Waiting in line is considered by some to be almost as bad as torture, but it’s one of life’s inevitabilities. But, what if there was a way to make airport queues move faster and keep the experience more pleasant for those in line? It all comes down to understanding why queuing is so painful, and doing something about it.
No matter how carefully you have planned your business trip or vacation, from arriving early to check in, to paying that little extra for priority boarding, you can’t do anything about bottlenecks, delayed flights or other hold-ups. Next thing you know, you’re stuck between an irritated business traveller who’s worried about being late for a meeting, and a mother with three tired, cranky children who want to go home. And all you can do is stand there.
The pressure is mounting
Long lines are nothing new, but over the last twenty years, things have grown much more pressurised. With more security checks worldwide following 9/11, growth in passenger and flight numbers each year, and limited space to expand their existing infrastructure, modern airports frequently have to contend with lengthy queues of tired, frustrated people.
Airports need to make sure there’s enough staff at various checkpoints, gauge the flow and number of people through the processes and concessions, preferably in real time, and deal with unforeseen events, like delays or serious weather conditions. Add to that the fact that, as passengers, we simply don’t care — it’s not our fault or problem. All of this puts the pressure on airports to revamp the way things are done and come up with better solutions.
The torture of waiting
As a traveller, there are many frustrations you can experience, even before you get there. Traffic delays could mean you arrive feeling frustrated, and worried about missing your flight. Once there, there are all the queues you have to stand in — first check-in, then security, then the interminable queue for boarding, then the whole process in reverse when you land, with lengthy waits at border control, the baggage carousel and taxi rank.
Most international airports have done what they can to minimise these lines, with self-check-in options, self-service bag drop, comfort-lounges, priority boarding and such, but that doesn’t eliminate the need to stand in line. If everything is running smoothly and at top efficiency, things will move reasonably quickly, but when things go wrong, it’s a recipe for extremely agitated passengers.
Just one delayed or late-arriving flight can cause all planning to go completely out of whack. Suddenly, extra people need to be processed by a limited number of staff. Imagine you are one of the people waiting in an unending line, and only two counters are operating, while six, ten, fifteen counters stand unstaffed and inoperative — this leads to immediate irritation and complaints.
Now imagine you have no idea how long this is going to take, and you’re constantly checking the time to see how long it’s been. Even if the queue is moving reasonably efficiently, not knowing how long things will take can be highly frustrating.
It’s not just you
The simple fact is, waiting in line with little to no information and no clear understanding of what’s going on can make you frustrated, angry and stressed, and it isn’t just you. Everyone in that queue is feeling the same pressure and for very good reasons.
Plenty of research has been conducted on the psychology of lines, and most of that research says pretty much the same thing: most of the frustration people experience is caused by boredom and a lack of accurate information. In the case of boredom, having nothing to occupy your mind can make the wait feel much longer than it is. People have been shown to overestimate the length of time spent in a queue by around 36%, which means that boredom changes the way you perceive time.
As for lack of accurate information, when people don’t know how long they can be expected to wait, their frustration immediately increases. They resort to guessing and hoping things will move quickly enough and are caught in a web of uncertainty.
Add in the growing expectation of speedy service, which people have come to expect in the era of instant news, same-day deliveries, and 24-hour service centres, and now impatience has become just as important a factor. People are becoming less willing to wait quietly and patiently, and tend to complain sooner and more frequently than in recent years.
Fortunately, the research has shown two very interesting conclusions. Firstly, by providing some form of distraction, airports can help reduce boredom. Secondly, by providing accurate, up-to-date wait-time information, they help travellers feel more in control, thanks to clear expectations.
One of the major stumbling blocks to providing accurate wait-time information is how to gather that info accurately. By relying on CCTV cameras and a live monitor to try and accurately gauge where bottlenecks could happen, or where staff are needed to help speed things up, they are working reactively. Bottlenecks are only dealt with once they happen, rather than before they happen. At the same time, they can’t give reliable information about wait times.
