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Digitally transforming the air travel experience

Insights gleaned from recent research on the role of digital and service design in the air travel industry.

 

Digitally transforming the air travel experience

April 2019

Whether you’re travelling for business or a well-earned holiday, above all the excitement of reaching our far-flung destination, the airport portion of the journey can fill many of us with dread. Airports and airlines are facing turbulent times - with flight delays, strikes, drones, climate change and cancellations rarely out of the news headlines. The travel industry as a whole has changed rapidly over the last few years - with services like Airbnb, Skyscanner and Uber, today’s connected travellers expect digital innovation, smart-tech and integrated experiences. So how can airports keep up? Here are some things to consider when thinking about redesigning the digital airport experience:

Fast Information

Recently, as I bundled my luggage and fellow travellers into the car to set off for the airport, it suddenly dawned on me I had no idea which car park I was booked into. I grabbed my phone and searched my email: Midstay 1. Great. But the email contained no directions or even a sat nav postcode. A quick Google sent me to the airport website, and a booking page for midstay 1, but again, no directions. Where was this mythical place?

Airport websites need to deliver a lightning-fast, super-responsive experience for all types of traveller, regardless of local network coverage or the device they are using. It should allow busy travellers to find the information they need in a flash, so it is extremely important that the homepage in particular is ultra-fast, simple, clean and stripped of any unnecessary clutter, with quick search, flight information and announcements given top priority. Any secondary information should be accessible in just one click, via an intuitive navigation menu. Text messaging services could also be helpful, especially in areas where internet is patchy, so that travellers can be informed of any important updates to their journey.

The Capital Ring - mapped as part of our engagement with TfL  Go Jauntly walking app .

End to End Ominchannel Experiences

An airport website is part of the traveller’s journey, and has the potential to connect with the traveller before, during and after their trip. The usual airport website formula is to upsell as much as possible, from car parking, airport hotels and car hire, and many websites end up looking visually very similar. But there are many opportunities to drive traffic, engage users and ensure the website is as useful as possible for travellers (as well as ensuring it can help generate revenue of course).

What if an airport website was as exciting as a holiday, with a more unique visual appearance and rich and varied content to offer a smooth experience that truly supports the traveller? Underneath the purely functional purpose of finding out if your flight is on time or booking into the VIP lounge, it could be a go-to resource for a destination, like Tripadvisor, Lonely Planet or Culture Trip, with travel guides and bookable experiences for once you’ve had your passport stamped and you’ve made your way through arrivals - something that could make a long wait in the airport lounge much more enjoyable!

Inspiring content from  airbnb ,  Lonely Planet  and  Culture Trip .

Inspiring content from airbnb, Lonely Planet and Culture Trip.

Breaking down barriers

Solo travel is on the rise as a growing number of holidaymakers opt for trips that allow them to “do what they want”. Around 15% of travellers took a trip on their own in the last year, according to the Association of British Travel Agents… the increasingly widespread availability of Wi-Fi in destinations and use of smartphones and travel apps makes navigating the world alone less daunting. (The Guardian). Could airports do more to take the worry out of travelling alone - with bespoke services such as end-to-end baggage delivery, more proactive updates and better access to information?

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Supporting local economy, being greener

It’s a fact of life that air miles are not green miles, and millennials are a socially and environmentally conscious bunch. They’re happy to pay companies more if they’re local or support a green economy (Forbes).  

I’m always struck by how much seemingly unavoidable waste is created every time I travel. It’s generally the only time I ever purchase a plastic bottle of water, a plastic bag full of miniature travel essentials in plastic bottles and pre-packed sandwiches. Obviously security is an issue here, but there must be more sustainable options. The airport website can make people aware of bottle refill and recycling schemes, or offer earth-conscious products available to click and collect.

Airport websites could also do more to support and promote nearby independent businesses, for example allowing travellers to book into a nearby family run B&B before an early flight, arrange a local taxi service, find nearby restaurants or greener modes of transportation.

They could also open up connections and conversations with the local community through their digital platforms by running schemes and initiatives that support local charities and schools or help local people find employment.

Personalisation

Today’s traveller is a demanding one: they want tailored recommendations, instant gratification and personal service.

Some pain-points I have experienced in various airports is a lack of information when things go wrong, or simply not being able to find vegan-friendly food options - services such as online chat can be beneficial so that customers can seek instant help.

Responsibly using customer data to understand customer habits as well as their preferences has the power to increase the number of customers and the spend, and provide the traveller with a seamless experience (MasterCard). Using data (and always being transparent about doing so) can help save a traveller time, offer them relevant discounts and show them content based on what they are interested in. This could mean showing someone where to pick up allergy-safe food in the airport and beyond, or letting them know the best way to make their onward journey once their flight has landed.

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The way we travel has changed, so it’s time to change how we think about the airport experience. At Furthermore, we’ve already worked on projects with Heathrow airport, and we are passionate about improving customer experiences. If you have an idea you’d like to discuss with us, get in touch.

By Sarah, Design Lead at Furthermore.