So much about flying is apparently random: the moment when queues for security suddenly mushroom from manageable to manifestly miserable; the decision by air-traffic controllers to allow the pilots to come straight in to land at Heathrow rather than flying around in a couple of circles over the Home Counties; and the matching of flights to particular gates.
Airlines have little influence on the first two of these, but considerably more say on the last. Usually, they have a patch of “home turf” where their aircraft are usually parked and replenished. Sometimes this can be extensive, if a particular airline has the lion’s share of gates at a particular terminal. And with some careful planning, positive outcomes can be achieved.
On the face of it, a rational commercial strategy is to deploy the highest-earning flights in close proximity to the executive lounge, in order to minimise the time and distance the most valued passengers have to invest to reach the gate. Conversely, low-yield holiday flights, whose passengers typically turn up earlier and also assign a much lower value to time, can happily be assigned to distant gates - or bussed to the aircraft.
So far, so sensible. But not very creative.
”Your holiday begins at the airport,” is a slogan likely to cause derision among world-weary road warriors. But I suggest that a thoughtful airline should apply some lateral thinking to enhance the passenger experience.
To state the obvious, twice: big airports can involve long distances to the gate; airlines are concerned to minimise passengers’ risks of circulatory problems, which are said to increase with the length of a flight. Putting the two together generates an obvious solution: the longer the flight, the longer should the walk to the gate be. For a short hop like Gatwick to Amsterdam or Luxembourg, the gate should be as close as possible to where you emerge from the security check. But anyone flying from Heathrow to Sydney by way of Singapore needs to get the blood flowing through the veins, and the best way to do that is to park the 747 at the most distant gate possible.
Will the long-haul passengers squeal? Possibly, but not as noisily as you might think. Research among air travellers shows that the longer the flight, the more time they are prepared to invest in everything from queuing for security to shopping in the terminal.
Next, I think it is fair to say that departure lounges are among the most soulless spaces in the world. It doesn’t have to be that way. Just a little thought could make transform the purgatory of pre-departure into a fun experience. After all, you people are about to embark on a journey to some of the most exciting places in the world.
Before the overnight flight to Rio, for example, a short but soulful burst of samba would put people in the mood for South America’s most enthralling city. Travellers to Beijing, Hong Kong or Shanghai should be offered dim sum to stave off the hunger pangs. And to get people excited the long haul to Los Angeles - an airport that, after all, almost dips a toe into the Pacific - a beachfront atmosphere could be created at the gate, complete with garish cocktails.
Sure, it would cost money, and some cynics may object. But I reckon most passengers would welcome a bid to inject some glamour back into flying, and to be presented with reasons to be enthused about the journey they are about to make.Reuse content