Passenger Experience

Bahrain leads the way with inaugural Airports Arabia Conference

By Dan Wong, Assistant Professor, Aviation Management Prince Sultan University, Saudi Arabia

In IATA’s recent March 2015 Air Passenger Market Analysis, the Middle East region was reported to continue experiencing strong growth in terms of both international and domestic air travel in terms of both Revenue-Passenger-Kilometers (RPK) and Available-Seat-Kilometers (ASK) above industry norms for the one-year period from March 2014 to 2015. The geographic location of the major hub airports in the Middle East to destinations in Africa, Asia and Europe, combined with increased air travel demand within the Middle East, will continue to make the Middle East a thriving airline marketplace in the foreseeable future.

As the airlines within the Middle East continue to build up their aircraft fleets to meet projected air travel demands, airport operators throughout the Middle East are also having to contend with issues in conjunction with developing sufficient airport infrastructure to accommodate the increases in both air passenger volumes and aircraft traffic both now and into the future. In light of these challenges faced by Middle East airport operators, while also embracing the desire to improve the air passenger’s travel experience, the Bahrain Society of Engineers, in association with the Federation of Arab Engineers, convened the first Airports Arabia Conference in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

In addition to my paper on The Integration of Governance into Airport Terminal Designs Supporting Ground Transportation Services, over 20 papers from academics, airport executives and aviation industry professionals from around the world were presented to the 170+ delegates in attendance on various aspects of airport development. A panel discussion was integrated into the program on the challenges facing airport development projects. Significant discussions and networking opportunities also ensued during the many coffee breaks and meals among all of the attendees regarding airport development issues.

Many of those attending believed that both the subject matter and the particular venue of the conference was a long time coming given the challenges Middle East airport operators are facing in light of the increasing importance of civil aviation to the economic development and growth of the region, as well as the sheer increase in the numbers of air passengers and aircraft traffic both currently experienced and projected to experience in the near future. I believe that more conferences in the Middle East region are needed allowing for more fruitful conversations between academics, airport operators and aviation industry professionals to better facilitate the current and future aviation infrastructure needs in the Middle East. Given the increasing interconnectivity of much of the world by way of the Middle East, the impacts of these exchanges may very well influence the future of air travel for a significant percentage of the world’s population for years to come

About Dan
Dr. Dan Wong is currently an Assistant Professor of Aviation Management at Prince Sultan University. Originally born and raised in Northeastern Iowa, Dan was conferred a PhD for his pioneering research work in airport planning from Queensland University of Technology. He has since been a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Aviation at the University of Central Missouri prior to his current position in Saudi Arabia. Dan is well known for traveling the world looking for adventure, knowledge and life experiences with his wife, Donna, and their large Maine Coon cat. Dan can be reached by e-mail at:

Design, Passenger Experience

On destinations and gratitude

Street Art by Scampi, New Zealand |

Street Art by Scampi, New Zealand |

I have reached the end of the academic endurance event that I have been pursuing for the last 3+ years at QUT, Australia. Although the race was mine, there were a number of amazing people that I met along the way who helped me at pivotal times during this research.

If we shared a conversation at a conference in the last three years, exchanged ideas via email, had a chat walking the corridors of an airport terminal, or connected in any way, please accept my sincere thanks… I have learned, been inspired and discovered my passion. I look forward to continuing to share research and lessons about how to create meaningful and profitable experiences – both in, and out, of the airport – right here at inPlaneTerms.

…There are, however, a number of exceptional persons who have had a direct influence on the direction and quality of this research. My supervisory team at QUT’s School of Design, Prof Vesna Popovic and Dr Ben Kraal, have been unshakeable in their support since the start of my PhD journey. Their high standards and integrity, and weekly doses of inspiration were instrumental to the completion of this work and the ultimate form that it took. Thanks also to Dr Tristan Kleinschmidt, who was part of the supervisory team in the early phase of this journey.
The learning curve associated with the aviation industry is extremely steep. I am very much indebted to the generosity of the following industry experts who helped to flatten the gradient of this curve: Steve Tarbuck (CPH), Pawel Kolatorski (ZRH), Kiyoshi Goto (KIX), Kickie Hiller and Lars Forssell (ARN), Sek Min Foo (SIN), Teresa Motley (LAS), Shreemen Prabhakaran (DXB) and Geoff Hehir (BVN Architects). In particular, I am grateful for their hospitality, frank insights and shared passion for innovation and unorthodox thinking.
The data collection for this research was made possible through a joint ARC research project (LP0990135). Thanks to the collaboration of the partners, I was able to call Brisbane International Airport my working laboratory for over a year. In particular, thank you to Kelly Wilkes, Dennis Krause and Adrian Bannister from Brisbane Airport Corporation for their help and insightful feedback. Thanks are also due to the 199 participants who shared their stories and airport experiences with me.

