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‘The entire end-to-end airport experience needs a major overhaul’

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FTE spoke to Kiran Merchant, CEO of DY Consultants

The airport terminal of the future? Clockwise: The interactive Bradley West Terminal at LAX; the trend-setting Denver International Airport with its Rocky Mountains-inspired roof; Gensler’s future airport concept; and Airport Terminal of the Future, which will host its next forum at FTE Global 2014.

Improving the travel experience for passengers is usually seen as the responsibility of airports and airlines, but the important role that planners, designers and architects can play in defining a positive passenger experience should never be underestimated, especially when building a new facility.

Allowing passengers to interact with the infrastructure around them, giving an airport a true sense of place, and making the process of getting from check-in to departure gate as simple as possible are all vital elements that must be given great consideration when planning the airport terminal of the future.

One man who certainly knows all about this is Kiran Merchant, current CEO of airport planning and engineering specialists DY Consultants, and the previous Chief of Aviation Planning for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

When FTE asked Merchant which area of the airport experience he thinks needs the most improvement from a passenger experience perspective, he offered the most frank of assessments. “I personally feel that the entire end-to-end airport experience needs a major overhaul,” he started. “How travellers get from their origin to destination needs fresh, outside the box thinking. Technological innovations have transformed our social behaviour and the aviation industry needs to adapt to these changes.”

An Apple Store-inspired airport lobby

DY Consultants CEO Kiran Merchant

DY Consultants CEO Kiran Merchant will lead the Airport Terminal of the Future Members Forum at FTE Global 2014.

Merchant, who will lead the Airport Terminal of the Future Members Forum at FTE Global 2014, explained that passengers now like to have more control over their own experience, and to move at a speed that suits their own preferences.

He continued: “Recent claims of futuristic thinking barely scrape the surface of what the future holds. Even though everyone in the aviation industry admits that “traditional” check-in is a thing of the past, we have yet to see a major shift in how this space is designed in newly designed terminals today. We talked in our last Airport Terminal of the Future workshop about, what if a terminal check-in lobby becomes more like a hotel lobby, a multi-purpose space, where one can transect, interact and relax at their own pace. Or like an Apple Store where the user is served at their own spot from presentation to final sale, and delivery is made at the same spot and the buyer is not expected to move from one place to the other.”

Among the key themes that could help achieve this vision, he explained, include:

    1. An experience customised to the individual traveller, whether that traveller be a premium customer, an experienced traveller, a family on vacation, or a customer requiring special assistance.
    2. A need to cross-utilise available information on the customer entering the facility between airlines, airport, and regulatory agencies in order to efficiently handle any transactions, anticipate their needs, accommodate their luggage, assess security threats, and customise their experience.
    3. A desire to design a free-flowing process in which the customer no longer views the experience as going from one sequential step to another.

In the Airport Terminal of the Future Members Forum in Las Vegas, these three themes will be built upon and delegates will be invited to help define which other themes should be prioritised, and how they can make a tangible difference to the passenger experience of the future.

‘Sense of place’ is critical

Merchant also lamented the fact that creating a “sense of place” is rarely given the level of attention it deserves. “Sense of place is extremely critical in terminal design and is frequently missed by the designers,” he stated.

“When you arrive at an airport, that is either the first or the last impression you carry of the place for the rest of your journey. Shapes, materials and finishes are usually one way designers have successfully created a sense of place. It is extremely difficult to go deeper than a mere superficial approach in creating a sense of place, though, because it requires understanding of the history, culture, trade and geographical information to create a holistic vision of the place.”

Clearly, airports embarking on building new terminals, or indeed developers constructing a greenfield airport, have a crucial role to play in sculpting the airport’s long-term identity and defining what passengers will experience in the terminal itself. As Merchant highlighted, it’s certainly not an easy task, but surely an airport terminal with a sense of place and happy passengers is far more desirable than a bland facility that travellers merely see as a necessary inconvenience in their journey from one city or country to another.

Learn all about the Airport Terminal of the Future at FTE Global 2014

Airport terminal of the future

The Airport Terminal of the Future Members Forum will take place at FTE Global 2014 in Las Vegas.

Kiran Merchant, CEO of DY Consultants, will lead the Airport Terminal of the Future Members Forum at FTE Global 2014, which will take place in Las Vegas from 24-26 September and will include presentations from the likes of Halifax International Airport Authority, San Francisco International Airport and Gensler.

