August 8, 2018

Why bother with messy, complicated terminal upgrades if your airport is not facing capacity issues? Previously, we examined the financial and operational benefits. In this third part of our series, we explore how terminal modernization projects can help improve the passenger experience. Click here for Part II of the series.

Airports look to provide a favorable impression for travelers and represent the community they serve. Because air travel often bookends a trip, the passenger experience can impact the overall travel experience. Not only can it drive the final impression of the entire trip, passenger experience also plays a significant role in an airport’s bottom line— ACI’s Airport Service Quality research found that an increase of one percent in global passenger satisfaction generates an average growth of 1.5 percent in non-aeronautical revenue. Tania Fiorani, a senior architect and Jim Harding, director of environmental graphics spoke with me about how the passenger experience should drive modernization projects.


Wilson Rayfield (WR): Let’s talk a bit more about why the passenger experience is so important.   

Tania Fiorani (TF): The airport experience impacts travelers’ reactions to the inevitable travel hiccups. So better passenger experience, better customer satisfaction, creates a more positive and enduring perception of your airport. A better brand is less likely to suffer significant declines in customer satisfaction due to typical travel frustrations, such as delayed flights, that are often outside of the airport’s control. And ultimately, customer satisfaction impacts revenue and the bottom line.


WR: What creates a great passenger experience?

JH: It’s stress-free. An airport’s brand is largely built on an emotional response or connection with a traveler. Communication is fundamental because knowledge empowers passengers and helps them feel in control of their situation. That can change a negative dynamic into a positive response. In ACRP Report 161 we identified over 100 communication touchpoints, but most airports are only taking advantage of a small percentage.


WR: Passenger expectations are changing. What are the different passenger types we see emerging?

TF: ACI came out with a new methodology to define the most common passenger profiles, not based solely on demographics but also psychographics. For example, ACI identified new personas such as the workman, value seeker and airport enthusiast. One aspect of these personas is how high or low-touch passengers are—high-touch might include infrequent travelers or those that need special assistance, while low-touch would be a frequent traveler that wants a streamlined process with little interaction. These profiles provide an opportunity for airports to personalize experiences and better target customers for opportunities to generate additional revenue. 


WR: Passenger experience is a lot about expectations—meeting or exceeding them. How can airports manage expectations?

JH: I think many people, especially less frequent travelers, view getting through airports as difficult or hectic, but good design can promote more intuitive navigation and therefore exceed that customer expectation.

TF: At a baseline, we must design positive environments that create a sense of security and facilitate flow. Facilitating the movement of passengers is at the heart of airport design. Natural light minimizes the feeling of crowding, so wherever possible spaces should be open and bright, augmented with high ceilings or skylights. This also helps create clear vertical circulation and sightlines. Landmarks such as art installations offer points of orientation as well as enhance the overall aesthetic.

JH: However, sometimes the architecture doesn’t support intuitive navigation. For example, some legacy airports have inherited non-intuitive circulation. That’s why wayfinding is so important and should address various forms of communication. Better communication equals less stressed customers. Take wait times for example. When passengers see a long line at security checkpoints or customs, it can create stress, but posting those wait times via a digital sign manages expectations.


Our design for the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Terminal 1 Modernization Project includes a multi-story airside atrium for an airy, open feeling.


WR: The definition of a positive passenger experience does vary by passenger. What are our opportunities to personalize the experience and design considerations?

JH: The entire design must be extremely intuitive that is accomplished by effective coordination and collaboration from each design discipline; architecture, lighting, interiors, and signage to deliver exceptional wayfinding solutions. However, it’s critical to customize wayfinding and design in ways that can be personalized. For example, integrating technology into airport directories, like Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, can provide personalized information with a simple scanning of the customer’s boarding pass.

We also need to customize by journey segment. For instance, curbside is one of the “grittier” parts of the journey. With vehicular and pedestrian travel occupying the same space, safety is a big issue here. Great care must be taken with regards to wayfinding and space planning.


At Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, digital signage provides passengers updates. Passengers can also scan their boarding passes for customized information.


TF: Amenities and design personalize and enhance the experience along the way. For instance, interactive sculptures that serve as play areas for families, to-go windows at restaurants for business travelers, high-end concessions and spas for luxury travelers and lounges for all passengers that offer convenience and relaxation. Airports should be intentional—put amenities where specific travelers will use them and design around the journey segments. Post-security and pre-boarding is the best opportunity to make an impression, not to mention capture non-aeronautical revenue…happier customers spend more. Technology like self-check-in means passengers spend less time on landside departures. We have less control over the design of security – though right-sized checkpoints and communication touchpoints are vital. Therefore, airports have the most control and opportunity when passengers waiting for their flights. Arrivals are also important in that they are a place of connection—these spaces should be inspiring, give customers cause to celebrate and create a sense of connection to the place travelers are going. The way the passenger experience is realized through design and amenities should ultimately tie back and represent the region it serves.


As passengers enter the ticket lobby at Reno-Tahoe International Airport they gain a sense for the local landscape through the use of wood and stone.


WR: Our design for Reno-Tahoe International Airport used locally-inspired architecture and materials, including stone and wood accents. We use design to immerse travelers; our final post will dig deeper into sense of place and how upgrades can create a stronger connection between the airport and the region is serves.