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OTHER ARTICLES Last modified on November 1, 2018

People Matters

Richard Plenty and Terri Morrissey provide their thoughts on uncertainty, anxiety and the passenger experience.

Over the last couple of months both of us have flown independently on long-haul return flights from Europe to North America for business and personal reasons.

We have a fascination with airports and are both seasoned travellers, but comparing notes we realised that, even for us, the experience of inter-continental travel still ranks highly on the scale of stressful and frustrating experiences. And it’s not only the long duration flights and time zone changes which we need to cope with.

Our combined list of additional challenges for these journeys included a time consuming visa application process with the US Embassy; the airline carrier IT system declining to print a boarding card with no explanation; heavier than usual traffic to the airport; a very long security queue; an unexpected random selection for an additional personal security check; a gate change which was not communicated and meant a rush to the correct gate at the last minute; a need to negotiate a move to a different part of the plane because of a large, head-lolling, sleeping passenger in the next seat; and a rip-off taxi ride at one of the destinations.

Travel doesn’t seem to be getting any easier! One of our flights was business class, the other economy, but the numbers of people who now travel and the growing impact of geo-politics mean that whatever class you pay for, there are bound to be frustrations. And that’s despite the tremendous effort airports have already made to improve the passenger experience.

What more could airports do? Well, from a psychological perspective we know that uncertainty is particularly difficult for people to manage. The same areas of the brain are activated by uncertainty as by danger and risk. This impacts our physiology, and it can be hard to stop ourselves becoming anxious, angry and reacting emotionally. Anything airports can do to mitigate uncertainty can help. What might this mean in practice?

Providing clear up to date information on what’s happening is the starting point. Explanations of flight delays, queue times, and guidance for official taxis all fall into this category. The best airports should never hear their passengers say: “They didn’t even tell us what was going on”.

Human reassurance is the second part of the equation. Having some friendly, knowledgeable people around to confirm we are on the right lines is helpful: they can answer questions, provide guidance, and respond flexibly to a wide diversity of passengers. They provide a human touch. The best airports should never hear the phrase “There was no one we could find to help us”.

Is ‘emotional security’ on your airport’s radar?

Arrivals and departures

Jamie Rhee is the new commissioner of the Chicago Department of Aviation. She took up the post on August 1 following the resignation of predecessor, Ginger Evans. Rhee is a 24-year veteran city official, most recently serving as Chicago’s procurement services commissioner.

Fraport AG’s supervisory board has approved an early contract extension for the company’s executive board chairman (CEO), Dr Stefan Schulte. Effective September 1, 2019, Schulte’s contract will be extended for an additional five years until August 31, 2024.

Balram Bheodari is the new interim general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, succeeding Roosevelt Council who has been named as the chief financial officer of the City of Atlanta.

Copenhagen Airport has named Rasmus Lund as its new chief financial officer. He moves from a similar position at the Saxo Bank and will take up the position on December 1.

Akron-Canton Airport’s new president and CEO will be Renato ‘Ren’ Camacho, currently chief of planning and engineering at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Camacho starts his new job on October 1, replacing the long serving Rick McQueen who is retiring at the end of the year.

Aberdeen International Airport in the UK is looking for a new managing director following Carol Benzie’s decision to step down from the role after five years in the hot-seat and 10 years at the gateway. Derek Provan, CEO of owner, AGS Airports Limited, and a former managing director of the airport will oversee the business until a permanent replacement is found.

Former Liverpool and Shannon Airport boss, Neil Pakey, has been appointed CEO of Nieuport Aviation, which operates the terminal building at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.

Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) has announced the appointment of two new deputy executive directors. Bernardo Gogna will serve as the deputy executive director of the Landside Access Modernization Program (LAMP) Executive and Michelle Schwartz will serve as the deputy executive director–chief of external affairs.


About the authors

Dr Richard Plenty is managing director of This Is... and runs the ACI World Airport Human Resources programme. Terri Morrissey is chairperson of This Is... and CEO of the Psychological Society of Ireland. Contact them through

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