Two recent experiences in Europe and the Middle East have brought up this subject matter. To us in Africa it is not new. We call out our bus stops in Lagos rather than ring a bell to alert the driver or listen to the recorded information. Riding a train from Lagos to Ibadan you can identify with the announcer as a real person rather than a pre-recorded audio tape. One argument for it could be that Africa has a large population and can afford to keep these people in employment. However the human-centred environment is a part of our everyday lives.
More than a decade ago, I was at an airport in Europe and as we walked and I made my way into the restroom: coming out, I found myself in a seemingly empty concourse with only signages. I felt lost at first and wished there was someone to talk to. This airport today processes about seventy million passengers annually. At the same touchpoint and others which seemed to confuse the traveller, there is someone standing and wearing a T-shirt with the name of the airport inscribed on it.
On my way to Europe, early this year, through one of the airports in the Middle East, I almost missed my flight making my way through the very large terminal. A first time traveller on the same route with her two children missed her flight as she was not able to meet up with her connecting flight from the same airport. Now travelling through the same airport for the recently concluded International Airport Summit, we had a delay and arrived just in time for connecting passengers to be able to make their flight. This time the airport did not wait for the passengers to figure out where they were going by relying on the signages. In what reminded me of a bus ride in Lagos, they stationed staff as we came through the jet bridge who called out and walked passengers through different walkways to their boarding gates.
Humanising the airport passenger experience is a deliberate effort to put in place an environment that puts priority on the needs and comfort of travellers and at the same time delivering a seamless and pleasant journey. This type of facilitation does not just come to be. It is planned, researched and based on evidence from data and feedback collected over a period of time.
Providing real time updates on flight information, delays and gate changes using as many channels as possible, for example digital signage, mobile apps, and public announcement will go a long way in humanising the airport passenger experience. Passengers should be able to easily understand the information being passed across to them.
Having simplified check-in and security procedures minimise stress and waiting times. Airports doing so have put in place self-service kiosks for check-in, there are online check-in options, and they make available dedicated lanes for frequent travellers or families with young children. Where staff are courteous, friendly, and helpful as the passenger goes through the check-in and security procedures, it enhances the passenger experience positively.
Comfortable waiting areas with ample seating, charging stations, along with access to Wifi add value to the terminal stay by the passenger. There are now water dispensing taps at terminals for those waiting to connect their flight. Other terminal facilities that make the stay of the passengers pleasant are, clean restrooms, baby care facilities, prayer rooms and quiet zones for relaxation. Various dining options with healthy food choices and sufficient retail options for shopping should not be overlooked. No two airports are the same. Each airport in thinking through its non-aeronautical revenue needs to understand the drivers of its non-aeronautical activities. In areas where people like to drive, for instance, car parking will constitute a larger percentage of the non-aeronautical revenue (non-aeronautical revenue is commercial revenues from sources such as Duty Free, Retail, Parking fees and other commercial activities).
Leveraging technology to personalise the passenger experience is important. Some of them include using facial recognition technology for seamless boarding, giving personalised recommendations for dining or shopping based on passenger preferences, and giving assistance to passengers with special needs, like the elderly or those with reduced mobility makes for a smooth journey for the passengers.
Wayfinding has gone beyond just signposts. While improving on wayfinding, airports are also taking care that advertisements do not compete with wayfinding for the attention of the customer – giving the passenger an unpleasant experience. Use of intuitive symbols, multilingual signs and digital displays are providing guidance to passengers to terminals, gates, baggage claim areas and transportation options. There is also the use of interactive maps and mobile apps that can track the location of a passenger within the airport.
Upskilling staff to be able to deal with passenger enquiries, provide assistance, and resolve issues on time will come from their being trained to be empathetic, responsive and knowledgeable. It will leave a pleasant taste with the travellers when staff engage in positive interactions with them, such that they have a warm and welcoming atmosphere in the airport.
There is a lot of insight that can be derived from passenger feedback through surveys, suggestion boxes or digital platforms. Feedback should be regularly sought, then analysed with the aim of making improvements based on insights gathered. The concerns and preferences of passengers should drive the review and update of policies and procedures on a regular basis.
Having a human-centred environment is part of our African culture. The use of outlined strategies which makes a priority passenger comfort, convenience, and satisfaction will also be an added lever to improving the airport passenger experience which is good for the finances of an airport.