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PASSENGER SERVICES Last modified on October 9, 2014

Daring to be different

ICRAVE’s managing director, Leah Blackman, reports on the growing trend of transforming US departures gates with innovative new concession programmes.

In recent years we’ve seen a paradigm shift in concession programming at US airports, with the focus now firmly fixed on the needs of the passenger and the departure gate.

As a result, passengers who were once regarded as a captive audience, have had their status elevated to that of a guest, and the new philosophy is very much about what can be done to make them happy.

The conversations we are privileged to take part in with concessionaires and airports continue to raise questions about how to enhance the passenger experience. 

Over the last seven years, we have challenged ourselves as designers to ask the same question. How can we re-imagine a better offering? 

Airport executives certainly understand today’s emphasis on enhancing the passenger experience amongst a growing population of discerning, well-connected travellers. 

Indeed, in an age when consumer expectations are rising and early airport arrival is a requirement, they have challenged themselves to position terminals as true gateways into and out of the city in which they reside. 

As a result, local chefs are increasingly being called upon to spearhead innovative dining programmes and new technologies are being applied across each passenger touchpoint. 

And studies of traveller anxiety have discovered that stress levels can be reduced through innovative concessions directly at the gate. 

Knowing this and doing something about it are, of course, not so easy as airport executives have all sorts of hurdles they have to overcome before new gate-based concession concepts can become reality.

Budgetary constraints, balancing the needs of airlines with those of the airport, capacity issues and considering the impact the new shops and F&B outlets will have on the bottom line are just a few of the challenges.

Also, will they significantly raise non-aeronautical streams? What will the net effect be on the number of enplanements and the quality of service? 

 

Hospitality

ICRAVE has redesigned passenger terminals in six airports across North America, examining the impact of these very questions. From our pioneering work at JetBlue’s Terminal 5 in John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to our most recent renovation of Terminal 1 at Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ), we’ve analysed the reconfiguration of gate hold areas while maintaining seat counts. 

We’ve looked at underutilised spaces in terminals and redistributed them in a way that simultaneously makes them more engaging and raises non-aeronautical revenue streams.  

Our background in the hospitality industry has given us the opportunity to apply a hospitality approach to our airport designs, which enact real change in the passenger experience. 

We are not interested in superficial design; we consistently look to solve operational problems from a creative, solution-oriented standpoint. 

And I believe this viewpoint has given us keen insight into the challenges that need to be addressed when redesigning passenger terminals. The planning process, after all, gives rise to many operational questions. 

 

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Terminal layout

In my opinion there are several options when it comes to activating the terminal with concession programmes. 

First, you must examine its configuration. Terminals range anywhere from satellite and pier layouts to semicircles. Each terminal will require its own unique design solution. 

We recently completed the concept design for the upcoming F&B venues and gate hold areas to be operated by OTG in Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport’s Terminal A on behalf of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA). 

Scheduled to open in the spring of 2015, the changes are the culmination of a full upgrade to the gateway, which will include full-service dining, iPads and charging stations, and a wider variety of F&B and retail options. 

Local chefs and dynamic talents such as Carla Hall from Top Chef and ABC’s The Chew will also be involved with the project. 

Terminal A is designed as a long pedestrian walkway that leads to a circular hub of nine gates at the walkway’s end. With a previously open, underutilised central core, we designed an oasis to activate the gate hold area with smart concessions programming. 

From a capacity standpoint, this allows the oasis to service all nine gates from a single location. Simultaneously, passengers maintain a direct sightline to their departure gate. The main restaurant will provide seating for more than 100 guests, an increase over the current 22-seat restaurant.

Take, however, a pier configuration like YYZ’s Terminal 1. In this case, concession concepts are integrated directly into the terminal streetscape. 

Located between gates 177 and 178 at the hub of Terminal 1 is Marathi, an Indian-themed restaurant operated by OTG with a street- food-inspired menu by local Toronto chef Hemant Bhagwani. 

A striking arched lattice wooden trellis curves above the entire space. The place-making structure allows passengers to feel as though they have stepped into a full-service restaurant at their gate, while maintaining an openness for anxious travellers to watch over their departure gates.

 

Passenger pathways

Inspired by modern marketplaces, ICRAVE is designing retail experiences that break away from the traditional mall layout. Concessions are brought into the terminal walkway where passengers can actively engage in revenue-driving activity without straying from their path to the gate. 

Every terminal we have designed has either maintained or increased the number of seats in the gate hold areas. Our office has spent countless nights brainstorming seat configurations that increase capacity, fit within the existing footprint, and have the ability to withstand constant wear. 

In each design, we’ve balanced hospitality aesthetics with the operational requirements of airports. From café and bar-style to workplace configurations, we’ve maximised the variety of seating options while tailoring to assorted passenger needs.

Concession revenues continue to grow as airports find new and innovative ways to engage passengers with authentic offerings that enhance the overall experience. For those that consistently challenge and experiment with the status quo, the airport becomes a breeding ground for new and innovative ideas. So what could be next?

 

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Being different

Sadly, it is all too common for passengers to find the same concession offerings in different airports.

Like cities, airports need to be proactive in building vibrant programming and curating an eclectic blend of retail, special events and F&B choices unique to their location. 

By surprising travellers with established boutiques next to pop-up stores or food fairs and homemade one-of-a-kind crafts, they can find reasons to look around, engage and connect those unique moments to a positive experience that can only be had at this particular airport.

 

Concierge services

If you truly examine programming from the passenger perspective, you discover new ways to enhance the experience and offering. We see, for example, real opportunity in full-service solutions that allow us to take care of personal and professional needs while on the move. 

Why can’t I host a business meeting right at the airport (either virtual or physical)? Post a package from the airport? Print a document? Drop my dog off for boarding? Send my dry cleaning home? Airport retail and concession spaces can learn a great deal from the hospitality industry.

 

New technologies

With the expansion of the digital domain, there is huge potential to go outside traditional lease lines and store hours. What if I could have my favourite magazine and a fresh lunch waiting for me at my gate when I board?  

We have seen virtual grocery stores popping up worldwide and there is a wealth of offerings that don’t take up any real estate, yet continue to expand the retail programme beyond its traditional limits.  

By thinking creatively we can also capture the arriving passenger market and extend service through the entire travel experience. 

Wouldn’t it be great to know you had a pint of milk and a hot dinner waiting for you when you arrive home from a week-long business trip?  

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