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

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

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)

Passenger Experience

Preparation prevents poor passenger experience

by Dr Philip Kirk |


Most research about passenger experience is conducted from a managerial or operational perspective. In the various questionnaires and surveys carried out by airports, passengers are asked for feedback on areas that management regard as important to passenger. This may be, and often is, different to what is actually important to passengers themselves.

In order to ascertain what passengers regard as important, we have developed a number of techniques specifically designed to research passenger experience. These techniques allow us to uncover, rather than predict, or guess, which factors are important to passengers and which are not.

In this particular research work, the question regarding what passengers do at the airport was answered using two techniques, namely:

  1. Observation of passenger activities, in-situ in the passenger terminal.
  2. Retrospective interviews conducted with passengers.

Passenger observation provided insights into what passengers actually do while in the terminal building. The retrospective interviews provided information about the context in which the activities took place. Consolidating the information from both sources resulted in the formulation of a passenger activity taxonomy. The passenger activity taxonomy developed allowed us to learn about what passengers actually do in the terminal building, and, most importantly, which of these activities affect their passenger experience.

Quite surprisingly, we found that waiting in queues was not a significant contributor to the passenger’s overall experience. Passengers generally expected to queue, and as such, only discussed queuing as a negative experience when queue length exceeded 30 mins. Conversely, queue length was regarded in a positive light only when there was no queue at all. This result indicated that queue time is not the ideal metric by which to evaluate passenger experience – unless of course, an airport could achieve the improbable scenario of zero queuing.

A more interesting discovery was the role of preparatory activities on the passenger experience. Preparatory activities were defined as those activities that a passenger undertook to get ready for the next activity. For example, some passengers used their check-in queue time to get their flight details and passports ready. This meant that when they got to the check-in desk they had everything ready for the staff member to process them. This would lead to a shorter interaction at check-in (compared with a passenger who did not have these documents ready). Using “dead” queue time to prepare the passenger for the next activity was found to dramatically reduce the processing time at the check-in counter. Similar results were obtained when queue time was used to prepare for security, customs and also boarding.

The importance of using queue time to prepare passengers for their next activity was found to have benefits outside of increasing the general speed with which each passenger was processed. As each passenger arrived at the next processing activity prepared, they generally had an easier, less complicated experience. This simplicity of interaction, which stemmed from passenger preparation, was found to leave a positive effect on the passenger experience.

Many airports have recognised the value that volunteers or ambassadors have in providing a point of human contact in the context of the terminal building. Some terminals also use video animations, such as those commonly found in security areas, informing passengers how to prepare for their upcoming security activity. In a general sense, these human points of passenger contact and video counterparts serve as facilitators in passenger preparation. Tools such as signage and notices were observed to be far less effective in preparing passengers than interaction with humans and/or viewing of animations.

Naturally, with global move towards increased reliance on automation and self-service technology, the interesting problem arises: how to maximise the benefits of passenger preparedness while reducing the overall contact with humans and staff members? Indeed, as the utopian goal of a queue-less airport becomes a closer reality, the opportunity for preparing the passenger for what lies ahead diminishes. Incorporating preparation into self-service kiosks remains an unexplored opportunity for improving both passenger throughput and satisfaction.

Source: a big thank you to Dr Philip Kirk for his contribution to this post. Philip’s thesis about passenger experience at airports, contains a detailed description of the research on which this post is based.