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Putting the passenger at the heart of airports

Passengers must be prioritized in any changes that airports and airlines make to excel in adapting to change and designing successful airport experiences during the critical decade.


The challenges airports face today

The pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the aviation industry, leaving airports with limited experience in dealing with global health crises. As the industry looks to recover and bring people back safely, challenges such as retaining staff who may have left the company and adapting to changing resources must be overcome.

Moreover, as the industry prepares for a future where climate and sustainability are critical, airports and airlines must embrace radical changes to remain relevant. There is a pressing need for the industry to adopt a sustainable approach to meet the environmental demands of the decisive decade ahead.

In this context, airports and airlines must be masters of change, willing to adapt and innovate to remain competitive and resilient. By embracing new technologies and business models, and placing sustainability at the core of their operations, the industry can meet the challenges ahead and emerge stronger and more resilient.

Improving passenger experience with increasing regulations
Climate change driving accelerated sustainability
Bricks vs bytes and the opportunities for scalable solutions
Designing operations for unpredictability
Read our expert insight: Chin up. Time to ditch the passport.
Our experience

The challenges facing your airport today

Airports have been using the same blueprint for airport development since they were established.  But with emerging technologies, shifting regulation, a new kind of passenger, and  a pandemic topped with climate change, the aviation business has to rethink what the future looks like. The belief and proof in the market is that the answer lies with the passenger. They will demand more or better services, and they decide where their loyalties lie, they will demand cleaner, more sustainable, and better priced travel.

In our experience, a passenger-centric vision of the business will help build a more successful airport or airline. Integrating passenger behaviour with advanced technology and design are now the best ingredients for aviation to prepare for change.

Because placing passengers center stage helps build flows that flatten out unnecessary peaks, running more efficient operations while simultaneously implementing scalable tech. But all the answers needed can only be provided by Design and Agile driven cross-disciplinary teams with the right skillsets and capabilities to prepare for what's next. Possible? Very.

The projects we work on  provide the insights and learnings that help answer the complex questions that lay ahead. For example, how biometrics and facial recognition integrations can be applied in the context of EES. Or how design driven innovation helps airports grow a “design for change” mindset, improves airport operations, and helps build stronger operational resilience.All done with one thing in mind; delivering the best passenger experience.
Challenge to overcome
Implementing a seamless biometric flow at airports.
Passenger centric implementations of cutting edge technology is a challenge many airports face.
Change the process
Managing complexity
Experience shows that effective involvement and management of the complex interplay between stakeholders and ever  regulations, makes the implementation of high end technology key to succes. Flipping the process makes implementation more effective
Change the viewpoint
Putting passengers first
Many use passenger centricity as a way to describe something which is passenger-focused. Truly passenger-centric development takes every passenger as the design and decision making benchmark for all involved stakeholders. Experience tells that this improves process velocity and project decisiveness
Validate unpredictability
Modeling for passengers
Before testing a future proof model and flow, it is vital to understand the possibilities and limitations of infrastructure, technology, and process context. Designing models helps validate the organizational readiness, operational risks and identify potential edge cases early in the process.
Real life testing
Test, Design and improve
The only way to manage operational, financial, and user risk is to validate assumptions at every step of the journey. Small changes in processes can have a high impact on efficiency and passenger experience. Research shows that running ideation and validation cycles seriously improve passenger flows.
Many of our solutions result from proven methodologies and processes we have established in the last decade, which helped airports, rail stations, and other mobility solution providers adapt faster to change, and effectively reap the benefits of emerging technology and passenger appreciation.
The process


User experience research is the systematic study of target users and their requirements to add realistic contexts and insights to design processes. UX researchers adopt various methods to uncover problems and design opportunities. Doing so reveals valuable information that can feed into the design process.

Observational research processes, methodologies, and techniques developed by ES_Mobility will help uncover why passengers move as they do across a whole range of touchpoints. It provides a richer understanding of passenger behavior, hurdles, and potential solutions.

Observations help teams unveil conceptual flaws in hardware, software, and processes at every step of the journey.
It’s important to understand that what people say and what they do are two different things.
Understanding behavior is a matter of intelligence gathering. Both quantitive and qualitative research are powerful methods to help illustrate the motivations behind behavioral patterns. A face to face setting gives participants more freedom to enrich their accounts from their perspective and experience. It allows the researcher to probe further and follow up with questions from additional angles that enable discovering unknown needs and desires.

Quantitative research can help validate assumptions, ideas, and concepts in larger groups of people. But are more superficial in their character and outcome.

The macro and micro level insights empower internal teams to validate innovation assumptions and make better decisions with less waste, resulting in more reliable output.
Both research methodologies contribute to a better understanding of motives.
Journey maps combine two powerful instruments—storytelling and visualization— to help teams understand and address customer needs. While maps take a wide variety of forms depending on context and business goals, certain elements are generally included. There are underlying guidelines to follow that help them be the most successful.

