universally accepted principles which can be used to confidently guide terminal design for passenger experience… The satisfaction, or lack thereof, that a passenger experiences in the airport is directly related to what their expectations are. It follows that if we can understand passenger expectations, we can tailor the terminal design to meet their needs, and in turn, increase their satisfaction.

excerpt from Experience design principles: Reduce the fear, own the passenger, Passenger Terminal Today (August 2013)