What's next

Making airports waiting time more useful and pleasant

Have you ever arrived at your hotel on vacation, thrown your luggage on the bed, and had nothing to do but flip on the TV waiting for museum to open its door at 2pm ? With a team of 4 student, we found that this situation is an overwhelming common pattern : even frequent travellers and obsessive planners do not plan out the few hours directly following their arrival.

During my scholarship, we imagined in 1 day a digital service installed in airports which would recommand touristic activites (musuem, bar, coffee, restaurant etc.) to passengers based on their destination and arrival time. Passengers could consult and save accomodations before boarding in their respective flight.

How do people travel ?

To design What's Next, we first looked at how people travel to foreign countries for holidays. Then we analysed wait times at the airport. We decomposed passengers journey to determine which moment was the most pertinent for our concept.

More than 1.1 billion tourists travelled in 2014. That's 5% more than the previous year. Each day, around 80.000 flights take off and land accross the world. Those figures are gigantic. But, how do people travel ? How do they plan and organise their holidays in a foreign country ?

Travelling for pleasure implies planning and a bit of preparation (discovery of a city or a country for instance). There is an infinite number of traveller profiles, ranging from the less prepared ( zero planning) to the most methodic (pre booked restaurants etc). Most passengers are between these two extremes and there are also exterior factors which may affect this amount of planning - travelling with children, for example.

From unprepared to overprepared holidays

Unprepared Overprepared

Yet, we noticed that throughout passengers in all of the above categories it is frequent that the few hours following their arrival are not planned at all. After they drop their luggage off at the hotel or at their Airbnb appartment, there is often an undefined period before they can start their planned activities. Let's look at an example:

  • Pierre lands in Berlin at 11am with two friends. They planned to visit the Altes museum in the afternoon.
  • They arrive at their hotel at 12.30am. They've planned to visit the museum after eating. Yet, they don't know any cool place to eat and haven't check in any guide book

Unplanned gap when travelling

Obviously there are a myriad of situations like this where tourists need some help to find micro activities before starting their anticipated trip. Considering this, we started to look at how people wait at airports and if we can find a situation where we could help them anticipate the hours following their arrival.

We've all been waiting

Everyone knows what it’s like to be stuck in airport surrounded by people speaking a foreign language. We have all been, at some point, forced to hang around in an airport for an hour and more, and there are several reasons for this. When flying abroad, we are obliged to get to the airport in advance because of the security and custom controls, which can occupy broad and undefined periods of time. Some travellers are cautious and take extreme precautions to get on time. Having made it through this step, we can sometimes be met with unexpected delays or dreaded cancellations

Waiting vs. waiting

We started to analyse and distinguish the different kind of waiting times there are in an airport. Looking to spot the most suitable moment for a digital product.

Post it board to identify wait times in airport

We looked at each wait time to determine the context, the attitude of passenger, what they might feel, and what they have to look after etc.

We distinguished several moments where passengers are forced to wait beginning on the way to the airport, if there is some traffic. It continues with the checking where passenger can end up queuing if boarding a popular flight. Then passengers have to line up at security checkpoints and if their are flying abroad they have to pass through customs. Finally passengers have to wait for the boarding to start, all of this can add up to a lot of hours standing in line.

  • Stuck in trafic jam

    Going to airport

  • Check in flight

    Check In

  • Security controls

    Security controls

  • Boarding flight

    Before boarding

  • Waiting in plane

    On board

  • Luggage


We also noticed that in each waiting situation, we enter a certain emotional state. We focused our analysis on two particular emotions which seemed significant to us : stress and pleasure. Stressful and irritating situations are not compatible with the use of a public installation. It is only possible when people feel comfortable and do not experience extreme feelings. A state of excitement, above all when it is shared among a group, a family or between a couple cannot be interrupted. Passengers would miss the chance to benefit from our service. We were looking for a moment where emotion are relatively flat or neutral, in order to engage most with passengers.

Stress and pleasure

We deconstructed and analysed each of these waiting periods to determine the level of stress or excitement. It helped us determine which moments were significant four the project.


When arriving at an airport, passengers feel a lack of controls. They have to follow instructions and procedures that can even change at the last minute. It entices many passengers to react with a stress response.

  • Stress in trafic jam
  • Airport Check-in stress level
  • Security controls stress level

Pleasure / Excitement

Pleasing situations are quite rare in airports, but people travelling for holidays, might experience some pleasure, especially in groups (friends, family). For instance, the take off is often an exciting moment.

  • Before boarding emotional level
  • Before take off emotional level

Emotional intensity of wait times in airports

We decided upon a compatible situation for our digital product : before boarding (and to some extent also when waiting to retreive luggage). So we looked into the details of how people wait in airport to see if we could help people better spend this time.

How do people wait before boarding ?

When passengers are done with check in and have been through controls and custom, they must wait to board. Here is when people generally tend to distract themeselves. When we asked friends and family, what they do when they wait for a flight, we observed a striking pattern in their responses. Most of the time, passengers follow a kind of ritual. They start by browsing a shop, buying a newspaper/magazine, or some duty-free products. Then, eventually, depending on time, buy food. In general, passengers fill their time as follows :

Activities carried out before boarding

What people do while waiting at airports

Summurizing all into personas

We gathered and formalized our findings into personas. We built these to communicate our findings easily and to determine the functional scope of our product. We used some statistical documentation such as the National survey of airline passengers published each year since 2009 by the french government. We tried to define the environment and the context of travellers as much as possible. This included :

  • the stress level they were experiencing (high or low)
  • their attitude (whether it is positive or negative)
  • the amount of time they had before boarding on their plane.
  • whether they were expecting some airport services or not, etc.
  • Persona 1
  • Persona 2
  • Persona 3
  • Persona 4

Our airport installation

The way people travel and our analysis of wait times in airports led us to imagine “What’s Next”. We wanted a product that could suggest relevant accomodation / activities based on arrival time. It should be able to deliver useful information for all passengers, no matter their destination.

What's next scenography

We worked on the scenography (stage design) and how the airport space can be used to serve our project. We wanted our installation to intergrate seamlessly into passengers' flow towards boarding.

Suggest vs. search

For instance, Tripadvisor.com is mostly used as a search engine. Yet our goal was to provide suggestions and help passengers find quickly what to do when they arrive. We needed to know both the destination and the arrival time of passengers.

Boarding pass illustration Another boarding pass illustration you can read information

We imagined a scan system that would read these information on the boarding pass (thanks to the scan code). This allows the user to interact with our product without the hassle of manually inputing their travel details. We also offered a free world exploration to passengers who might simply be browsing.

Defining a suggestion system

Based on the arrival time of the passenger we wanted to suggest the most suitable activities. For instance, a family landing at Berlin around 11am, might be looking for a restaurant. In constrast, a group of friends landing at 9pm might be looking for bars to have fun. The rules we defined would have evolved and learned from passengers and from data it gathers.

Berlin Time based suggestions

Saving suggestions

One tricky part was to think of a system allowing users to take away suggestions. Obviously people flying aboard, or in a foreign country don’t have a mobile connection and internet access. For those passengers, we imagined a ticket printing system that would list the saved items. We also thought of an sms functionnality that could text you the place you've bookmarked, as well as a bluetooth sync system for users that have the mobile app.

Printed ticket from What's next

Reminding passengers to board on gate

At last, we also thought it would be nice feature that would alert the userto board ahead of time and to quickly print its list of saved items. This would prevent users from missing.

Reminder when the flight is boarding
The end

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