How airports can ease stress, improve passenger experience, and deal with baggage
Flying is stressful these days. So how can airports ease that stress to improve passenger experience? Airports need to streamline passenger flow to create a seamless experience for users (click here to learn more about the three flows that are critical to airport operation). But major airlines have thrown a wrench into passenger flows by making the decision to charge for checked baggage. How has this negatively impacted passenger flows and experience? And what might airports do to rectify the situation?
Major airlines have thrown a wrench into passenger flows by making the decision to charge for checked baggage.
Airlines started charging for checked bags to generate revenue and to save money. Fewer checked bags means less weight, and less fuel burned for a plane to fly, right?
That has impacted passengers. To save money, many passengers try to cram everything into carry-on bags – and those carry-ons are getting bigger. You’ve probably noticed passengers lugging massive bags around at the airport. Perhaps you’re one of those passengers?
This leads to higher stress levels for passengers. Since more passengers are holding bags, they’re going to face longer queues at security. Plus, there’s less space to move around. Once passengers make it through security lines, they’re encumbered by their bags during their journey while airside. Areas that might have been designed for comfort are now more crowded, and harder to navigate with so many bags. Passengers with cumbersome carry-on bags are also less likely to shop, dine, or enjoy other amenities that can generate revenue for an airport.
Wear and tear
And what about the wear and tear on the airport itself? Millions of passengers rolling carry-on bags throughout an airport will have impacts on floors, walls, columns, and finishes. Prepare for scratches.
There are also acoustic impacts. Airports are already acoustically challenged, as they try to maintain a balance between durable finishes that meet acoustic properties, and allowing announcements to be communicated effectively. But with the sound of carry on bags rolling along hard surfaces, noise levels can sometimes be higher than ideal. Could that experience be improved if fewer wheels were rolling on the floor? Very likely.
Back to passenger stress levels. When passengers arrive at their gates, they often encounter a waiting area that wasn’t originally designed to accommodate so many carry-on bags. As a result, seats are occupied, aisleways are blocked, and fellow passengers can’t squeeze by. This leads to more tension and stress, and less-than-ideal passenger flows.
When it’s time to board, many airlines do it by zone, with business and first-class passengers in zones 1 and 2, and economy and lower fare passengers in the higher zone numbers.
Since passengers are holding so many carry-on bags, space in the airplane’s overhead bins is at a premium. And if you’re in one of the higher numbered zones, you may find yourself “zoned out” – with no space to store your carry-on in the overhead bins.
As a result, you might give your bag to a flight attendant to place it wherever there’s space – perhaps far away from your seat. This creates more stress for you when the plane lands, since you’ll have to scramble to find your bag, after having waited for all passengers to exit the plane first.
Sometimes, when flights are full, you may also be offered to “skycheck” your bag for free at the gate, which, from the airline’s perspective, defeats the purpose of charging for checked bags in the first place.
Would you pay for a carry-on valet? This added service, which happens post-security, could see your bag handed off to an authorized employee. You’ve already cleared security and had the bag inspected, so there’s no security risk.
This stressful series of events also has operational impacts. It takes more time to load and unload passengers, which negatively impacts airlines’ performance. This can cost time and money. Airlines and airports treat “on-time performance” very seriously. It’s a criterion by which performance is assessed. So, the longer an airplane is on the ground, the higher the fees the airline pays. In short, delays are in nobody’s best interest.
Worst. Airport. Ever.
As a passenger, after you’ve gone through this stressful process, chances are you haven’t been left with a favorable impression of the airline terminal you’ve just travelled through. But that negative experience had nothing to do with the terminal and what amenities it might have had. It had everything to do with the cascade of stressful effects described above.
So, assuming that airlines are unlikely to change the policies around checked baggage, what can airports do to ease stress and improve passenger experience? They’ll need to get creative.
Here’s a potential solution: what about a carry-on valet service?
tweetable: With the carry-on valet, you have the convenience of walking off the plane without delays. You can just arrive at your destination and explore.
This added paid service, which happens post-security, could see your bag handed off to an authorized valet. You’ve already cleared security and had the bag inspected, so there’s no security risk.
Now, as a passenger, you’re unencumbered and free to relax, shop, and dine. And the level of experience at the airport is improved because there is suddenly more space, less noise, and less maintenance for the airport.
When it’s time to board, your boarding process is so much simpler and, once you get to your seat, the valet team would have already placed your carry-on into the overhead compartment, with a confirmation tag on the overhead bin for passenger assurance.
You might argue that, if you’re going to pay for a carry-on valet, why not just pay to check the baggage at the outset and be done with it?
But a checked bag requires you to wait around the baggage carousel on arrival. With the carry-on valet, you have the convenience of walking off the plane without delays. You can just arrive at your destination and explore.
If carry-on valets existed, passengers would be unencumbered and free to relax, shop, and dine – and this would contribute to the airport’s revenue.
This valet service essentially takes the idea of a traditional baggage handling system – which receives and handles regular checked bags after the bag drop function – and turns it into a service that is “front of house,” and allows the airport to provide a service that the passenger will likely view as memorable and valuable.
To take this idea further still, in new terminals, some of this operation could be automated. A robot could take your bag after security, scan your boarding pass, and deliver your bag to your gate, where a valet places it in the overhead bin. This could be an “airside bag drop” of sorts.
Just to reiterate: the efficient flow of passengers is key to a positive passenger experience in airports.
So, when policies are introduced that impact passenger experience and flows, and increase passenger stress, airports should get creative to reinvent and improve passenger experience.
I’d pay for a carry-on valet – would you?
About the Author
As an architect and airport terminal design leader, Mehrdad’s highest priority is to be the main point of contact for our clients. His passion is to help clients—such as the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA)—achieve long-term goals. Specializing in passenger experience and flow, Mehrdad cultivates terminal connectivity by innovating on infrastructure, retail planning, food and beverage offerings, and stakeholder engagement.More Content by Mehrdad Parsad