Storytelling and visualization are essential facets of journey mapping because they are effective mechanisms for conveying information in a memorable, concise way and that creates a shared vision.  Fragmented understanding is chronic in organizations where KPIs are assigned and measured per individual department or group. Many organizations do not ever piece together the entire experience from the user’s standpoint.

Journeys help the business flip their vision and jointly understand and own the passenger. The only way forward towards passenger centric innovation and solutions.
Mapping passenger journeys make a deeper understanding of the complexity possible.


Modeling is key to understanding the real life challenges.

It is a way to explore potential pitfalls on complex scenarios on many levels and early on in the process before actual implementation. Either it is necessary and relevant to understand how technology fits into the existing infrastructure, how passengers respond to the technology, and if the technology meets the business case requirements.

Models are the best way to mitigate user and operational risk early in the process. The modeling architect, engineers, designers, IT, operations, and analysts can address pain points, explore potential solutions, and define the requirements for hardware and software suppliers.

A model is the answer to make sure your solution is future proof.
Stress testing technology and modeling it into the infrastructure reduce the financial risk of implementation.
With models at hand, it is important to assess how the model performs in different scenarios.

Before moving to real-world testing, assessing scenarios is ideal for ironing out risks and uncertainties under different circumstances with different passenger groups. It allows passengers, stakeholders, and staff to understand better what to expect and see and how well it meets the intended goals.

Scenarios convey a general sense of the concept and its limitations and make an incredible difference in the perception of solutions, managing risks, and the speed of decision making and alignment.
Testing scenarios is critical to mitigating operational risk.
Reality is the best validation of all. Any great idea can fail once people interact in reality with the concept and idea.

A real-life prototype will facilitate observations of real users and their interactions with the solution. Identifying problems in the product or service design, uncovering opportunities to improve, or learning about the target user’s behavior and preferences is the best outcome before implementation.

The financial risk and user risk at implementation drop with real-life prototypes and provide insight into improving the business case on many levels.
Validation in real life is the best stress test


Passenger centric innovations influence  infrastructure, processes, capabilities, and regulations on operations, security. Projects fail without effective collaboration and stakeholder management.

A project is successful when it achieves its objectives and meets or exceeds the expectations of the stake­holders. They are the people who are actively involved with the project’s work or have something to either gain or lose as a result of the project.  

A stakeholder is easily one of the more complex relationships for a product manager to maintain in the digital product development lifecycle. Issues between stakeholders hinder the progress of the product development due to miscommunication, misunderstanding, or misalignment.
A lean incremental alignment process is key to higher efficiency across disciplines
With many parties involved, knowledge transfer is one of the critical success factors for implementing new and advanced technology. But for effective use of the Operational Concept Description (OCD)
it needs to be delivered to give an overall picture of the operations in the organization’s operational environment from the users’ and operators’ perspective.

An OCD in a logical and compelling narrative helps understand and build consensus between the involved stakeholders faster and efficiently.

A system without a solid up to date reference fails to operate most effectively.
A user-centric form of documentation reduces errors in handovers and further development.
With pilot testing, all the previous assumptions are validated with smaller groups in the operational environment. By evaluating a minimal viable product and gathering the intelligence, there will be all the security and certainty to take the solution to scale. To manage pitfalls, pilot tests should be executed and directed according to strict requirements. (Most pilot tests are expensive vanity projects, which often lead to missed opportunities and less than favorable outcomes)

We use the ideas generated during prototyping and the learning derived through testing to create a mini version of the proposed solution. Pilots are about demonstrating a minimum viable product; they are more lengthy, higher cost, higher resources, higher impact forms of evaluation. But they are providing all the solid strategic and tactical data to scale
Scaling makes sense once the business case is proven in a series of pilot tests.

“Making an impact on the business, while putting the passenger centre stage. That’s how we make things possible.”

Joost Holthuis
Ex. Director CX/UX
The latest learnings

Bridging passengers and data
builds smarter airports

The market is flooded with  promises of seamless flows, flawless biometrics processes, and passenger-centric innovations.  But bottom line, it all comes down to one thing; if you want to improve airport processes and passenger experience successfully, you have to deliver the right information at the right moment to the right person. Either it’s about airport operations, security, staff, or passengers. It’s all about the data. Several key areas illustrate how data will improve end to end journeys and grow efficiency and passenger experience.

New situations new behaviour

Prepare for errors
When implementing new processes or technology, many passenger groups will not only make more mistakes but are also more likely to make new mistakes. Errors that have not been anticipated can easily jeopardize or put extra strains on operations.
Avoid stacking stress factors
Especially in a post-pandemic process with additional documentation and time constraints, uncertainties will grow on top of the existing travel stress. This will make passengers more receptive to making more complex mistakes that can't be solved within a generic process.
Get ready with alternatives
Anticipating strategies for "new" errors are essential to managing experiences efficiently. It demands quick learning cycles and a certain flexibility of staff and organization to process exceptions. Quick Design thinking methodologies can be of use for quick turnaround of opportunities.

