The Airport Experience in a post Covid-19 World

For many Australians, air travel is an essential part of our life – whether to see family, an interstate commute for work or the holiday of a lifetime. The absence of a viable intercity rail system coupled with the sheer size of Australia, has meant that air travel has become embedded within our national identity; two of the busiest air routes in the world are found in Australia, with each Australian flying 2.9 times per year as compared to 2.4 flights per year for the average American citizen.

Despite the relative familiarity with air travel, many passengers still consider flying to be a stressful experience. Previous fears regarding the abstract threat of terrorism have now been replaced by a much more tangible threat to personal health and safety, Covid-19.

The return of our airports to something approaching ‘normal’, means operations must consider the nature of passenger experience and the levels of anxiety that can be expected under these new pandemic conditions. Beyond considering the scheduling impact of travel restrictions, airports must also now examine how to create an essentially contactless passenger experience when air travel recommences in earnest.

In a world that is quickly becoming familiar with an ever changing ‘norm’ and behavioural requirements, such as the need to register personal details when visiting a café, or making an hour long booking to have a pint at your local pub; it is clear technology will play a central role in supporting a contactless airport process. Working alongside Cubic Transport Systems and Go Ahead Group, Maynard’s recent study into ‘Gateless Gatelines’ demonstrated via live trials that facial recognition devices can increase gateline capacity by as much as 50%.

The moving of processes online and the introduction of greater efficiencies through technology, presents an opportunity to reinvent the airport experience. Quite literally, we need to be thinking outside the box - many of the airport processes that were historically considered as pain points in the passenger experience could be reinvented to take place outside of the physical terminal.

By decentralising processes such as check-in, bag drop, security and baggage claim; additional space could be made available to allow for better social distancing within the terminal. This adjusted format would allow for the creation of airport hubs within our cities, allowing the hub to deliver not only existing processes, but also incorporate new health screening and processing measures, as well as allowing greater integration with the city’s transport network.

As we emerge from lockdown, there is a shared expectation that the world will be different for some time to come. Citizens and governments have willingly adopted systematic change to the way we live, work and move; in ways we could not have imagined and with very little advance planning.

Perhaps what we have really learned from this experience is that the status quo is not so immutable; that we can now contemplate bolder, systemic change in the ways we live, work and move for the years to come.

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