After visiting CVG, the next step was to interview users and gather insights about their habits and rituals when visiting the airport. I wanted to know, in what order did they visit locations in the airport terminal? Why? Where do they like to hang out? How early do they try to arrive? Are there any good airport horror stories that could shed some light on what a redesigned passenger hold area would look like? (Also often hilariously entertaining)
The gate area is rarely anyone's favorite place to hang out, but what specifically about it drives people crazy? Could they think of ways they would change the gate experience? After creating a survey of questions to ask passengers, I went out to find more.
There were all kinds of activities that people wanted to pursue in the waiting area. Some said they wanted to curl up with a book or magazine, others wished they had a big swath of space to spread out with their laptop and notebooks to get work done. Others just wanted to sleep or hang out in the dark and watch a movie. Most referenced their optimal airport environment mimicking that of a library, with a cozy atmosphere, general quietness and lots of options for different environments to hang out. Others referenced a cafe vibe complete with communal tables to accommodate people looking for workspace and soft chairs for those looking to snag a quick nap.
A pinch point for many was having to schedule their visits to the bathroom. People often used the restroom right after leaving security to avoid having to use it later, or would use it right before their flight started boarding. This is because once they got up from their seats, they knew they'd likely lose their spots. They also dreaded having to bring all their luggage to the bathroom with them. One person told the story of a single mom traveling who had to transport her three young kids to the gate, and when she ended up at an escalator with no option for an elevator, threw her belongings on the ground and yelled "are you kidding me?!" Being able to hold people's belongings at the gate will make it easier for travelers to move throughout the terminal while they're waiting – whether it's a simple visit to the restroom or a trip to a cafe or restaurant to get food.
Food represented an interesting divide in people's responses. About half said they tried to eat at a restaurant or in a food court where they had access to a table and chair and wouldn't have to eat out of their lap. Others were concerned about time or moving constantly, and wanted to grab food and park themselves at their gate. Most arrived at their gate about an hour before the scheduled departure time.
Respondents also mentioned adding some kind of "style" to the airport waiting area. Some mentioned simple stuff to do such as magazines, an "airport library" or in-gate theater. Others said it'd be great if the gate was more like a park with hammocks, avoiding the "ultra-modern" look. Some suggested the gate area to be as dark as possible. When I asked how they chose where to sit in the gate area, all of the respondents said they often chose the most secluded seat, sometimes in a more distant hold area, away from their gate. Staying far away from kids and loud travelers was a popular theme, and opting for more uncomfortable seating (on the ground) just to stay with their group.
Outlets, of course, led the list of necessary items. We've all huddled near an airport outlet, but some even mentioned difficulty accessing power poles and trying to climb over other travelers to plug in. Outlets are something that need to be inherent in the system's design.
After conducting the interviews, it was clear that the next generation of airport seating needs to address not just the needs of newspaper-holding mad-men like the Eames Tandem was designed to do, but should accommodate all sorts of human activities in a welcoming and comfortable manner. Outlets are a big deal. Some kind of luggage storage would be a big deal. Mellow lighting is a big deal. How can I introduce these elements and ensure that there is still room for passengers in the gate area?