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July 15, 2021
5 min read

Airports: If everything is uncertain, everything is possible

Airports have long been resourceful in times of crisis and uncertainty. But unlike terrorism or natural phenomena, the world has little experience in dealing with global pandemics. We are witnessing, for the first time, an impact on the whole world. No existing playbook will tell us how to get passengers back in their seats safely. It will be challenging. The only upside is the opportunity to meet disruption with change.

The pandemic has introduced new regulations and restrictions for airport operations, commercial partners, and passengers. How do we avoid crowding and queuing while making sure people feel safe and secure? How can health and hygiene precautions be implemented without deploying additional staff and within the given legal boundaries? How can we optimize our current infrastructure as efficiently and as safely as possible?

A mass of questions that need sustainable and diverse answers. Answers for a future that will be structurally more uncertain.

Adopting new tech takes time.

There is a rush to touchless and self-service solutions, off-airport processes, and digital-first strategies. It may seem like an appealing shortcut to try and solve problems by throwing tech at it; Tech has the power to automate processes where there would otherwise be a person and thus a risk of infection. But most of these ideas are only logical if you have the time and resources available to set clear objectives from a long-term perspective. Introducing and deploying at scale to be effective involves new fully automated processes, which take years to implement. Few airports will have the luxury of sticking to these timelines. For the most part, we have to work with what we’ve got, evolve, refocus, and make existing platforms work smarter, leaner, and more effectively.

If you’re not ready, you should. Get prepared for V.U.C.A:

The emerging new normal has forced us to focus on developing the ability to adapt to ever-changing elements. Changing variables such as globalization, disease, and climate change force airports to deliver solutions at a rapid rate. Airports need to have the processes and mechanisms to prepare for VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity). Like a true Darwinian system, those able to adapt and survive fastest will be the most successful. Scaling up or down, integrating tech, innovation, and regulations and instantly creating new value and profit streams, and adapting swiftly to the changing reality will be a core competence to be successful.

Anticipated unpredictability

Even if adaptations are swift, airports will still be dealing with passengers who need to adjust to a new way of traveling. They have to comprehend, understand, and embrace them. How can we effectively communicate ever-changing regulations and contexts without creating confusion, anxiety, and inefficiencies? What can make passengers feel safe or provide the best possible experience? Technology will play its part, but it cannot lead since the promise of reliable outcomes in a highly versatile and volatile context is challenging to deliver instantly; we need to all test and learn.

Considering a virus can flare up anywhere, and anybody understands airports will have to rely on flexibility and scalability rather than predictability.

Four things we believe are relevant:

1. Take it from A to Z

It might seem like an obvious one, but the journey starts before leaving home from a passenger’s perspective. Even if Airlines manage to board correctly, passengers can still have poor experiences while parking or feel unsafe while boarding with confusing new processes. We believe it’s even more important than ever to look at the journey as a whole, not support the existing fragmented mobility landscape of confusing choices and varying experiences. Every stakeholder needs to be at the table, step up, and pull their weight. We can help you understand your particular challenges, help you understand and solve your problems, and test ideas quickly.

2. Anticipate mistakes

Self-service is challenging under normal circumstances; you’re asking people to learn again and do new things outside of existing knowledge. The stress and excitement of flying make most people pay little attention to wayfinding and directional signage or follow proper processes. If you add in the anxiety surrounding Covid, expect people to make more mistakes than ever. Understanding the design of a passengers’ entire journey makes it easier to anticipate and understand how and why and address these many challenges. With many behavioral uncertainties, airports should use rapid prototyping to create and experiment with an intuitive mindset to help turn these moments of stress into opportunities and demonstrate and build trust and a sense of security and wellbeing.

3. Fully automatic is not the end-goal

Avoiding all human-to-human interaction might seem ideal from a covid-perspective. But be aware that not all passengers fit an automatic process. Whether it’s because of restricted mobility, language barriers, or merely a cultural difference, using support staff can be more comfortable and sometimes even required. Tech should allow you to focus your time on the people who need it most, not forget about them entirely.

4. Avoid Silocide (!!)

Airports are hardwired for contracting vendors for specific solutions for specific problems. The pandemic shows that a strict siloed approach to this will make solving problems slow, inefficient, and immature. Airports should learn how to collaborate more effectively across silos, build digital innovation capabilities internally, and hire independent consultants where required to unify the silos.

We believe these are exciting times; if everything is uncertain, everything is possible. Take advantage of the time you now have to look at what is likely to achieve. Without an existing playbook and validated data to base decisions on, it’s time to consider a reset by looking at what is possible. Combining passenger-centric thinking with experimentation and a change-driven mindset, airports won’t waste budget and time on immature (quickly outdated) tech and fruitless siloed discussions.

Airports can discover future possibilities by facilitating real-world ideation, building concepts and prototypes to learn how to adapt swiftly. Co-create with passengers and stakeholders to generate fast, reliable, and effective results. In this way, airports will be ready for the next crisis. As a team of independent design experts, we can help quickly scan, roadmap, and benchmark your airport against innovation power, effectiveness, decision-making, and adaptability strength.

Are you interested in understanding what’s possible today?

Call Jonne Kuyt