5 proven theme park ways that’ll take the pain out of queuing at airports

How to improve queueing

With Covid related health measures still necessary and passenger traffic kicking back into gear, the airport operation is put under a lot of stress. Implementing one new regulation, such as a vaccine-passport check, for security will throw a spanner in the works.

According to a recent IATA model, the otherwise smooth passenger flow will experience a drastic increase in waiting times. To accommodate safe but also pleasant travel for this hopefully short-term hiccup, airports and their passengers would benefit from proven ways to make queuing a more enjoyable experience.

When it comes to queuing, airports can learn lots from theme parks.

Theme parks are long time proven experts in managing queues in an innovative and enjoyable manner. They have learned a long time ago that the biggest source of frustration when standing in a queue is inactivity.
From the perspective of people waiting in line, they’re simply wasting their time. And the longer people have to wait, the stronger this feeling.

Obviously, for theme parks, venues that are all about fun experiences after all, queuing has always been a primary concern to tackle. So many of the world’s theme parks have come up with solutions that take the pain out of queuing.

Of course, some measures consist of technological crowd control and queue management systems, that work well for theme parks but would not be easy to apply to airports.

However, there are quite a few theme park ways of improving the queuing experience that are surprisingly simple to implement at airports. Here are 5 tips from that would immediately improve the airport queuing experience in a Covid riddled world of travel.

1. Be clear and reduce stress

Show at the beginning of the queue which lines are open and for what. Theme Park queues are often long, but there is almost never a doubt on what you are in line for – and how long it will take.

For airports it is even more important to focus on this step than theme parks, because of the flexibility of line layouts in airports. They often are directed to different counters to deal with the flow of the moment and that creates problems of its own.

In general, at the end of the ‘harmonica funnel’ at airport check-in, there is an airline attendant monitoring counters freeing up and directing passengers to them. That is not always easy to do as there can be up to 10 counters open, forming a broad front to keep an eye on. That’s why you’ll often see a far off counter temporarily without any passengers in front of it.

It can’t be that hard to have the electronic sign above every counter change from red (occupied) to green (free), for instance. A large, visible sign, universally known and easy to spot for anybody. It will prevent unnecessary delay and irritation and as it is also seen by the waiting passengers further back, it will show them the process is moving well.

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At busy times you’ll see some counters left unnoticed too long. Make the most of every free check-in counter. Red and green signage will make them easier to spot by airport attendants and passengers, keeping the flow going.

2. Make people forget the queue.

Lines at an airport a typically process driven. In other words, as fast as possible. The airport and the passengers have a common goal: the sooner they get to enjoy all the facilities the airport and travel retail has to offer, the nicer it is. An airport may not be a theme park, but it still is a place where you’re away from the daily grind.

Now, at theme parks the queue is designed as part of the experience. The closer to the ride the more prominent the story of the ride is expressed through landscaping, design, digital signing in the queue.

On peak times these waiting experiences are boosted with entertainment for the guests with performance and presence of actors. Although superheroes and immersive worlds are a stretch for an enjoyable airport queuing experience, some other experience enhancers can greatly improve the queuing experience.

Have a local street artist perform as surprise in the queue. Find a clown to make the little ones happy. Enhance the experience with an online auditioning contest. Include some of the staff working in the waiting area as audition judges, so that they also can keep working with pleasure.

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Think about giving local artists the chance to entertain your airport queues. Maybe you’ll be the airport to discover a new Ed Sheeran, who started out as a busker.

Entertainment from local artists would also connect your airport to the local community and vice versa. Make it their first professional gig. And perhaps your airport will be the discovery ground for the next Sheryl Crow, Tracy Chapman, Ed Sheeran, Rod Stewart, or BB King, who all have started their careers as street artist.

3. Show the fun is about to start

Give a clear signal that the waiting is (almost) over. It will not just bring a high of relief to see the end of the line so near, passengers can also start focusing on the next step. Give them a feel that they are really about to enter the joy of all the shops, services and amenities the airport has to offer.

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At theme parks the fun starts immediately after the queue, big, loud and obvious. The lack at airports of a direct attraction or positive closing at the end of the queue leaves passengers in a mindset of “on to the next hurdle” They are still in the queuing mode whereas from that moment on the relaxed part of the airport experience should begin.

Actively signalling that: “from now on it is happy time” can considerably influence the mood of passengers and steer them not just physically but also mentally towards the shops and amenities.

Creating a clear boundary with a different atmosphere will change their mindset and open people up to new experiences and welcoming surroundings.

No need to re-engineer the entire airport; first see what lighting and banners can do to create an archway. Making that “gateway to a new experience” visible from the queue can (of course only partially) create a sense of focus, reward, and value.

4. Short cuts on offer

Feel like a super star and skip the line? No problem. It is hard to find a theme park in the world that does not have its queuing experience adapted by either handing out or selling timeslots for people to queue without standing in line.

Setting up a whole virtual system to deal with the hopefully temporary covid extended queues, might not be the best spending of budget. A more low-tech solution might just help flatten the peaks and create a better flow: handing out tickets that will provide admission to fast lanes or well specified timeslots.

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Buying your way to the front of the line is already possible in theme parks and airports alike with special memberships and fast passes. Disney has Partnerships with hotels that can help with the early distribution and planning of the waiting.

But also, on site “virtual” – not standing in line, but waiting somewhere else – queuing, can make waiting more enjoyable for passengers. Being able to sit down for a cup of coffee, do some work or enjoy a meal, will turn waiting time into quality time.

Devising a system like this will also be favourable for the airports commercial partners, who will profit from extra customers – and more relaxed ones at that.

5. Bring airside amenities to the queue

With models predicting that time spent in queues could stretch to as much as 8 hours, it is clear that standing in line is unavoidable. That is not only dramatic news for the passengers themselves but is also a blow to airport retailers.

Getting through to the airport’s shops and amenities with hardly any time to spare before boarding, is as stressful for passengers as it is damaging for the airport’s business.

No more time to buy that present on the go, the tax-free whisky’s or the new sunglasses they had in mind – how annoying is that as a customer experience. It may even lead to passengers not to count too much on being able to do airport shopping in the future.

Preparation for what is coming at the passport/ security check is already done frequently with digital signing and personal instructions. Still, it might also be helpful to extend the airport service level right to the queues.

Bring airside amenities to the queue. After more than an hour waiting, some fresh beverages will be a welcome treat. Treat people to a small bottle of water. Sell them small snacks by walking vendors.
Better still: make special offers available on the airport app for anyone who’s waiting in a queue longer than 1 hour for instance. A First & Fast Served booking for restaurants, a free movie or a choice of e-book or Fast Lane Check-out in tax-free shops.

Physical or online showcasing, sampling and vending will give them something to think about and pass the time. It can help the shops that are out of reach at that point still do business.
But best of all, it it will show people the airport understands the predicament of its travellers and that it cares about them. It may not take all the pain out of the queues, but it will go a long way in making the most of a bad situation.

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