To kick-off my primary research, I reached out to the Cincinnati Northern-Kentucky International Airport (CVG) hoping to learn insights behind their decision making process when it comes to furniture. I wanted to know who was purchasing furniture, why they were choosing the pieces they had, and what they saw potential for improving airport seating.
I was fortunate enough to be connected with Wendi, a senior customer service manager at CVG. She was incredibly helpful and took several hours to discuss my project with me, as well as show me around various parts of the airport to see what solutions for seating they had come up with in the existing gate areas. The airport services about six million passengers each year, and she said she only expects a lifespan of about 3 years from many of their furniture pieces. Some of them were only a year or two old and needed the backs replaced after the fabric started to tear. Durability is a major factor that separates airport furniture from furniture in most other applications. Simply placing furniture intended for office or other commercial spaces is not recommended as it wears quickly.
ADA accessibility is another important issue when designing for the airport. Access to power and data should be located where wheelchair users can easily access it without having to reach around already-seated passengers. Concourse A was refurbished in 2012, and features laptop workstations with handicap accessible work surfaces, as well as Arconas lounge seating with built-in power connections. The goal of the renovation was to create a more locally connected "hometown airport" that passengers would return to because of its high level of service and charm.
While the renovation did create a welcoming and more comfortable environment, the use of hard, more "technical" materials I believe missed the mark on making an almost living-room setting in which passengers could relax. Another strange but interesting point Wendi brought up was how passengers loved to move the furniture throughout the building. Even large couches that were not readily movable (no sliders, no casters) saw themselves hundreds of feet from their intended locations. The Arconas seats mentioned earlier actually come with a jack system to move the chairs – they use sheer mass to prevent them from being moved throughout the building. Wendi advised I needed to make a system that is either only moveable by airport staff or very easily moved by passengers so it is simple to put back.
Another topic we covered was how the purchasing process works with the airport. Often, projects are done in phases and an entire refurbishment or re-specification of a seating area can't be done all at once. In this way, it is important that the system be modular and expandable. It should be able to exist alongside older furniture as a "pop" of something new and fresh and also be able to eventually fill a whole gate area.
With these insights in mind (and many more), I moved on to asking flyers what they love and hate about the airport, and how a new furniture system could help.
Other things covered:
- ASQ score, airport quality and passenger intercept interviews
- Malicious activity and vandalism of furniture
- Eating surfaces
- Public bidding and quazi-government status
- Leisure vs. Business travel
- Low cost carriers and how they use the gate differently
- Armrests and backs needed for elderly and disabled passengers
- Bed bugs and other infestations!
- How does the gate area compete with the club
- Are lockers a security risk?