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?