Airports 2.0: Visioning an airport experience that works for travelers, vendors and airport owners

Love to travel but hate airports? If yes, then you’re like most people. The word “airport” just conjures up so many negative emotions – lines, delays, unhealthy food, and overpriced merchandise.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Airports should be a fun part of the travel journey, not a necessary evil – especially since people often spend just as much time in airports as they do on the plane itself.

NB: Chandra Jacobs is the co-founder of airport mapping app TripChi.

After years of frustration in airports, I realized something was missing. This something is Airports 2.0—the age of the “destination” airport that people enjoy visiting, because it’s built around the customer experience. Food & Beverage, and Retail concepts reflect the local culture as well as global passenger taste. As airports are gradually evolving towards this concept, my company, tripchi, is building the technology to guide you on the journey to the new “experiential” airport.

In this article, I’ll share with you some of my thoughts on the ideal airport experience from arrival into the airport to stepping on a plane.

First of all, the focus should be on getting the traveler from his home or point of departure to the airport in the fastest amount of time possible with the least amount of hassle through multi-modal optimization.

This actually starts with smart city planning, connecting highways and high-speed rails directly into the airport, and having the city be more of an aerotroplis concept: if you haven’t seen Kasarda’s Aerotropolis video, then you are in for a treat.

Aside from reinventing cities as Aerotropolii, there are many things airports still do optimize the door-to-flight problem.

Parking and ground transport

Imagine arriving in the airport by car and being treated to complimentary valet parking services for airport loyalty members, even with the possibility of drop off right in front of your terminal. And of course, self-service trains between parking garages and terminals are a must, complete with flight boards and other airport information to further reduce the friction in the traveler’s journey.

Arrival in the terminal

Imagine entering your terminal to be greeted by a handler of sorts, set up for VIPs, high-value airport and airline loyalty flyers, TSA Pre-Check holders that whisks you away from the masses and in to a separate area to complete all steps of check-in and security processes. For everyone else, consider a single entry point for check-in.

What if all airlines contributed staff to common pool of resources that can process check-ins for any passengers (not just airline specific)?

Of course this idea assumes an airport level unified flight management and ticketing system. The benefit of this process is that resources can be allocated more efficiently across all passengers. The negative is that airlines would cede control of their brand and welcome experience to the airport, and employees to could be even less than motivated to be helpful. It’s an interesting concept to think about though.

Security…a necessary evil

However, there can be separate lanes for ID check and dedicated security for airport and airline loyalty members, and TSA Pre-Check holders. These lanes could even be made slightly more “posh” than the lane for the masses to enhance the experience for frequent and valuable travelers. Some airports, such as DFW and CLT, are creating a lounge-like atmosphere, adding relaxing mood music, soothing LED lights, and leather couches.

The “general” security lane can similarly be broken down: consider the notion of a separate lane for people without laptops or liquids for faster screening. We could go even one step further by taxing those who leave their belt or shoes on, forget to take out their liquids and laptops, and therefore slow-down the process.

Implementing this taxation system would be a challenge, but the concept is interesting. And, of course airports should provide estimated wait times on digital boards that can be read while in the security lanes (and, of course this would be available in a handy app like tripchi too).

From a tech perspective, security is a great time to be communicating with your passenger and beginning to engage with them on how to fill their time post-security, as well as giving them any airport or flight updates. Airports can and should utilize this time to get travelers to log in to the airport provided wifi. Note: airports MUST provide free wifi for the traveler – it’s almost part of a traveler’s bill of rights in this day and age.


This is where stuff gets interesting. First of all, airports should implement a layout that makes sense. Please, don’t make the terminal configuration a single line where the gate is automatically ALWAYS at the end and takes forever to get to (*shudders to think about yellow-brick road LHR experiences*). Consider a hub and spoke model with easy directions to find what you need.

