Navigating your way through an airport can be an anxiety provoking experience. It’s an activity often undertaken under less than ideal conditions – when we are tired, we have arrived late at night somewhere and the airport is deserted, or we have to rush to get another connection.
Even the most experienced of travellers, in the most well organised, well-established airports, can find it a challenge. Madrid Barajas, Paris CDG and Luton have all left members of our team confused in some way, resulting in difficulty in finding the way out, reaching our intended departure gate, and even missing a connection. That may tell more about us than the airports, but it shows that the problem remains a real one.
How can airports help us with questions such as “Where exactly am I?”; “What direction am I facing (so I don’t start walking the wrong way)?” or “How long will it take to get through security, so I don’t miss my connection?”
Wayfaring has been a challenge for centuries. The Romans in Britain solved the problem by inventing the milestone, a stone column placed at regular intervals along the long straight roads from London. In Ireland, informal conversation was the traditional folklore solution. “Go up the Dublin road to the pub at the crossroads and turn right. When you are about half a mile up the road, just past the turning on the right turn left. If you cross over a bridge then you have gone too far!”
Signs are a more recent innovation. Airport signs should be provided at key decision points, where the traveller has to make a choice. If symbols are used, they should be universally understood. Arrows should clearly point in the right direction and continue to the final destination and not mysteriously disappear midway through the route. There should be a primary path through the airport which is intrinsically obvious.
Best practice means good design. An example of designing with the passenger in mind is Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Clear, unobstructed lines of sight, angled service desks which encourage people to move the right way, well- structured paths, landmarks to provide orientation cues and clear signage
all help nudge passengers in the right direction.
But even these steps aren’t always enough as airports get bigger and the variety of passengers increases. Placing shopping malls along the route may be good for the retailer but can be a source of disorientation and confusion for someone who just want to get to gate B98.
Airport concierge services which help people to their destination are increasing in popularity. And expect to see more mobile phone ‘airport map apps’ which guide people through the airport.
In the meantime, everyone who works in an airport can play a big part in helping passengers find their way. If you see someone who appears lost or disoriented, ask them if they need assistance. The human touch makes a difference.
We wish you happy orienting in 2019. Get to the airport early, follow the signs, and don’t get too distracted by the shopping!