On my last holiday, I tumbled down an indoor helter skelter, relaxed in a tropical butterfly garden, swam in a rooftop pool and played my partner on an Xbox – and all of this was just at the airport.
Those who haven’t discovered the delights of Singapore Changi airport may want to find an excuse to fly through this bustling Asian hub, which also manages to woo weary travellers with novel things to do.
To me, Changi is the benchmark for what an international airport should be: an airport you actually want to spend time in. Could this be the ultimate 21st century airport for the consumer in transit – the ‘transumer’?
The thought crosses my mind every time I pass through London Heathrow’s Terminal 3 – more a chaotic factory churning out passengers than an airport to be cherished, with none of the ‘fun’ diversions that many Asian airports offer to break up the monotony of waiting for flights.
Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok airport is a great place to play a round of golf between flights and Kuala Lumpur International offers passengers fresh air in a giant rainforest inside the terminal.
While at Heathrow, the world’s busiest international airport, passengers are left to make do with a hodgepodge of chain cafés, restaurants and shops. Perhaps the exception is BA’s futuristic Terminal, which never fails to impress with its slick mix of bars, restaurants, shops and lounges and striking art installations bringing a bit of glamour back to air travel – all in a space big enough to house 50 football pitches.
Heathrow may be a hive of shops, but I still can’t help likening the shopping experience to walking through Westfields shopping centre in Shepherd’s Bush. Perhaps it’s the promise of “world-class” shopping – and the realisation that I can pick up much of what’s on offer in an equivalent high street store – and probably in the sale.
What I won’t find on the high street are those giant toblerone bars stacked high on shelves at airports spanning London to Sydney. Am I the only one tired of seeing toblerones at every airport I pass through?
Of course some of you reading this may spare little thought for what’s on offer at airports. Heightened security measures have turned terminals into inherently stressful places. We tend to judge an airport more on its security, service and ability to handle delays and cancellations efficiently than on whether it has spa treatments or independent cafés.
If – unlike me- you would rather spend minimal time in the terminal, could that change if more airports found more creative ways to keep us amused, with new, customer-focused amenities?
Sweeteners that might encourage travellers to arrive at the airport earlier could include texting coupons to our mobiles for a discounted meal or spa treatment. Or on a basic level, offering free wi-fi as standard.
Whichever way we look at airports – as glorified bus stations, an inconvenience, or the start of our holiday – airports help form our first and last impression of a destination. And if there was more focus around the customer and differentiation, we’d be more likely to return and spend money: a win-win for all?
Amsterdam Schiphol is a good example of an airport offering something for everyone. Holland’s hub has just opened the first 6D theatre at an airport and is also well-stocked with unique attractions – from flower shops to a library, museum, indoor/outdoor garden and casino. This place even hosts weddings.
Airports have our full attention for several hours, yet many still aren’t capturing our imagination. Airports needn’t be clones of Schiphol, Changi or Hong Kong, but these innovators will no doubt spur those lagging behind.
Many airports are stuck in their ways and lacking in creativity. What’s stopping an airport from offering us ‘optional’ pay-as-you-go services that compliment the airline offering and benefit us? Wouldn’t we be more inclined to pay a small fee for a dedicated airport agent to arrange our onward coach, bus or airline transportation at our destination, than pay for a trolley, for example?
Airports – love them or hate them – represent the start of our journey; a time that brings out all sorts of emotions, from trepidation, to excitement. This behaviour is something airports should look at as a foundation for improving our experience. If we’re going to spend two hours navigating our way around a ‘fortress’, we should have the opportunity to get the best out of our time there.
Until then, I’ll save my holiday money for my next trip via Changi, where I’m hoping for a roller coaster that will propel me to my gate. And who knows, it might actually happen.
What kind of services and amenities would you want to see (or not) at your ‘ideal’ airport? Click here to leave your comments.