Way-finding is still a major problem in airports today. According to an Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) survey of travelers in four countries, 23% of travelers in Germany, 30% in France, 34% in the United Kingdom and 35% in the United States said they find it difficult to find airport amenities in the limited amount of time they have (note, this is one of the problems the tripchi app will try to solve).

Brands should be aware of this and immediately be suggesting interesting content to opt-in users at this point in time through mobile, and digital airport directory signage for all. The best airports with respect to customer service, such as PHX, locate an information desk right after security for those that require more help finding what they need (great for those that don’t travel frequently).

Design thinking throughout the airport

Airport design should cater to the traveler’s goal of getting to the end-point (on the plane) as fast as possible, while also catering to the airport’s goal of selling concessions and maximizing enplanements.

Airports should be designed for the traveler who is in an extreme hurry. I mentioned this before—airports should not weave travelers purposely on longer paths through a labyrinth-like central shopping area. Make it easy and efficient to get where the traveler needs to go, and sprinkle interesting content throughout the journey. Interestingly enough, we can actually apply the IDEO-centric design-thinking process in many aspects of future airport design:

  • Define. Decide the end-state (what’s the issue you’re trying to solve? Middle-ground between concessions selling and fastest time to gate/increase number of enplanements)
  • Research. Collect all data around traveler behavior, needs and wants, and a current airport offerings and amenities gap assessment. Study and watch current traveler behavior to see what does and doesn’t work. Conduct interviews on the ground
  • Ideation. Create all user stories around a variety of travel personas through brainstorming. Live a “day in the life” around each one of these personas, documenting the journeys assiduously.
  • Prototype. Combine, expand, and refine ideas, focusing in on most common use cases to sample or concept test when possible. Try different layout configurations with food and souvenir carts before bringing in full store concepts, etc. Watch to see the paths that people take most frequently and then build future design around those paths. Use A/B testing when possible. Get feedback from all airport stakeholders.
  • Choose. Match best ideas with the airport objectives.
  • Implement.
  • Learn. Feedback loop with customers, vendors, and analytics.

This leads us to the concept of….

Airports 2.0.

This is an airport designed to make you forget you’re in an airport.

What if an airport was more like a mall, with enough store diversity and unique locally-oriented vendors to entice travelers to make purchases, while offering up prices that are not deemed as gouging?

Some airports, like Boston Logan International Airport, have instituted a fair-pricing policy to ensure that prices are not higher than those for similar products and services outside the airport. Efforts like these should similarly be marketed better to the public in order to change perception. Alternatively, airports should consider a higher quality of offerings if higher prices must persist, in part due to higher airport operations cost structure.

Cultural branding

Imagine an airport that reflects the brand of the city it’s in? Imagine if Boston Logan had a Freedom Trail running through it, where one could learn about Boston’s history, with museum exhibits and artisan carts and food trucks in a Faneuil Hall marketplace layout.

This is the kind of content that could transform the airport into a “brand” new experience with interesting and engaging content that encourage passengers to spend time and money. And tripchi is the gateway to this transformation. Here is what an Airport 2.0 looks like, built out with content and concepts gleaned from the analytics that tripchi provides.

Examples: Dubai and Singapore

Very few airports in the US have embraced this concept, but this is starting to happen overseas, for example, at Dubai International Airport.

The Dubai Airport’s investment in the Airport 2.0 concept can partly be seen by the newly renovated Terminal 2, the recently built Terminal 3, as well as effective utilization of the strong position of the Dubai Duty Free brand. It can additionally be seen in Food and Beverage (F&B), as the Dubai Airport has over 200 food and beverage retail outlets that offer an eclectic mix of international and local tastes—which helps promote the character and spirit of the city and encapsulates the “Dubai Experience.”

Another initiative at Changi Airport, iChangi, empowers individuals to access information on flights, retail and dining options and airport facilities and services through easy-to-use platforms such as a mobile application for iPhones and iPads, and interactive kiosks located around Changi’s terminals. Travelers can also sign up for notifications of flight updates on their mobile devices.

