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August 3, 2021
2 min read

Looking Beyond the Shiny Stuff

Our Creative Director Joost discusses why he believes there’s been too much focus on tech in airports. He gives some insights on how to keep the passenger at the forefront of our mind in a post-covid climate, suggesting flexibility, reassurance, and convenience is key. 

Tech and Humans

Do you see a clear change from how airports were passenger-focused, comparing pre-covid to post-covid?

I think yes, in some ways. We're witnessing now that airports are forced to be much more passenger-focused than before, simply because of process changes. It's crucial that we adapt to these new processes, which will change constantly over the next year. Being passenger-focused is no longer a choice but a necessity. How will they behave? What will they expect from airlines and airports? I think uncertainty is going to be the biggest concern for airports. 

What we're witnessing is a lot of airports falling back on technology. Using tech is easy; they are buying machines, using software, implementing hardware, etc., but in my eyes, it's all a bit gimmicky. It's fundamental to look at the process first and how passengers can be at the forefront of this.

How do you see these changes reflected on the technical side?

One of the most significant changes I am seeing is airports trying to fully understand the process from A to B. Analysing what you can do at a passenger's home, car park, lobbies, and other large areas. Understanding how we can implement tech in the right ways to cater to the passenger's full journey. 

During Covid, passengers were afraid to touch machines, but we realized that cleaning a machine is much easier than avoiding humans. People are afraid of passengers now, and the risk of covid which comes with this. I think tech will also be used here a lot to reassure those passengers. 

In general, we see two types of passengers: those that avoid staff and others who want staff assistance. In a research study we conducted surrounding baggage drop off we realised that 50% didn't ask for any assistance and 50% asked for a lot. This is another indicator that every passenger is different, and we must cater to each individual's needs; this is also dependent on culture, age, language barriers, etc.

Do you think that there has been too much focus on tech within airports? 

100%. There is far too much focus on the shiny stuff. I think the main reason for this is that airports and airlines lack knowledge surrounding research. Many have no idea about the real problems of passengers and flows. And that is where we come in. 

So, how would you advise an airport to keep their focus on the passenger? 

Trial and error is a great approach. As I said, airports typically lack the ability to conduct research, so we support them. 

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that it's fundamental to design for change. At the moment, it's tough to predict change; when airports fully reopen, we still don't know how many passengers to expect, if there will still be social distancing problems, and if people will still be fearful of crowding. It's important to adapt to these unpredictable situations. In the past, airports are building hardware which is fixed, rigid, and expensive to change or adapt. Now we see the importance of being flexible and having adjustable hardware and processes, as new problems are bound to arise, so we must be prepared.

Passenger Centric Innovation

How do you see the relationship between passengers' trust in technology vs passengers' trust in other people? Has this balance changed post-covid?

I don't see a massive amount of difference. Some people trust technology, and others don't. As long as we offer them more convenience, many won't question it; I mean, how many of us read those lengthy terms and conditions? 

What will change for me as a passenger and what will be the hardest thing for me to adapt to? 

There's still a lot of fear surrounding biometrics. The public isn't afraid of putting their data all over Facebook and Google, but people become afraid as soon as they believe governments are involved. That's why it's crucial to be transparent, provide the passenger with options to reject or bypass biometric options. It's hard to gain passengers' trust, especially post-pandemic, so options and seamless processes are essential.

What kind of technology do u think we can live without in an airport

Well, I guess you can live without any technology if you have a good enough alternative. I've been in an airport in India, and it was fully staffed, with zero machines, and it was fantastic. But if you have rude, unorganised, or uninterested staff, you can have a terrible experience. So it's very situational. 

In your opinion, what do passengers actually want? 

They don't want to be bothered by the process. Many airports believe that passengers understand new regulations and procedures, but they don't nor do they really care. If you just implement the new process and the passenger isn't bothered by it, you can't go wrong. 

You also will always get passengers that run into trouble, and you need to have a smooth way to process these people. For example, don't alert passengers that there is an issue with their passport on biometric machines; simply move them to a help desk. Alerting the passenger of issues creates panic. You want to make the process as convenient and stress-free as possible; they don't need to be informed or experts on the topic. They just need to get from A to B easily. 

Do you need help digitally transforming your airport to keep up with what the passenger wants? Are you striving for a more efficient, innovative, and passenger centric airport? Call Joost.