Anna Harrison, Principles of Experience Design in Airport Terminals

Passenger Experience

Cloudy, with a chance of data


Resolving the data ownership and sharing issues is necessary… to support the future passenger experience… to realize efficiency in processing … to foster successful retail engagement. As an industry, we should look towards developing global aviation data standards and a distributed, cloud based delivery infrastructure.

The “Airport Terminal of the Future” has been an important topic of discussion at aviation industry conferences in the last few years. Most recently, there has been a convergence of ideas regarding what the future passenger experience will be like. This convergence of stakeholder viewpoints can be attributed to several key trends, including:

  1. The maturation and accessibility of technologies.
  2. A shared need to reduce the cost and time associated with processing passengers through terminal buildings.
  3. A growth in the number of passengers travelling by air each year.

In this talk (AviationIT, London), I present an example of what the future passenger experience will look like. The example represents a consolidation of industry perspectives and research in the field. (PDF slides: AviationIT-AnnaHarrisonBLOG)

By looking at the problem of future travel from the perspective of an instantiated example, two of the key data integration components that need to be addressed before the vision of seamless travel can become a reality come to light:

  1. Data formatting, and
  2. Data ownership.

Resolving both formatting and data sharing issues is necessary in order to integrate data from various underlying data sources. This in turn is critical to providing the seamless future travel experience.

Passenger Experience

Terminal Schizophrenia


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.

Passenger Experience

Can airports provide ‘insanely great’ wayfinding experiences?

by Andrew Cave |

Intuitive Navigation Image.001

There is beauty when something works and it works intuitively
— Jonathan Ive

Of the wide range of factors that influence a passenger’s time in the airport terminal, a key consideration is the passenger’s experience with wayfinding. As a departing passenger, the overriding focus is to get to the correct boarding gate on time. This is crucial not only for passengers, but also for the airport and airlines.

The composition of the modern airport terminal doesn’t always make passenger wayfinding easy. Passengers are tasked with the overhead of finding check-in, security and customs, and subsequently finding their way through retail areas and get to the correct boarding gate before their flight departs. The effect of passengers who are unable to find their boarding gate on time affects not only the airline and airport that they may have wayfinding issues in, but also other airports downstream.

Wayfinding is complicated, with passengers of varying levels of prior airport experience and wayfinding ability, and multiple environmental elements within the airport that can assist, or confuse passengers. For airports, installing and maintaining signs and other wayfinding systems in not cheap, nor is it a small undertaking. Heathrow estimates it would cost approximately 10 million pound to upgrade wayfinding within the airport. Wayfinding upgrades Dubai airport required changing over 1500 signs. Surprisingly, the projects are undertaken with relatively limited knowledge available about what enables effective wayfinding.

Previous research on how passengers navigate has been largely based on studies which use surveys or questionnaires. With new technology, it has become possible to capture the passenger navigation experience in more detail than ever before. In research currently under way at the PAS Lab, we are using state of the art eye-tracking technology to investigate how passengers navigate through the airport. The project is focussed on analysing the eye tracking footage and talk-aloud protocols from 44 passengers using the departures section of two Australian International Terminals.

Through the use of Tobii eye tracking, we have been able to discover that passengers with high levels of airport experience navigate more intuitively (making fast, correct and semi or non-conscious decisions) than unfamiliar passengers. Those with little previous airport experience, or who have never flown internationally before, often had to spend time searching for what to do, and where to go.

With increasing numbers of inexperienced passengers, particularly as developing countries increase in wealth, airports will need to ensure that they enable passengers to use the airport easily and efficiently. We now have the methods and technology to analyse how people navigate through the airport, and ways to identify how to improve the wayfinding experience. Future airports have the potential to go from providing adequate wayfinding to ‘insanely great’ wayfinding.

Source: thanks to Andrew Cave for this post. Andrew is the key researcher on the Tobii wayfinding project at PAS Lab. Further reading about the project can be found at Passenger Familiarity and Intuitive Navigation within Airport Enviornments.

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.