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Richard Plenty and Terri Morrissey provide their thoughts on wayfaring.

Navigating your way through an airport can be an anxiety provoking experience. It’s an activity often undertaken under less than ideal conditions – when we are tired, we have arrived late at night somewhere and the airport is deserted, or we have to rush to get another connection.

Even the most experienced of travellers, in the most well organised, well-established airports, can find it a challenge. Madrid Barajas, Paris CDG and Luton have all left members of our team confused in some way, resulting in difficulty in finding the way out, reaching our intended departure gate, and even missing a connection. That may tell more about us than the airports, but it shows that the problem remains a real one.

How can airports help us with questions such as “Where exactly am I?”; “What direction am I facing (so I don’t start walking the wrong way)?” or “How long will it take to get through security, so I don’t miss my connection?”

Wayfaring has been a challenge for centuries. The Romans in Britain solved the problem by inventing the milestone, a stone column placed at regular intervals along the long straight roads from London. In Ireland, informal conversation was the traditional folklore solution. “Go up the Dublin road to the pub at the crossroads and turn right. When you are about half a mile up the road, just past the turning on the right turn left. If you cross over a bridge then you have gone too far!”

Signs are a more recent innovation. Airport signs should be provided at key decision points, where the traveller has to make a choice. If symbols are used, they should be universally understood. Arrows should clearly point in the right direction and continue to the final destination and not mysteriously disappear midway through the route.  There should be a primary path through the airport which is intrinsically obvious.

Best practice means good design. An example of designing with the passenger in mind is Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Clear, unobstructed lines of sight, angled service desks which encourage people to move the right way, well- structured paths, landmarks to provide orientation cues and clear signage
all help nudge passengers in the right direction.

But even these steps aren’t always enough as airports get bigger and the variety of passengers increases. Placing shopping malls along the route may be good for the retailer but can be a source of disorientation and confusion for someone who just want to get to gate B98.

Airport concierge services which help people to their destination are increasing in popularity. And expect to see more mobile phone ‘airport map apps’ which guide people through the airport.

In the meantime, everyone who works in an airport can play a big part in helping passengers find their way. If you see someone who appears lost or disoriented, ask them if they need assistance. The human touch makes a difference.

We wish you happy orienting in 2019. Get to the airport early, follow the signs, and don’t get too distracted by the shopping!

Arrivals and departures

Airports Company South Africa has appointed Bongiwe Mbomvu as acting CEO while it searches for a replacement for Bongani Maseko, who left the company at the end of November. ACSA noted that Maseko’s leadership had been vital to significant achievements such as the development of Durban’s King Shaka International Airport and infrastructure expansion at other airports.

US airport CEOs Rochelle Cameron (Philadelphia), Deborah Flint (Los Angeles World Airports) and Ricky Smith (Baltimore/Washington) have been elected to the Board of Directors of the Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC). Cameron said: “I am thrilled to be part of the important work AMAC is doing for minorities and women.”

Mark VanLoh is the new CEO of Jacksonville Aviation Authority. The Florida airport operator owns and manages Jacksonville International Airport and three general aviation gateways. VanLoh most recently served as president and CEO of Tulsa Airport Authority but is probably best for his 12 year stint as head of the Kansas City Aviation Department. He has replaced the retiring Steve Grossman.

London Luton Airport (LLA) has promoted planning and investment director, Alberto Martin, to the position of CEO with immediate effect. He replaces Nick Barton who has become the new chief executive of Birmingham Airport.

Australia’s Sunshine Coast Airport has named Andrew Brodie as its new CEO, replacing veteran Peter Pallot, who retired at the end of 2018.

Aberdeen International Airport in the UK has confirmed the appointment of Steve Szalay as its new managing director. A graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Szalay has held a number of senior executive roles within the aviation sector including positions with UK airline Jet2.com and global ground handling company, dnata.

Rob Holden is the new chairman of London City Airport and will lead the Board and oversee the gateway as it continues its £500 million development programme. He replaces Sir Terry Morgan who left to become chairman of HS2.

About the authors

Dr Richard Plenty is managing director of This Is… and runs the ACI World Airport Human Resources programme. Terri Morrissey is chairperson of This Is… and CEO of the Psychological Society of Ireland. Contact them through info@thisis.eu


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