Passenger Experience

Terminal Schizophrenia

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Today, just about every airport has as their mandate to be the “best”. But what does this actually mean? Does it even make sense for every passenger terminal to strive to be shinier, bigger, faster and offer more retail opportunities than the next?

In the race to be the best, airport terminals are slowly developing a case of “terminal schizophrenia”. In this state confusion, terminal buildings are trying to be everything to everyone… and instead risk being not enough to too many. Take, for example, the concurrent strategies of retail expansion and automation:

“The trend towards automation and streamlining the core passenger journey is reducing pre-departure time requirements, and therefore potentially cutting passenger spend in the airport… passengers say they will be willing to spend even more time and money in the airport if airports can provide inspiring leisure options and a competitive, enticing retail offering.”

Reinventing the Airport Ecosystem, Amadeus

These strategies suggest that the terminal be designed for passengers to spend less time in the building (automation), while necessitating that they spend more time in the building (retail expansion). These inconsistent goals often result in confusion, as is exemplified in many terminals right now: like me, you have probably disembarked from a long flight, feeling like nothing but a shower but instead being directed to enjoy an “ambient shopping experience”. Naturally, there is a place and time for this design strategy, however, it is not applicable in all airport situations. Just like passengers, airport terminals have distinct personalities.

 Passenger Terminal Personality Types

  1. The In & Out Commuter Terminal. The In & Out terminal services commuters primarily travelling on short-haul flights. The passengers at these airports travel with little, or no, checked baggage and are usually not accompanied by wavers (non-travelling companions). Passengers travelling from an In & Out terminal suffer mild consequences if they miss their flight as another one is likely to depart in an hour or so. The In & Out terminal sees passengers at their freshest. For these terminals, speed is a primary focus: IATA’s vision of fast travel is most realizable at an In & Out terminal, as are various self-service automation solutions. Other than “grab and go” style eateries, shopping is generally misplaced at the In & Out terminal.
  2. The Long Haul O&D Terminal. The Long Haul Origin and Destination terminal sees off and welcomes passengers travelling on longer haul flights (7hours+). Most international flights from Australia fall into this category. Passengers usually have checked-baggage, and are more anxious about missing their flight, as there may not be another for a day or longer. The Long Haul O&D terminal sees passengers at their most anxious and exhausted. For these terminals, speed is not as critical as for the In & Out terminal as passengers generally allocate longer airport dwell times (the risk of missing an outbound flight from Australia has much more severe consequences than missing a flight between London and Paris, for example). Friendly service and sit down food outlets have a higher priority at these terminals, both due to longer flight times and the presence of wavers. For logistical reasons, extended shopping facilities are also misplaced at this terminal, as passengers will need to carry anything they purchase during the remainder of their flight, which may include a transfer at another airport terminal.
  3. The Transfer Super-Terminal. The transfer super terminal is the blingy brother: water slides, amusement parks, shopping malls, rainforest experiences… these belong in the Transfer Super-Terminal. This terminal sees a captive audience of bored passengers looking for ways to fill time. Passengers are not accompanied by wavers, and usually have multiple hours between flights. Services that alleviate boredom and exhaustion (showers, massages, pedicures) and various entertainment options (music, movies, swimming pools) are best placed at these terminals*. Shopping serves as an interesting distraction, the major obstacle to converting browsing to spend being the inconvenience of carrying purchases on board and onwards at the destination airport. This of course could be resolved by providing gate-check in facilities for shopping, however, I have not seen this offered in a hub terminal to date. The main challenge for the Super terminals lies in managing the wayfinding issues as terminals become physically monstrous in size.
  4. The City Life Terminal. The City Life terminal is both an airport and a major transport hub for the city. Busses, trains, and other modes of transport are all co-located at the City Life terminal, making the terminal a place that is frequented by both air-travellers and local commuters. This type of terminal generally exists in European cities, as these tend to have the most well developed pubic transport infrastructures.  As the City Life terminal services commuters and air-passengers, the provision of extensive landside “shopping mall” facilities is a natural choice. The challenge for these terminals is to manage the landside/airside split for passengers: as most of the attractions are located landside, and there is a higher chance that travellers are accompanied by wavers, there is motivation for passengers to spend most of their time landside. Automation and fast processing is therefore important for the City Life terminal.

Thinking of passenger terminals in terms of their distinct personalities may lead to healthier, less confused buildings… and ultimately, happier and more satisfied passengers.

* Changi Virgins series of videos on YouTube provides a comedic take on the facilities on offer at many Super Terminals.

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One thought on “Terminal Schizophrenia

  1. Dan Wong, PhD says:

    Interesting in that airport terminals are essentially “intermodal transfer facilities” between air and ground transportation modes…and was treated as such for much of the last century. These terminals also serve as the critical point in which much of today’s aviation security activities occur.

    In this classification scheme, the evolution of today’s short and long haul low cost carriers may create unique impacts within each classification scheme. In fact, you may wish to look at low cost carrier terminals as a separate classification in that operational and facility low costs are the primary consideration in that terminal’s design. However, the demolition of the Budget Terminal with a new terminal building at Changi in Singapore may indicate that another form of terminal building catering to low cost carriers but providing a more enhanced service level may be developing.

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