A Vision for the Next Generation of Passenger Needs

May 20, 2019
Technology and the physical environment inside your terminal can improve the passenger experience at the gate hold and beyond.

With the massive passenger growth at Boston Logan International Airport in recent years, local leaders knew they needed to improve the passenger experience environment across the facility. 

Paul McGinn, president of Marketplace Development said the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) selected the company a couple of years ago to redevelop and run the concessions program at Boston Logan International Airport. The primary objective was to improve the passenger experience by updating the overall concessions program.

“We’ve had the objective of making it as localized as possible, so that passengers have the opportunity to have a regional Boston/New England experience,” McGinn said. “Then we’re also working to make sure all of the contemporary features of the concession program are introduced as well so the experience a passenger has while going through Boston Logan is on par or better than any experience they will have at any other airport around the world.”

McGinn said the company worked in partnership with the airport and airlines to optimize the space available inside the terminal.

“Logan has had tremendous growth, it’s constantly in a state of change, so there was a need to increase the capacity of the concessions,” he said. “There continues to be the need to work with Massport and the airlines in ways of deploying concessions in a way that integrates well with other capital projects that are underway.

Ed Freni, director of aviation for Massport, said the airport needed to make improvements to Logan while working through limited space.

“We’re a very busy airport in a very small footprint,” he said. “When you’re handling 40 million plus passengers at a rate of 2.5 million per year increase the last five years, with that confined area you need to use every single square foot of space and optimize it.”  

Terminal B at Boston Logan is undergoing an update and McGinn said it worked with Massport and American Airlines to redo the security checkpoint area to introduce a new collection of concessions to serve passengers. He said the change has dramatically improved the level of service there.

“There are a number of places in the airport where we’re doing the exact same thing,” he said.

Many passengers have a preference to access food or retail options reasonably close to their gate hold area, McGinn said, so the company worked with the airlines to address sightlines and locations to make sure passengers can see their concession from the gate hold area.

A Vino Volo location opened at the end of the west pier in Terminal B, McGinn said, which is essentially just an extension of the hold room.  Marketplace development also introduced common seating areas in the terminals to allow passengers to feel like they’re in the gate hold area.

Comfortable seating and outlets were also integrated into the common areas to make it comfortable to not only eat, but also do work.

“We really work closely to take down some of the barriers that have been there in the past visually” he said. “We’ve done things like have the seating areas of the restaurants blur the line between where the concession is and where the hold room starts to make it a much more integrated experience.”

McGinn said Marketplace Development does a lot of survey work with the traveling public to get input on their needs and then integrating them into the plan to meet the needs of the airport, airlines and the concession tenants.

“We’re in the process of building about 70 locations at Logan this year,” he said. “While we’re doing that, we’re also deeply involved in planning other parts of the airport that are in the beginning part of undergoing substantial change.”  

Freni said lounge-style chairs have been added to the terminal along with rocking chairs where travelers can watch airfield operations. The addition of self-tinting glass adds to a more comfortable experience as well.

High-speed Wi-Fi was also added to the terminal along with lactation suites to accommodate traveling mothers.

Since implementing improvements, Freni said Logan has seen improvements in both its ASQ and JD Powers score.   

“We were always known for being down at the bottom, but we had a jump of about 41 points at one period,” he said. “JD Power a number of times has really highlighted our improvements.”

Dallas sees big love for Wi-Fi

Dallas Love Field was awarded the 2018 Airport Service Quality Award for North America by Airports Council International.

Chris Perry, communications manager for Dallas Love Field, said the airport finished third for the award in 2017 and 2016. The airport looked into its customer feedback to see what kept them from getting the top score.

“What kept bringing our score down was we were one of the last airports to get on the free wi-fi train,” he said. “You had it for about 30 minutes, but if you were delayed or you really needed to sit down and do some work, it didn’t work very well.”

Love Field partnered with Boingo Wireless and launched free unlimited Wi-Fi in June 2018. Travelers are given the option of purchasing faster speeds if they wish. Since the launch, Perry said there have been zero complaints.

“It was a simple fix, but it was something that our customers have been asking for for a long time,” he said. “It was kind of vindication of everything else that we’ve been doing because it showed that our customers really liked the improvements we made in the terminal in 2014 when we reopened the new terminal after the expiration of the Wright Amendment.”

Love Field can only have 20 gates under stipulation of the lifting of the Wright Amendment, but is still one of the 50 largest airports in terms of commercial traffic in the U.S. Perry said the airport is opening additional concessions within the year to give passengers more space to wait for a flight without crowding the gates.

