Things to do, Transportation, Travel Tips

How do you spot the most amazing airports? A first-timers’ guide

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There’s always been more than a fine line between the good and the exceptional, and although the differences are somehow obvious, it’s vital to always be careful to the (apparently) small things, it’s where the devil lies. This whole theory applies for airports as well, if not especially for them. If you haven’t had the occasion to stopover for more than two hours between flights, maybe it’s time to take some other things into consideration than the price and class of the ticket whenever booking a flight. This calls for a little research during the planning stage of your trip, and knowing the basic criteria would only narrow it down. While some places only get the recipe just as right as to please any customer, others fail to address the people’s most basic needs, although they all provide the same category of service.

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Planning ahead

Some service providers have always managed to best identify the future tendencies, to anticipate the customer’s needs on the long run. And while you may think that understanding a direction and planning it from 10 years ahead may be something pretty difficult to quantify, the only thing that matters is the passenger experience – everything has to be adapted to the current needs in order to attract people, from storage spaces for the luggage to enough seats or even enough shops and trash cans.

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The basics

Always relevant for the entire customer experience. Sometimes the friendly staff may assure you that you’re going to be okay even if it’s your first air traveling experience and you’re terrified; the bottom of the service pyramid tells a lot about the entire airport policy – spotless terminal and washrooms say ‘we care’, as do the very comfortable gate areas, or a simple way-finding.

Constant thinking on the passenger’s most simple needs is what makes the difference, in this case, between good and exceptional. And whenever you’ll find it hard to understand what exactly this ‘basic experience’ refers to, whenever someone tells you about their travel stories, there’s a number of things that every passenger lives while in an airport. And however nice are the rest of them, these simply are the most relevant. And chances are that if these basic things are done properly all the others will follow the same way. So be careful to the basics!

Part of the journey

Understanding that getting through an airport is just part of the entire journey. The best airports put all this waiting in context, so that – at the end of the day – the satisfaction level of the travelers won’t only refer to them and their services, but rather to the entire journey as a whole. It’s important for them to keep the purpose of your being there in mind. It’s easy to quantify this as well – it’s vital for the entire experience to be positive, and not just some touch points. For instance, having an intuitive way of doing things would help a lot for the entire range of consumers, not just the older ones – as some may think.


This kind of special atmosphere we’re thinking of is specially designed to make you spend as much time in the airport, so that you won’t see it as downtime, but as relevant as visiting a culturally important museum. Just to have a standard of this, Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris signed a temporary contract with IKEA, who made a special lounge. While for the company this was a great idea of a unique marketing campaign, the airport gained popularity and significantly increased the customer experience.


People weren’t just waiting on a dull, immense hall for another flight, but actually spending a great time while admiring (and testing!) comfortable, fancy furniture. During this period, the departing passengers even had the possibility to take a nap on a king-size bed before their flight – when you’ve got this kinds of experiences, it’s really a shame that there’s no flight delay and you have to leave eventually.


Taking care of the stress

Strongly connected to the previous point, keeping the stress level as low as possible is highly important for the entire passenger satisfaction. The best way to understand this is by asking yourself if you’ve noticed the processes you’ve been through, in particular. A great service in an airport means you won’t even consciously notice the processes, and your entire energy will be redirected to other, more important things. This is when you know you had to deal with someone who keeps your interests as high as laws.

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Moreover, the best thing isn’t even getting out as fast and efficiently as possible, but actually enjoying the entire time you’re spending during the processes in cause.

For instance, involving the stakeholders is one of the things that also screams ‘respect’ from miles away. Not everything depends exclusively on the airport, and making sure you’re making this clear for all the other third parties there are can only increase the entire user experience. The tricky thing about the satisfaction level is that it’s almost never exclusively related to the airport per se. So a good relationship with the airline companies, for instance, will increase the whole satisfaction level for the passenger who doesn’t even get to know all the efforts behind his smoothly spent time.

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The staff can go crazy and creative on this one. For instance, given that the first and last experience of a holiday will be happening in airports for most of us, a strong, bold sense of place to remind us where we are is always something nice to do. Of course, careful to overcrowding and distracting. Other than this, airport cities should make something touristic from their airports – which often are like calling-cards.

Air-side retails and easily understandable infrastructure often help the tourists relax, perhaps even come earlier and browse through the offers, just to make it pleasant and memorable. Here are some examples of places who thought of people (instead of the contrary):

•              Heathrow Airport placed temporary terminals in addition to the usual ones, on the occasion of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012, especially for the athletes and extra number of visitors that was expected. Flexibility is the key to success, making sure that everyone’s having a good time and you’re able to provide it properly is one of the most basic textbook services of an amazing airport.

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•              Melbourne Airport understood that there’s a huge problem of the overall flexibility of an airport and that is specifically the product differentiation in practice. Making the experience as pleasant for the low cost carriers would be something impossible on single-level building which generally are inflexible by nature. So Hassell thought of a project to integrate the accommodating low-cost carriers on premium operator integration.

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Of course, while this kind of project significantly changes the entire experience of the passenger, it’s true that on the other hand there are lost of things to think about: sustainable design strategies, compatible energy efficient equipment, all the services optimized by call-to-gate protocol for the retail revenues, security processing the departure lounges etc. While in theory this is something rather difficult and expensive to invest in, the truth is that it’s actually affordable compared to losing customers because of the marketing range differentiation. Low cost passengers do pay little for their travels, but they also tend to fly more frequently, so their satisfaction level should be as important if not because of the airport popularity, at least for marketing and financial purposes.

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Walk in their shoes

The passengers clearly have some unique, fractional experience, limited to their interest and context. On the other hand, the stuff should never get used to things the way they are, but rather constantly try and imagine the experience from the point of view of the customer. The key here is understanding that doing what’s best for the passenger instead of what’s best for the airport is, funnily, the best for the airport. Keeping advertising and minor commercial interest apart from the main things that the customer must keep in mind is what, at the end of the day, guarantees satisfaction. Overcrowding, rigged out places can only interfere between the traveler and his flight. Keeping it simple and casual is what makes a great airport.

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Sign-age, for instance, is what very often distracts the passengers from their routes and interests, and makes the entire experience nonfunctional and sinuous; the most important concern for every airport would be helping the passenger to get to his flight as fast and smooth as possible, without dumbfounding anyone.

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Eco-conscious airports also begin to have a more important role in the passengers’ preferences. Because airports have always been perceived as having a huge negative impact on the environment, working on this issue doesn’t only show responsibility, but care for the worldwide situation of travelers, as well, regardless of their nationality. At the end of the day, this is how a community should feel: united by interests and by care for the same problems. A central energy plant could help reduce carbon emissions by providing green ground power, instead of adding up to the current issues of pollution.

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Whenever you decide to travel by plane, you should know that making a deliberate effort shouldn’t be something the airports do roughly to impress the passengers, but to literally improve their overall experience along with the technology.

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