New technology, however, is taking the guesswork out of airport operations. All it takes is some strategically placed sensors and the ever-present mobile device.
In contrast to the traditional cameras and human monitors used to gather data, mobile device-detecting sensors allow for real-time, seamless measurement of people flow. When using these methods, management can see, at a glance, where bottlenecks could occur, allowing them to quickly allocate staff to areas where they are needed.
But how does it work? Quite simply, by understanding human behaviour. Mobile devices can be found in possession of just about every single person in an airport, and virtually all will have switched on their phone, or taken it out of flight mode, within moments of landing. It makes the mobile device a truly reliable indicator of how travellers are moving, queuing and using facilities. Don’t worry about your privacy being invaded, though — the system doesn’t identify you via your device; it simply recognises your device’s ID, which contains no personal information.
Best of all, it allows the airport to give you the advantage of clear information, as well as faster, more efficient lines. By displaying real-time wait-time information clearly, these systems have helped reduce numbers of complaints, and even increased positive feedback about the passenger experience.
Adopting the tech
Fortunately for today’s traveller, a SITA survey shows that to date, 42% of airports have invested in queue monitoring technology to give them a clear view of wait times at various pinch points.
In 2015, Terminal 4 at JFK Airport in New York was much like all the other terminals — crowded with passengers, busy 24/7, with the tension and stress of national and international travel hovering in the air like a fog. Keen to improve the situation, they implemented BlipTrack sensors to help travellers get a realistic view of TSA and immigration queue times.
“Nobody likes to wait in lines, and signage helps to manage expectations. Not only does it tell passengers how long they’re going to be standing around, but it also alerts employees about bottlenecks developing, which in turn allows them to react to the situation more quickly,” said Daryl Jameson, vice president at the company JFKIAT, which runs Terminal 4 at JFK.
More or less at the same time, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) turned to the same solution to help reduce frustration and complaints resulting from people’s inaccurate perception of time.
“Much of our interest in the public display of wait times was to dispel perception from reality. As the adage goes, ask five people what their actual wait time was, and you’ll get five different answers. Following deployment, complaints are now rare, as the passenger immediately understands the present situation and adapts,” says Brian Cobb, Vice president of Customer Experience at CVG Airport.
Not only have CVG reduced wait-time complaints, but they’ve also been able to use the collected data to recommend TSA staffing adjustments, resulting in a reduction in processing times by one-third.
Auckland Airport has taken the benefits of the technology a step further, by collaborating with road authorities. Besides wait-time information at pinch-point processes, travellers now also get travel time information on the road to and from the airport.
Several other airports have followed suit, and have almost universally experienced a reduction in queue times, as well as complaints.
The next time you travel by air, take the time to look around and see whether the airport you are in has invested in wait time displays to make your journey smoother, more efficient, and stress-free.
“BlipTrack has proven quite successful. It has enabled CVG to continue our close collaboration with TSA to ensure that the passenger experience is one that enhances the journey experience not detracts from it.”
CEO at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport
“BlipTrack gives us a clear picture of passenger movements, allowing us to provide the best customer service and proactively manage service levels before any issues arise.”
Head of Customer Care at Milano Malpensa Airport
“BlipTrack helps us manage and eliminate potential problem spots within the facility. Sharing the processing time with our travelers provides them with peace of mind, so they may continue to expect a pleasant travel experience.” Read more
Gert-Jan de Graaff
President and CEO of JFKIAT
“BlipTrack provides valuable information that helps everyone manage expectations, especially when lines get long. The solution alerts airport employees about developing bottlenecks which allows them to react to the situation more quickly.” Read more
Vice President at JFKIAT
“BlipTrack enables us to monitor the quality of the terminal processes to improve resource planning, and to perform consistent reporting to internal and external stakeholders.”Read more
Director Passenger Experience at Brussels Airport
“BlipTrack has given us a dynamic and valid tool to document our performance against service level agreements, and also to ensure that the right numbers of staff are in the right place, at the right time, for our passengers.” Read more
ATM Policy and Planning Manager at Manchester Airport
“With the automatic BlipTrack measurings, we now know precisely how many passengers to expect at the passport control at specific hours, and based on that we can reduce tailbacks.”
