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4 ways airports can be designed to reduce traveler stress

Blogs & Features

June 23, 2023

outside view of an airport terminal

Since its inception in 1914, commercial air travel has quickly become the fastest and most convenient way for people to reach far-off destinations. Despite these many years of experience, however, flying also remains one of the most stressful ways to travel. One 2019 survey conducted by the airport lounge access provider Priority Pass found that most passengers assume that their flying experiences will be inherently stressful, and that stress often hits well before they even arrive at the airport. Security checks, check-in procedures, baggage collection, and transfers were all identified as particularly stressful aspects of air travel.

Unfortunately, the Philippines is not exempt from difficult passenger experiences occurring at its airports. The country’s main aviation hub, for example, is frequently cited as one of the most stressful airports in the world. Common complaints from both domestic and international passengers include overcrowding, baggage and flight delays, a lack of seating at departure gates, and the alleged incidence of theft and scams. 

There are abundant reasons for airports everywhere to invest in improving the passenger experience. For one thing, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasts that global passenger numbers will only continue to grow in the coming years and may swell to a total of 7.8 billion travelers by 2036. Furthermore, a positive airport experience has been proven to provide a substantial return on investment, as happy passengers will likely choose to fly out of the same hub again in the future.

With these things in mind, forward-looking airport developers and operators in the Philippines are leveraging their expertise and experience to make the country’s leading airports even more competitive and more prepared to accommodate increasing demands for airport facilities. To this end, Aboitiz InfraCapital (AIC) has sealed a landmark agreement with Megawide Construction Corporation (Megawide) and GMR Airports International, B.V (GAIBV), acquiring shares in the GMR Megawide Cebu Airport Corporation (GMCAC) and promising to further develop the award-winning Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) to turn it into the country’s premier international airport. 

Indeed, developers and operators of modern airports like the MCIA have gained a much more thorough, specific understanding of passenger profiles and needs in recent years than they had in the past. In many cases, intelligent airport design is the key to resolving passenger complaints and creating a more pleasant environment. Here are four vital ways that airports can be designed to minimize passenger stress: 

Implement measures to improve passenger flow

Passenger flow is one of the most important aspects of the airport experience and can often spell the difference between a smooth trip and a stressful one. Unfortunately, many airports are large, overwhelming spaces that are full of maze-like corridors and unexpected twists and turns. Few things are more nerve-wracking to a passenger than finding themselves late for their flight because they can’t find their boarding gate and there are no help desks in sight that they can approach for assistance.

Traditional airports are frequently designed to provide very isolated experiences to passengers moving through them. From check-in to going through security to finding the right boarding gate, airport experiences tend to feel insulated from each other, which can be anxiety-inducing. In contrast, people tend to feel calmer when they can literally see what lies ahead of them—which makes open layouts worth considering for organizations building airports or performing major renovations. If passengers can get a clear idea of where they should be headed next just from looking around, they’ll probably be more relaxed as they move from one process to the next.

In addition to a well-designed base layout, there are many other measures airports can invest in to facilitate smooth-running passenger flow and prevent overcrowding in any one area. Setting up self-service check-in kiosks, for instance, can cut the number of people lining up to see a check-in agent by a large margin. Clear and easy-to-understand signage can also help passengers find their way around the airport without having to seek assistance from staff members, leaving the latter free to attend to guests with more pressing concerns. Lastly, well-organized security barriers can help maximize the space within specific rooms or corridors.

Ensure passengers have access to seating and electrical sockets

airport terminal chairs

The inability to find comfortable seating can be frustrating for passengers, especially those who are already contending with long waits or flight delays. People traveling with a large party usually have an especially difficult time finding seating together, and often have to settle for sitting apart individually or in smaller groups.

By the time they reach their gate, travelers will already likely be worn down from going through security checks and making their way through the terminal. Making lots of comfortable seating options available all throughout the airport can help ease that burden significantly. Whether they’re settling down for a long layover or simply pausing to catch their breath, travelers will surely appreciate the opportunity to rest in relative comfort before beginning their trips in earnest.

Today’s travelers also never leave home without their mobile phones and other electronic devices. Chances are that most of them also intend to use their phones, tablets, and laptops for work or entertainment while waiting for their flights. Hence, airports should ensure that electrical outlets are plentiful and accessible throughout the terminal for passengers’ convenience. Including charging stations at every seat would be ideal, but distributing outlets evenly across the airport gates is another feasible option.

Create a good ambiance and atmosphere

Airports are generally perceived as utilitarian spaces focused on moving people efficiently from point A to point B. However, there are many ways to also take passengers’ emotions into consideration when planning and designing airports. For example, installing high, large windows lets in daylight and gives busy terminals a brighter, airier feel. Windows also grant passengers a view of nature outside, which can be calming. 

There are also many small changes airport management can introduce to improve the ambiance within the terminal. Changing out harsh fluorescent lights for softer, warmer lighting options is one easy way to make the atmosphere more relaxing. In a similar fashion, installing eye-catching artwork can encourage people to spend their downtime exploring the terminal and may even introduce them to the work of local artists. Adding in plants or even full indoor gardens not only creates a gentler environment but also tells visitors a compelling story about the region by acquainting them with local flora.

Provide activities for passengers

woman holding shopping bags

Though improving the flow of foot traffic through the terminal can do a lot to cut wait times for passengers, extended downtime is also unavoidable in many instances. Passengers who arrive at the airport with time to spare, those with delayed flights, and those waiting out layovers will all appreciate having a wide array of ways to pass the time. 

Expanding the range of available shopping and dining options within the terminal is one tried-and-true way that airports can enhance the passenger experience—and earn increased revenue in the process. Travelers will be much less bored or anxious while waiting if they can spend the time enjoying a good meal or browsing the shops. Top-notch shopping and dining experiences may also encourage passengers to arrive at the terminal earlier and take their time, rather than rushing through the necessary procedures.

In addition to shopping and dining, there are many other activities airports can offer for passengers’ entertainment. Indoor play areas for children can keep them occupied and also help them expend energy before long flights. Some airports even offer exercise facilities like yoga studios or gyms, so that fitness-focused passengers can get a good workout in before they fly.

At the end of the day, the key to creating a less stressful air travel experience comes down to anticipating what passengers need and making accommodations accordingly. Making the necessary investments will eventually lead to increased revenue, more satisfied customers, and an improved reputation for airports.

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