Enhancing the passenger experience is a worthy objective for anyone working in an airport. But what does it actually mean?
Passengers come in many shapes and sizes, with differing tastes, expectations and needs. Some just want to minimise their interaction with the transit part of travelling to get to their destination as quickly as possible without any fuss.
Others wish to savour every minute of their experience, lingering in the luxury goods emporia, sipping exotic cocktails, experiencing foot massages, indulging in exciting sights and sounds. Romantics, pragmatists, grumps …all travel through airports.
This provides quite a challenge. Understanding how people who may be very different from ourselves feel – and being prepared to modify our own attitudes and behaviours accordingly – requires empathy. Putting ourselves in other people’s shoes and seeing things from their perspective is important if we are to improve their travel experience.
Recently, both authors have had personal experiences of what it is like to be a ‘Person of Restricted Mobility’ (PRM). For one of us, the cause was a broken ankle; for the other, a hip operation.
‘Walking in the other person’s shoes’ never became more relevant! What an impact it made. A simple trip to the bathroom, making a cup of coffee or even a visit to the local supermarket required planning, effort, and inventiveness. Let alone international travel.
We found we had become part of a community of people in similar circumstances. Walking stick users, people with crutches, zimmer frames and electric mobility scooters, generally acknowledged us cheerily with a nod, a smile or a wave of recognition. Neither of us had noticed before how many of us there were.
The response of the general population was more variable. Some offered assistance when we couldn’t negotiate swinging doors or getting into taxis; others ignored us. We asked ourselves: should we have to experience what it is like to have reduced mobility to empathise with those who live these lives every day? Is it possible to really understand something without experiencing it personally? Well, yes, we believe that it is possible.
It starts with empathetic design. It is not beyond the wit of woman or man to design environments for those permanently or temporarily incapacitated who still want or need to travel. It should be possible to say goodbye to escalators that are so fast or steep you can’t get on or off easily; to provide seating on the long interminable walks to distant boarding gates; to loosen up stiff, unyielding doors that can’t be opened; or to have other options than to climb wet, rickety steps in windy conditions on the tarmac.
And… the human touch is as important. Empathic skills can be learnt and become habits. Every passenger should be considered as an individual with their own unique personal needs. A helping hand, a smile and small acts of kindness make a huge difference.
As we found for ourselves.