Given the small size of the Love Field terminal, it allows passengers to be within a five minute walk of their gate no matter where they are.

“We’re always looking for those little ways that we can continue improving,” he said. 

Love Field is also utilizing new wayfinding technology to ease gate crowding as well. Cooper said the airport is working with Southwest Airlines to update digital signage and wayfinding throughout the terminal. The signage informs passengers about boarding and how full their flight is.

“It gives the terminal a fresher look,” he said. “And when you’re walking around the terminal, you can see you’re about a two minute walk from the nearest Starbucks, your flight is going to be 80 percent full today, so stretch out a little bit now.”         

Eagle County Soars into new era

Eagle County Regional Airport is in the process of completing a $35 million renovation to its terminal, where it will upgrade passenger amenities and add about 25,000 square feet of space to the building.

Jodi Doney, terminal operations manager for the Eagle County Regional Airport, said the old facility was more than 20 years old and due to increased traffic, officials needed to expand the facility to accommodate not only current needs, but future growth.

“We’re really seeing larger aircraft, more frequency and our terminal was 20 years old and wasn’t able to handle the capacity” she said.

The project also includes the installation of four JBT boarding bridges in the terminal and two ground loading gates. It’s the first time the airport has had boarding bridges and it has also moved away from proprietary gates.

“We’re an all-weather city. We get all the seasons and all the unique weather that comes with that,” Doney said. “For passengers, the experience of slushing through the snow can be exciting, but for the most part, I think they prefer to be on a jet bridge.”

Doney said the airport also lacked a proper amount of seating. She said the airport worked with Gensler to determine the proper amount of space to seat ratio in the terminal to get the right combination of seating, benches and standing desks at the gate areas.

“We did incorporate quite a bit of power and that’s something we don’t have today,” she said. “We’ll have power seating, we’ll have some desk units that have power and that was a big upgrade to the terminal.”    

Doney said the airport has some limitations with adding power overall to the facility, but they didn’t need to add additional infrastructure to pull more power to the terminal.

Eagle County also added its own design to bring Colorado flair to the terminal. Doney said they plan to add art to the terminal and the design has a modern western look. 

The public address system is also old and being addressed with the updates to improve announcement quality for the passengers.

Eagle County Airport also faced limited connectivity issues with its Wi-Fi. Doney said the airport’s IT department worked to build up infrastructure needs within the terminal to improve the service. 

“We really didn’t have the capacity for Wi-Fi in the old facility,” she said. “We didn’t have enough units and for the demand we had we just weren’t hitting the mark.”

Make concessions count

Doney said the focal point of the new terminal will be the concessions area. They’ve added more seating and a custom designed fireplace.

“It’s very welcoming and I think our customers are really going to enjoy it,” she said. “It’s a big upgrade from what we have provided in the past.”

The advent of mobile technology has also opened a new avenue for building a better passenger experience and increasing revenues.

PJ Mastracchio, founder and CEO of AtYourGate, which allows anyone inside an airport to order food and retail items via an app on their mobile phone and have it delivered to their gate,  said more than 25,000 deliveries have taken place with it in just the last couple of years.

While the traditional “gate huggers” can sit at their gate and order food without having to leave the area, it also allows more accessibility to options travelers might want to buy.  At Newark Liberty International Airport, Mastracchio said the top selling brand is Jersey Mike’s Subs, which is located in Terminal A. However, about 95 percent of the orders got to Terminals B and C.

“The reason being either these folks don’t know there’s a Jersey Mike’s there, or they know it’s there and they want it, but they’re not going to go back two terminals just to pick up a sandwich,” he said. “It gives them more choice and it gives them a little bit more control over the situation.”

Mastracchio said the technology also allows airports to solve issues when delays arise by giving passengers more options. He said at San Diego International Airport JetBlue will contact AtYourGate when there’s a delayed flight, so someone is dispatched to the area and the gate agent informs people to download the app to order food in case they’re hungry.

“Usually eight to 10 people order first, then we board the plane, you ring your call button and I bring you pad thai,” Mastracchio said. “[W]e’ve served almost 40 people on a 148 seat plane.”

The technology is also leading to more sales. Mastracchio said the Panda Express location at San Diego alone saw more than a 6 percent increase in sales. 

At Your Gate has since expanded into John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia International Airport, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and Portland International Airport.

The concept is also viable at smaller airports. Mastracchio said the app first launched in Terminal 7 at JFK, which sees about 2.5 million passengers per year. The numbers are trending higher in the terminal than at other locations where it was implemented across the entire airport.

“You don’t need to staff a ton of people there,” he said. “This is a labor heavy business but with one person you can handle six to 10 orders per hour.”      

