As designers of products and services for transport spaces look to innovate in the sector, I believe passengers will see concepts borrowed from related sectors like supply chain logistics and manufacturing. OnTimeArrival is a smartphone application that, using realtime information and predictive algorithms, helps passengers arrive “just in time” to the gate at the airport, borrowing from “lean manufacturing” practice.
I’d like to propose a slight humanizing tweak to the OnTimeArrival concept, recognizing the realities of the typical airport and passenger. My proposal is twofold:
First, to encourage the use of OnTimeArrival-like applications to manage when people arrive at the airport. The goal should be to have as few people at the airport as possible, freeing capacity to serve those who need to be there in order to catch their flights on-time.
Secondly, as Ronan Delaney argues, passengers hate queues at the airport–I agree. I disagree on why–people are used to waiting for things in life. Passengers hate queues at the airport because they don’t know where they truly stand (in line): the entire process is disjointed, and therefore unknowable. This is not only anxiety provoking, but also misses opportunities for new and differentiated levels of service.
What if we addressed this anxiety with a smartphone-mediated “virtual queue” of the journey from arrival to gate, so passengers could always be assured they were on target to catch their flight? Furthermore, through a combination of real-time airport metrics, incentives (e.g. discounts, free passes to lounges, etc.) and clear instruction, passengers’ entry into various control zones/touchpoints (unsecured, security checkpoint, terminal, concourse and finally gate) could be managed, having the passenger present only when necessary. Crowding might be reduced, customer experience improved with better communication, and passenger/airline brand engagement improved with differentiated offerings.
In 2012, Control Group worked with OTG Management to re-imagine the restaurant and retail experience at La Guardia, Minneapolis-St.Paul, and Toronto Airports. With free and accessible iPads, passengers can now sit by their gate and order food and sundries directly to their seats, while being able to surf the web, check E-mail and remain updated about flight status. What if service touchpoints like this were placed in even more locations throughout the airport, becoming places for passengers to wait before being told to proceed to the next control zone?
With this “virtual queue” strategy, variability and exceptions can be addressed by an algorithm that accounts for current passenger position in the queue and scheduled takeoff time, promoting those that are late for their flights and telling those that are still early to grab another (discounted?) drink and wait, freeing capacity to serve those who are in a rush.
A big source of frustration at the airport is a lack of control–expectations are placed on passengers to be at a certain place at a certain time, but success relies on many things beyond the passenger’s control. If an airline can share some of that cognitive load and responsibility, even symbolically, by managing the passenger’s trip through the process with a smartphone-mediated “virtual queue”, both the passenger and airline can benefit from the efficiencies.