Proactive Planning is Key to Maintaining Quality Passenger Experience

Major airports across the country are in the middle of a construction boom, with a reported $5.42 billion spent on airport construction in May 2018 – a 75 percent increase over May 2017. A multi-year $14 billion construction plan is underway at LAX and New York’s LaGuardia has started a renovation worth an estimated $8 billion, while Chicago is in the midst of kicking off an $8.7 billion Capital Improvement Program.

As large hub airports invest in infrastructure and additional aircraft gates, airlines are capitalizing on the hot economy and vying for increased market share adding flights in cities that are home to smaller and mid-sized airports.

These airports often receive high rankings in customer satisfaction mainly due to ease of access to the airport and seemingly stress-free passage through security checkpoints.

The ongoing challenge for each airport is how to maximize facility efficiencies as passenger numbers increase while maintaining the convenience that is highly valued. In order to compete for both airlines and travelers, smaller and medium-sized airports must get innovative with their space and budgets to plan for a pleasant passenger experience incorporating future growth. Below are several best practices in efficient space planning:

Simulation Modeling Helps Predict Congestion.

Simulation modeling uses real time predictions for flow and wait times at peak demand times. By planning ahead, airports can better evaluate scenarios and identify best strategies to ease passenger wait times at TSA checkpoints and other areas of expected congestion. While airports have a grasp on peak demand constraints, adding one new flight significantly increases the number of people attempting to get through check-in and security check points simultaneously. By reexamining additional flight scenarios through dynamic modeling, including back-up congestion to ticketing, baggage claim and curbside drop off, airports can make more confident decisions regarding their space and stay ahead of what passengers really care about.

At Phoenix Sky Harbor, the airport simulated passenger flows from the remote rental car facility to multiple terminal destinations identifying the unique flow patterns for international and domestic arrivals and departures.

The simulations provided valuable insight for current and planned operations, identified potential bottlenecks, and enabled the airport to make adjustments to meet targeted level of service goals.

Integrate Intuitive Wayfinding and Flexible Security Checkpoints.

Finding ways to increase both the queuing depth of security checkpoints and additional “flex” checkpoint lanes can go a long way toward decongesting this area and improving TSA’s efficiency. Many airport terminals were designed before new security procedures were instituted and queuing often backs up into the ticket hall, baggage claim, or outside onto the curbside. Both arriving and departing passengers more often than not find themselves navigating through a bottleneck caused by queue management of short run escalators to the security checkpoint with little to no queuing at the top. These facilities could benefit from layout changes that turns the queuing area 90 degrees as travelers come into the terminal keeping passengers indoors and dry. Building out floor space and relocating the escalators to address the separate departing and arriving passenger flows may also simplify queuing and intuitive wayfinding.

When space planning, there are significant benefits having TSA and airport police office space centrally located near the checkpoint. This allows TSA to increase staff in peak demand times and quick police response time in the case of an incident. This may require the relocation of tenants, and it should be balanced with long-term passenger satisfaction. Likewise, the checkpoint should be assessed for widening and lengthening opportunities. Innovative queueing monitoring strategies and information and directional monitors can be incorporated to educate passengers on how to quickly navigate through the screening.

LAX recently added two additional TSA screening lanes in Terminal 5 by undergoing a comprehensive space planning effort to consolidate tenants by user group. It allowed for expansion of the security checkpoint, consolidation of TSA offices adjacent to the checkpoint, and a more efficient usage of the airlines offices and breakrooms. By having the TSA offices nearby, they can adapt to flight delays and other unique circumstances that create unforeseen congestion at the checkpoint and increase staff lanes immediately.

Plan for Innovations. 

Automated lanes, which provide passengers their own counter space to load their items into bins, are another redesign element being added to speed the screening process, lessening wait times up to 25 percent. The automated equipment requires 10- to 20-foot longer space than the conventional roller equipment.

Additionally, CT scanners and biometrics are currently being implemented. Two-hundred and forty CT scanners are set to be purchased by 2019, with 40 scheduled to be operational by the end of the year. These innovative scanners will be tested at airports like OAK, PHL, and SAN and are expected to give the TSA agent ability to review all bag contents more clearly and eliminates the passenger needing to remove their laptop and liquids. The new equipment can weigh up to 4,000 pounds. A structural assessment may be worth considering to stay ahead of this technology.

Customs and Border Protection along with a few airlines already have adopted the biometrics technology. TSA is reviewing the technology, and combined with Pre-Check, is promising to speed up the checkpoint process. These technological innovations bring an increased demand on power and IT security. When updating their security master plans, airports can incorporate electrical and IT load reviews to accommodate current or future biometrics technology needs.

To maintain and enhance the passenger experience, it’s vitally important to stay on top of facility improvements as passenger numbers increase. Despite all of the amenities an airport can offer, passenger wait times are often the largest factor in determining customer satisfaction.

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