Less information smarter and happier passengers

Visibility for everyone

People under stress use visual clues differently. Overloading them with information is a poor solution. Using less but better-positioned clues along the journey will help reduce errors. Wayfinding assets should be placed within the eye-sight of the passenger. Modeling journeys early along sightlines will provide clues to show what is ahead and will help create well-structured paths.
Avoid standalone communication
The brain of passengers works in different kinds of modes. It manages many processes at the same time. Therefore it’s important to repeat communication and visual clues. But to make sure the clues do not get lost in the noise of their surroundings, they need to be fiercely consistent.
Standardize across channels
Passengers use many different channels to navigate. Managing and directing expectations is key for efficient passenger flows. There is no need to make navigation clues a creative exercise—the more standard, the better. Apart from being consistent, it is of utmost importance to be extremely standard across all channels. The best UX design is standard across all digital, mobile, screens, and dynamic wayfinding solutions to allow people to take it in quickly, at a glance, without dwelling.

More self service needs more help

Comprehension capabilities
Part of helping passengers is helping them navigate tens of channels and visuals. Build tools and instruments to navigate, understand and comprehend the system. In this context, it’s relevant to acknowledge IQ distribution and the digital maturity of all audiences. A coherent and consistent communication structure and architecture can be a key ingredient to effectively nudge and direct people.
Create a natural flow
Build what is natural for people not logical for the infrastructure Passengers are drawn to gather and socialize, even where there is a large empty space. This can be used for more effective distribution and guidance of passengers in natural waiting areas. A well-designed natural flow will be able to manage happy and unhappy flows more effectively with a higher NPS rating as a result.
Support staff when necessary
Support staff when necessary
Any solution should encourage passengers to operate the full end to end process themselves. Assistance is only necessary when users cannot follow a natural path. If the natural path has too many unpredictable obstacles, they will rely too much on costly support.

Make tech work better with more intuitive interactions

Keep it digestible
Most of the patterns that passengers are accustomed to, for example the web, don’t always translate to screens or work in a different context. Key to the lowest possible fail rates is avoiding information and navigation overload. Passengers are expecting information, messages and screens to be simple, responsive and logical.
Keeping consistency
Core functionalities should always be logically available. That’s why it is important to keep fixed sections and zones on the screen. But also simple colour coding can help passengers use screens and navigate differentiated functions. It is critical to align with physical wayfinding to build a coherent journey.
Clear signals
Passengers are pre-occupied with many other distractions; on top of the stress factor, don’t assume passengers will always see or hear triggers. It’s important to be aware of the passenger field of view when trying effective feedback loops. It’s easy to miss feedback clues when looking down at their passport or up at the screen. So feedback on multiple levels is desired, both auditory and visually, to minimize mistakes.

Make tech lead and passengers suffer.

Tech is custom-fit
Requirements and regulations need tailored solutions to work efficiently for every passenger group. Without this context, technology dominant projects have a high risk of generalization. A generic approach results in poor implementation and no business case. Which can not be compansated by good design.
‘One-size-fits-all’ usually fits none
Making something work for business travelers is easy. Making something work for everyone is where it gets complicated. A biometric process for a well trained traveler is different from a family on a once-in-a-while-holiday. Understanding all the passenger groups is key to making technology work and deliver solutions that are better fit for specific audiences.
Don’t get stuck in theory
Most implementations look great on paper until you test them in the real world. People are unpredictable and will not stick to the theoretical models outlined in the initial planning phase. To be successful, airports should test every assumption on every critical point of the journey, with real passengers through a repeated process of prototyping and conceptualizing

Collaborate to make “New” work

Managing complexity
With the battle for passenger preference, ever changing regulations and upcoming shifts for more sustainable business, airports are forced to adapt to an agile and digital mindset and business model to be successful. Digital transformation is perceived and handled as an infrastructure process instead of developing new capabilities to distribute data in the most effective way
Bricks vs clicks
Many airports believe their airport is unique and impossible to replicate. This is true for the physical infrastructure. But since most of the business is going digital it means it becomes intrinsically scalable and flexible.
Don’t get stuck in theory
Business volatility needs adaptability and collaboration
With more volatility in the market, passenger expectations of flawless digital services, are not easily met. Future passengers will demand products and services that originate across silos and disciplines. Therefore beating the competition means implementing new ways of collaboration and organizational structures.
Our partners

The organizations we partner with

Our experts

Our team of designers, developers, and consultants

Joost Holthuis
Luke Veerman
Anne van Diepen
Jael Koh

Learn from the experts and projects

Interview Andreas Naujoks
Chin up. Time to ditch the passport.
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