Using analytics and big data

Use these assets to give the people what they want. Airports can track traveler behavior at all levels of interaction throughout the airport, while tracking and monitoring all airports systems and processes, including wait times, with an embedded sensor and wifi network. Here are some ideas:

  • As an example, the use of technology in washrooms at Changi Airport enable travelers to rate the cleanliness of the washrooms via an interactive touch screen based on a five-point scale, and sanitation teams are deployed dynamically based on this feedback.
  • TSA line wait times can similarly be dynamically measured by airports, and information fed back in to adjusting line configurations to optimize wait times.
  • Airports can inspect sales from all concessions to look for trends, buying patterns, latent consumer demand – as well as what’s NOT being bought. A correlation can then be done between buying behavior and wait time, airline, ticket class, travel mode (departing, transfer, arriving) etc. tripchi analytics will help airports make better decisions about which stores to put in their airports, and help stores make better decisions about which products to put in their stores

Advertising airports

Finally, airports need to change the airport advertising strategy to adapt to data from the aforementioned trends and suggestions.

There’s currently a disconnect between bored travelers who want to find what they need and vendors who are looking to attract more business. On average, a traveler spends only $14 at the airport per visit; but this behavior can be affected through effective advertising and targeting that is currently under-utilized.

Airport property management companies, and concessions vendors also should conduct more effective advertising to promote price and convenience advantages while adapting offers to passenger profiles are key activities that optimize the business of airport retailers.

This would lead to changing consumer perception about airport pricing and quality. Vendors today typically advertise by placing signage within the threshold of their store, which is regulated by the airport itself.

In fact, employees are not even allowed to cross the store threshold to lure customers in. Large chains may have the resources to undertake airport-wide billboard advertising campaigns, but these are quite costly so are generally avoided.

Currently there’s a void for targeting travelers through location-based mobile advertisement, which is both more cost-effective as well as more efficient, given the very nature of micro-targeting and segmentation that can be done via mobile campaigns.

With contextually relevant recommendations, intent can be capitalized on so that travelers spend more time in the places they enjoy and spend more money on the things they enjoy, benefiting all stakeholders in the airport ecosystem.

NB: Chandra Jacobs is the co-founder of airport mapping app TripChi.

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are those of the author. and do not necessarily reflect those of the author's employer, or tnooz and its partners.



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  1. Elina Zheleva

    I welcome a vision for the Airport 2.0 because airports as they are today have to change. The article has some good ideas like the smart city planing, but also some unfavourable ones too.
    For example the check-in process suggested (all airlines contribute staff to common pool of resources that can process check-ins for any passengers) – from a customer perspective, nothing will change much. What might be revolutionary is to have no check-in at all (not even on-line/mobile check-in). Maybe just bag drop-off. Let’s think – what’s the point of check-in, why don’t passengers get an assigned seat when they buy their ticket?

    All in all the vision described is not very clear to me. Again I say, there are some good elements, but not a unified vision. For example I see an issue (a contradiction) between “Airports should be designed for the traveler who is in an extreme hurry” and the idea to transform airports into malls. I’m not against the idea of shopping at airports, if done smartly it could be very appealing even to new crowds that don’t shop at airports currently. For example there are airports than opened a 24/7 grocery shop at arrival, which attracts even the most avid non-shoppers simply because it’s convenient.

    Also I would argue that not all future travellers will be in a hurry. The ageing population is growing and is expected to have more time to travel (in contrast to young generation who will have increasingly more money than time).

    In general the concept of Design Thinking, although mentioned is not applied to the described vision of future Airports 2.0. Already the title suggests that a compromise is made between travellers’, vendors’ and airport’ interests. Design Thinking is exclusively a human-centred approach and for it to work there is place only for the passenger in the centre.

    Again, I’m happy to see articles starting the discussion about the future of air travel.


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