How Can Airports Improve the Air Travel Experience?

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The following post was written as part of an assignment for my Customer Experience Design course during the Schulich MBA program. We were challenged to write a 600-page personal insight column by mixing in our course learnings to a topic of our choice.

It’s the journey that matters and not the destination, so goes the oft-quoted saying. Apply this to air travel, however, and many will tell you it’s most definitely about the destination. It’s easy to see why given that air travel is inherently stressful. Questions abound on every facet of the journey; How early should I get to the airport? How much traffic should I expect along the way? Do I have all the required documentation? Will I make my flight on time?

A study by CPP Group, a UK-based life assistance company, found that airport stress can be attributed to the following four factors:

  • Lack of control

  • Busy environment

  • Time deadlines

  • Accumulation effects

In the face of ever-increasing challenges, how can airports address concerns around capacity, competition and declines in non-aeronautical revenues? The answer lies in improving the passenger experience. By designing the passenger experience across all touchpoints of a passenger’s journey, airports can ensure they are more efficient, more profitable and most importantly, more empathetic to passenger needs.

The first step in improving the passenger experience is in creating a customer journey map that identifies all passenger touchpoints. This end-to-end map would look as shown below for departing passengers. For arriving or connecting passengers, the map can be altered accordingly.

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Following this step, airports can apply the framework shown below to further analyze each touchpoint. The idea is to drill down and really understand a passenger’s questions, actions, emotions, motivations and pain points as they interact with every facet of the airport. This will generate valuable insights that can be incorporated towards bettering the passenger experience.

  • Actions: What are passengers doing at each touchpoint?

  • Motivations: How are passengers feeling? What emotions do they exhibit?

  • Questions: What questions might passengers have?

  • Barriers: What pain points are prevalent?

We can apply this framework to the check-in process and see how there are aspects of the passenger experience that can be improved. One obvious solution here is online and mobile check-in options. Giving passengers the ability to check-in remotely at their leisure alleviates a lot of the pain points.

The findings from the above framework can be applied to all facets of the passenger experience. A preliminary look leads us to propose two areas of passenger need where airports can improve the air travel experience – control and convenience.

Control

If a major source of air travel stress is the lack of control, giving passengers control will go a long way in improving passenger experience. As with most things, the answer lies in technology. Consider the New Experience in Travel and Technologies (NEXTT) initiative that envisions a future where certain activities, like baggage drop, take place outside the airport. Passengers can, for example, choose to have their bags collected at their homes and delivered to their final destination without ever having to handle their bags at any point in their journey.

Convenience

The introduction of more convenient options will alleviate passenger concerns around time deadlines. One example is allowing ride sharing options like Uber and Lyft. Another is the role that biometrics can play with the idea of single token travel. Passengers’ biometric data can be captured through a facial scan that can then be used at every step of the journey, whether during check-in, passport control or aircraft boarding. This allows for a seamless, convenient and hassle-free passenger experience where biometric data replaces traditional documentation.

Air travel doesn’t have to just be a means to an end. By mapping a passenger’s journey and identifying the various touchpoints, airports can really understand passenger pain points and deploy measures to improve the experience. The future of air travel is exciting; I, for one, cannot wait to have the journey be as meaningful as the destination.