“As we’re bringing on new airports, their trend is above where San Diego was when we first launched there last year,” he said. “We’re getting better at this and there’s multiplicity in our routes. We’re planfully launching these routes and what we’re seeing is promo codes that were handed out in San Diego by a brand ambassador there being redeemed in Newark.”

SFO brings the lounge feel to the gate

Carsten Voecker, a director of Woods Bagot North America, who was one of the design team executives for the Harvey Milk Terminal, said the airport with focused design vision exercises and and by engaging with all the stakeholders and consultants to develop the big idea, understand the right mix of retail, food and beverage, and hold room space.

“It was really about revolutionizing the guest experience and maybe even bringing back the romance of travel into the terminal environment,” he said.

Voecker said the first nine gates of the new terminal will open in July 2019, and airlines will be moved to the new gates so the rest of the original building can be demolished, necessary for the phased construction and to be able to open another 17 gates by March. The facility will be able to receive two A380s with the new gates.

“It really creates an interesting mix within the terminal,” Voecker said. “You have two A380s with passengers being held and received, preparing for international long haul travel, including duty free and other retail offerings, while in the other parts of the terminal you have a Southwest beehive with quick turnarounds and maximum efficiency of a fast moving passenger population.” 

Voecker said SFO officials went at the project looking at a base building and focusing on the right mix of environmental qualities, sustainability, materiality and customer focus on the interior of the facility.

“You focus on daylighting and artificial lighting designs, anticipating people’s behaviors and designing together with SFO’s Stakeholders towards improvements of the passenger experience. Important to the team was also to develop a sense of place, making people feel that they have arrived in the Bay Area. and you focus a lot on the restroom designs, which are generous and comfortable” he said. “The materiality rivals five-star hotel environments.”

Kristen Allen, project manager for San Francisco International Airport, said project leaders looked at best practices both internally and externally to determine what kinds of updates would enhance the passenger experience. This included looking at ASQ scores.

“We had a graphic that someone put together back in the beginning on hi-tech vs. hi-touch passengers and being able to bridge that whole spectrum of folks who don’t want to talk to anybody and what to do everything on their phone to the people who want that human interaction and trying to find that balance to have those offerings for that whole spectrum of guests," she said. One of the things we focused on early on in our programming and design vision.”

The airport put a strong local focus on its concessions program in the new terminal, Voecker said. Using local restaurateurs build a strong sense of place within the terminal. 

Franco Marinaro, design manager for WSP USA, said the new terminal also includes a wayfinding system for travelers so they can find concessions and retail options near their gate.

“No one is really 50 to 80 feet away from one of these dashboards,” he said. 

Voecker said designers focused on continuing SFO’s approach to re-imaging what a hold room can be, by taking away the traditional layout and instead creating gate lounges. Comfortable lounge chairs are placed next to the main thoroughfare in the terminal next to smaller groupings of chairs with a table and high top work tables are also placed within the area.

“The goal was not to have a sea of rowed seating, but to give a selection of choices to people,” Marinaro said. “You have different types of travelers with different needs at different times where they will be in the airport waiting for a flight.”

You can still add additional seating to the center of the hold room, but the area is framed with the sense of hospitality.

“The traditional hold room layout with its standard seating is not actually the most efficient way of seating people at the gate,” Voecker said. “People are just not comfortable in cramming themselves within these groups of four all lined up against one another.”

As part of SFO’s and the Design Team’s drive to make the Harvey Milk Terminal “Net Zero Ready” for a future date, the new terminal will also utilize electrochromic glass, which Voecker said will be used to improve the customer experience near the windows of the hold rooms by making it more comfortable for travelers waiting to sit near the windows without obstructing the view.

Marinaro said the dynamic glass not only provides energy savings and customer service aspects.

“By having this type of glazing, you make hold rooms more comfortable,” he said. “You don’t have people who are moving away to the edge of the hold room and afraid to sit in certain areas because they can’t see.”

Voecker said designers also integrated the mixed modal seating in the concessions areas near the hold rooms into the total count of available seating.

“We’re confident that people will make use of that little bit more of intermingling of the opportunities to sit and wait for their flight to start boarding,” he said.

About the Author

Joe Petrie | Editor & Chief

Joe Petrie is the Editorial Director for the Endeavor Aviation Group.

Joe has spent the past 15 years writing about the most cutting-edge topics related to transportation and policy in a variety of sectors with an emphasis on transportation issues for the past 10 years.

Contact: Joe Petrie

Editor & Chief | Airport Business

[email protected]


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