Airport Terminal of the Future provides a discussion forum on important issues that will drive the evolution of future terminal planning and design. Its mission is to explore and investigate future trends, design concepts and technological innovations that will change the way airport terminals will be designed and used by the next generation of passengers. Airport Terminal of the Future aims to improve the industry through a collegial discussion between leading professionals from around the world who offer a diverse range of perspectives, including airports, airlines, consulting firms, the supply chain and academia.

» View the full FTE ‘On the Ground’ conference agenda
» Register to attend FTE Global 2014

Future Travel Experience Global 2014

The FTE 'On the Ground' conference at FTE Global 2014, which will take place in Las Vegas from 24-26 September, will include a keynote address from Rohit Talwar, CEO of Fast Future Research, entitled: 'Airport transformation – A roadmap to viability'. Rohit, a renowned global futurist, will step delegates through the 'roadmap to viability', highlighting the critical decisions and actions that need to be taken to establish an airport that's fit for the future.

FTE Global 2014 will also include the 'Up in the Air' conference stream, an extensive exhibition of the latest passenger-focused solutions, the FTE Awards ceremony and an exciting social programme.

» More information on FTE Global 2014


3 comments from our readers

  1. Carol Boyce says:

    There is a definite need to address the needs of mobility-challenged passengers. I travelled to Europe with my Dad last summer, and he was having difficulty walking long distances, but was mobile enough for short distances. All he needed was a place to sit down and rest periodically. His airport experience, especially in Frankfurt, was excruciating due to moving sidewalks being out of service, and long, long hallways with nowhere to sit. I understand there are security concerns and they want to keep people moving, but surely there could be a few chairs for such people to rest briefly before continuing their journey through the airport. The only way he could have gotten a ride on a cart would have been if he had taken wheelchair assistance from the gate, which he was not ready to do. Air travel has become a truly painful experience for some people. I hope this is addressed in your review.

  2. Elisha Novak, Ph.D. says:

    Mr. Merchant’s proposal is certainly an interesting one. However, airport terminals and their passenger processing requirements have certain elements and needs that do not allow for too much flexibility. Passenger terminals include a multitude of agencies and a variety of governmental bodies that do not allow for quick or even slow coordination and/or changes. Additionally, passenger terminal facilities need to be sturdy sufficiently to withstand the forces of jet aircraft including noise. At the same time the aviation world’s constant changes of both technology and size of aircraft, requires relatively frequent changes to the structures and their dimensions for passenger facilities. All of which make it a most complex yet rigid environment where innovation may come in a rather slow and very careful manner.

  3. Kiran defines a positive passenger experience as (1) Allowing passengers to interact with the infrastructure around them, (2) Giving an airport a true sense of place, (3) Making the process of getting from check-in to departure gate as simple as possible.
    I’m not a designer, but the airports where I have been around the world just don’t have that “feel” that would allow me to interact with them. The benches are hard, the noise is distracting, and the smells are off-putting.

    “Passengers now like to have more control over their own experience, and to move at a speed that suits their own preferences.” Should I be treated differently if I arrive 30 minutes before my domestic flight than if I arrive 1 hour before?

    “Technological innovations have transformed our social behaviour and the aviation industry needs to adapt to these changes.” That doesn’t mean that we change the airport to mimic everything about our social behaviors. Not all of them are positive.

    Geographer Yi-Fu Tuan has pointed to senses of place that are not inherently “positive,” such as fear. Airports I think have lost their “sense of place” – one that is inviting, where friends see each other off, and families say farewell – as a destination.

    “What if a terminal check-in lobby becomes more like a hotel lobby, a multi-purpose space, where one can transact, interact and relax at their own pace.” The hotel is my destination, my airport is not.

    “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to ad, but when there is nothing left to take away.” But then “perfection is the enemy of the good.” I am a process person, and the process of getting from check-in-to-departure, at least in the countries I’ve visited, are dictated by when I arrive at the airport and how much time till my flight, how much luggage I have, international flight?, with a group, etc. And then the dreaded security – do I have a laptop? And on and on. This is a scenario for some very detailed Value Stream Analysis.

    But I do agree with Kiran that “creating a sense of place, though, because it requires understanding of the history, culture, trade and geographical information to create a holistic vision of the place.” So airport architects, designers, engineers and planners, need to take collaborate and look at who comes and goes or will come and go at the airport they are renovating, expanding or building.

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