Kaj Lykke Majlund
Commanding Police Officer at Copenhagen Airport
“BlipTrack provides us with immediate visibility to the customer experience and resource effectiveness with throughput planning. The solution allows us to put the customer at ease at a critical stress point and reinforces our expectations around superior customer experience.” Read more
Chief Innovation Officer at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport
“BlipTrack provides us with valuable insights into passenger processes. The insights are used to continuously improve our performance together with our stakeholders.
Martijn Van Boxtel
Operational Manager Terminal Logistics at Schiphol Group
“BlipTrack has helped us to resource our operations on-the-day and to identify pinch points and potential build ups. The very accurate data has enabled us to provide an optimum passenger experience by displaying accurate queue wait times.”
Technology Projects Manager at Dublin Airport
“BlipTrack provides us with valuable real-time insights about passenger queue time dynamics. It helps our managers to secure low queue times at minimum cost, and also provides our Analysis Department with direct feedback on their forecasting performance.” Read more.
Head of Operational and Business Analysis at Copenhagen Airports
“BlipTrack has allowed us to gain a good understanding of the security check-point dynamics, and most importantly, our customers benefit directly by getting a better service.”
Project Manager Landside Operations at Genève Aéroport
“As the most reliable, and one of the only solutions on the market capable of measuring passenger flow through multiple stages of the journey, it provides us with continuous, airport-wide visibility 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Guðmundur Karl Gautason
Manager - Operation research at Isavia
“BlipTrack has greatly helped improve the customer experience by providing us with the ability to schedule taxis to be available when needed.”
David J. Boenitz
Director of Ground Transportation at San Diego International Airport.
“We are able to keep our passenger fully informed 24/7 about what to expect at security. Our aim is to make the experience as smooth as possible – BlipTrack help us do that.”
Chief Operating Officer at Edinburgh Airport
“We had very high expectations prior to the introduction of the system, and I am very happy to say that the outcome has proved very successful. The system has capabilities of further enhancements which will provide other long-term solutions in the future.”
Operations Director at Bristol Airport
“Vital to our Master Plan programme is a deep understanding of airport capacity, bottlenecks and constraints, and BlipTrack is key to this.”
Head of Capacity & Performance at Birmingham International Airport
“We value the long-term cooperation and their professional approach in providing us with technology and data to ensure efficient operations and passenger satisfaction.”
Lars Erik Flatner
Head of ICT Portfolio at Avinor.
”BlipTrack helps us identify how passengers move through and use the airport, from the time they park, when they leave, and everywhere in between. It enables us to look for patterns through the day/week, to see the impact of the various actions we implement, to reduce bottlenecks and wait time for our passengers.”
CEO at Billund Airport.
“BlipTrack has allowed us, together with our airport partners and stakeholders, to better manage operations, as well as improve the passenger experience by communicating expected wait times to passengers at processing points.”
Operations Technology Asset Manager at Auckland International Airport
“With BlipTrack we have coverage at our fingertips 24 hours a day, seven days a week, enabling us to use service level agreements more fairly—not just over selected periods. This rapid information allows us to take fast, proactive measures before the situation escalates.”
Head of Operations Support at Bristol Airport
“BlipTrack helps ensure that passengers experience a quick and easy passage through this stage of the journey, and significantly increase the opportunity for a positive experience throughout the airport.”
Airport Director at Bergen Airport
“BlipTrack was our first “innovative” push for our organization. This has subsequently paid off in operational efficiency, customer goodwill, effective supporting deployment strategies, positive organizational momentum as well as positive global press and organizational credibility.”
Chief Innovation Officer at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport
“With BlipTrack, we can proactively manage passenger flow, and respond promptly and efficiently to irregular operations and disruptions.”
General Manager of Commercial and Customer Experience, Queenstown Airport