Preparation prevents poor passenger experience

Posted on Posted in InPlaneTerms, Passenger Experience, Uncategorized

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.

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