The evolution of air travel - five key trends in aviation design

Peter Farmer landscape BW

联系方式 Peter Farmer, Design Director, Aviation
peter.farmer@benoy.com

Following the prolonged uncertainty and economic challenges of COVID-19, the aviation industry has settled into a ‘new normal’. In the post-pandemic aviation landscape, many airports find themselves under pressure to improve commercial performance and provide returns to investors and owners. Some commercial teams have been able to provide year-on-year growth based purely on increased passenger numbers. But in many regions, this has not been possible. Indeed, airports continue to face the challenges of increased online activity and shifting consumer behaviour, as well as the unique barriers to transaction within terminal environments. Here Peter Farmer, Design Director and Aviation lead, discusses our sister company Pragma’s recent Pulse Global Survey results and explains how emerging trends are reshaping our conversations with airports, commercial partners and passengers.

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While recognising regional nuances, our interactions with aviation stakeholders, combined with insights from Pragma’s recent Pulse research looking at spending habits in airports, show a number of recurrent and interconnected themes.

Overall, airports are beginning to understand the need for greater synergy between the look and feel of their terminal common spaces and commercial concessions. This realisation comes as they look to create more innovative and experiential environments that tell a holistic story throughout the passenger journey. Increasingly, operators are embracing the concept that terminal and commercial architecture must work harder to create a destination and sense of place, drawing on lessons from urban design and immersive multi-sensory entertainment.

Interestingly, Pragma’s research shows that some airports in the US that have invested in commercial schemes are initially seeing double-digit improvements. The challenge will be maintaining growth as operators navigate the twin pressures of enhancing passenger experience while meeting investor demands. The following key trends, and the ability of operators to respond positively to them, will likely define success or failure for airports in the years ahead.

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Improving the human experience

Today, the design and delivery of airport environments requires a personalised approach, focusing on passengers at a much finer grain than in the past. It’s no longer viable to design for broad group generalisations, as society demands more tailored and nuanced human experiences. At Benoy, our design process starts with analysis and understanding of the specific needs of end-users within a designated area. This enables us to conceive human-centric design concepts and processes, allowing for the creation of fertile spaces for sustenance, commerce, learning and interaction. Our aim is to create a coherent, unique and holistically sustainable sense of place, aligned to the ‘three Ps’ principle of Purpose, People and Planet.

As well as architecture and interior design, we integrate other storytelling tools such as lighting, sound, biophilia, art and digital installations. But we do this with care, as we recognise the increasing demand for authenticity among passengers and consumers, which requires greater attention to permanence, credibility and coherence. For those airports stepping more purposefully into this design space, the successful creation of statement destinations depends upon meticulously researched propositions that meet the specific needs of customers. This process involves the articulation of brand and values, which need to resonate with the transitory populations that pass through terminal buildings. Virtual relationships, physical design, commercial offers, partners and staff all form a crucial part of this brand experience which, if executed well, can help to engage, delight and even inspire the passengers of today and tomorrow.

Dwell time: are we sitting comfortably?

The Pragma Pulse research highlights some interesting behavioural characteristics which are beginning to influence the design of airport passenger areas. In the UK and US, for example, passengers are increasingly content to sit and relax in airport departure lounges, rather than shop, work or dine. Overall, 39% of respondents said sitting and relaxing was the most important activity prior to boarding, with this figure rising to 46% and 50% for the US and UK respectively.

Leveraging these insights, operators may look to encourage opportunistic transactions by integrating seating within commercial areas. They may also consider passenger preference for more comfortable, imaginative and high-quality seating, perhaps signalling a shift away from the traditional ‘beam seat’ model. Through these material improvements and design differentiators, operators can significantly enhance the pre-boarding experience, increasing dwell time and spend among the more sedentary passenger cohort. At the same time, blending F&B and retail within lounge areas can further encourage pre-flight transaction, creating compelling and multi-dimensional spaces. It’s an approach that will require terminal operations teams to become far more involved in the design process, and to understand the needs of airport commercial areas and their impact on the bottom line.

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Sustainability and authenticity

Pragma Pulse research reveals that passengers are more likely to buy and pay more for a sustainable or authentic product in airport retail and F&B. Key criteria include local goods, ethical provenance, high craftsmanship and low environmental impact. Local food and beverage brands were cited as a motivating factor in airport transactions by 47% of respondents, while 37% expressed a preference for authentic products from the surrounding region.

At the Prague Václav Havel Airport in the Czech Republic, the Future is Local store is tapping into the eco-passenger market. It sells exclusively Czech products that drive social impact and promote community values, while reinforcing its green credentials through biophilic design features. Local brand awareness, storytelling and sustainable retail are also gaining traction in Bangalore’s Kempegowda International Airport, where Anand Sweets makes strong connections to local culture, snacks and confectionary. In fact, according to Pragma’s results, India has the highest proportion of respondents who view authentic and sustainable products as an enhancement to the airport experience.

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The growth of the wellbeing sector

A key trend that’s been accelerated more than others by COVID-19 is the desire for improved wellbeing. In airports, this trend dovetails with sustainability and finds expression in the increased use of natural materials, light, improved air quality and biophilia.

In addition to these environmental enhancements, at Benoy we explore opportunities to promote happiness, calm, vigour and restfulness, looking to make the passenger experience as pleasant and fulfilling as possible. This process involves focusing on the needs and wishes of the individual, providing spaces for reflection and relaxation – even meditation and prayer. And through the clarity of interior design and wayfinding, we enable people to navigate airport terminals with ease. These interventions help to reduce pre-flight anxiety and create an overwhelming sense of reassurance, with a positive knock-on effect for passenger wellbeing.

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Convenience and innovation

In all regions, innovative products and services help to facilitate positive passenger interactions. Such developments are particularly popular in China, which has the highest percentage of Pragma Pulse survey respondents who claim to seek new innovations as part of their pre-or post-flight routine.

One such innovation is the introduction of ‘click & collect’ services within the airport terminal. Today, more and more passengers are adopting this virtual channel, whether as part of their outbound journey or upon arrival. As click & collect facilities become bigger and more prominent, we’re exploring how to integrate them into airport commercial areas. The aim is to provide a holistic and convenient retail experience that drives up impulse purchases, thereby delivering value to passenger and operator alike.

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