Blurring the Boundaries between Airport and Destination

March 25, 2019 / Geoffrey Ax

When do your passengers know they’ve arrived?

It’s a simple question, but a tricky one to answer in the world of aviation. Is it when their flight touches down on the tarmac? When they anxiously flick their phone off airplane mode? When their Lyft or Uber pulls up to the curb?

This question, maybe more than any other, lies at the heart of our aviation design thinking at Populous. The passenger journey is a long one. It can be exhausting at times, exhilarating at others. But the role airports play in it hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years. For a lot of people, that first moment of exhalation – of arrival – doesn’t happen until they’re completely off airport property.

And that’s a big problem for the future of aviation.

If airports continue to be places people merely tolerate, a means to an end, the situation will only get worse. Stress will keep building, revenue growth will slow and the whole experience will devolve to the point where a 41-hour cross-country road trip doesn’t sound so bad after all.

The first step is to acknowledge the different points along a passenger’s journey

So what’s an airport to do?

The first step is to acknowledge the different points along a passenger’s journey and how each either contributes to or eases that person’s anxiety.

The second is to make placemaking a priority, to create an authentic moment in a passenger’s journey that brings their destination into sharper focus. To get there, it will require human-centered design. When you think in terms of individuals – whether it’s in the context of an arena, convention center or terminal – you think about what they value most.

Have you considered how many different types of travelers are funneled into the same system every day? The truth is they have distinct needs. Create individualized places in the airport to reflect these needs, and give them more ways to enjoy more hours in their journey.

  • The passenger journey looks different for each of these individuals. How does your airport accommodate them?

The reasons go well beyond altruism. Happy passengers, after all, show it in their spending habits. More importantly, we’ll redefine the passenger journey along the way and chart a course for airports in the next decade and beyond.

Imagine when new technology makes the security screening process all but invisible to the passenger. The barriers between airport and destination will fade away with it. Airports can return to being a place for all to enjoy, not just travelers. Cities can redefine their connection to the airport destination.

As this new model for a modern airport emerges, what matters most is creating a memorable journey. As aviation designers, we focus on every touch point from the moment a passenger leaves their front door.

Meet the author

Geoffrey Ax

Senior Architect, Principal / Washington, D.C.

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