Airport floor plans historically have been highly compartmentalized, with passengers passing through a series of zones where they often end up playing a game of hurry up and wait. Ticketing and baggage check lead to security. Depending on the time remaining before their flight, passengers may linger in dining and shopping venues on the way to the holding area by their departure gate. An airline’s aim is to get them to a seat near the gate so they can be close by and ready to board when the time arrives.
The practical result is bottlenecks and congestion as one flight disembarks and another prepares to board. The holding area then empties as arriving passengers make a beeline for connecting flights or the baggage claim area, while the next passenger cohort is often standing by, eager to fill the void.
The question is, how might airlines reduce overcrowding and balance passenger flow without delaying departures or creating undue passenger anxiety? Here are a few ideas worth considering:
TICKETING AND HEADHOUSE
With more passengers checking in for flights on their phones, the need for terminal check-in spaces is changing. Already self-serve check-in and baggage kiosks are taking the place of traditional ticket counters. Some airlines are going a step further by removing both ticket counters and kiosks, and instead deploying mobile customer service agents.
Equipped with hand-held devices, these agents are trained to be proactive, approaching passengers as they enter the terminal area or responding to requests for bag tags or boarding passes. Passengers who are not checking luggage already bypass these areas and head straight to security.
Recognizing that the headhouse is now functioning as a baggage tagging and drop-off area, some airlines are considering other alternatives. For example, curbside baggage check — dramatically curtailed at the onset of the pandemic — may make a comeback, enabling passengers dropped off at the airport to check their bags before entering the building. Airlines may also consider ways to accept luggage before passengers leave the parking garage or airport rail station, further reducing terminal congestion and providing greater passenger convenience.
The flexibility of this approach can be especially helpful to airlines that wish to open routes in cities they do not currently serve. Rather than opening a new ticketing area, they could introduce portable check-in options similar to pop-up restaurants or retail kiosks, either inside or outside the terminal doors.
BAGGAGE CLAIM AREAS
Airlines lease office space in the baggage claim areas where passengers have traditionally reported lost luggage. These spaces may be reduced or repurposed if mobile customer service agents are stationed in the baggage claim area to address lost luggage questions on the spot.
Luggage tracking itself can become a self-serve aspect if tagged bags are paired with scanning technology that allows passengers to track the location and report missing items through an airline app. Not only will they know ahead of time if their luggage didn’t make a flight, but they can also receive alerts that let them know when it arrives at the baggage carousel.
Airlines can also allow passengers to scan their boarding pass upon arriving in the baggage claim area and then dispatch bags using a time-based first-in, first-out approach. This would replace the traditional approach of unloading the entire aircraft and dropping priority bags first, followed by all other checked bags, minimizing the wait time and quantity of people flowing through one space.