The miserable air travel experience

The miserable air travel experience

Who remembers the old days, when air travel was fun and exciting, when you didn’t need to buy a Business or First Class ticket to make the trip bearable? Sadly, travelling by air has become a chore; a grit-your-teeth and put-up with the endless queuing experience. Some bus journeys can be more pleasurable.

A combination of security and economic concerns seem to have degraded the glamour of air travel. This is particularly true of the airport experience. The closest airport to me is London Luton. The ways in which this airport manages to take money from passengers never ceases to aggravate me. There are charges for stopping to drop travellers off, for use of luggage trolleys and for the wifi. From the very start of one’s journey, the feeling is that you are being fleeced by a monopolistic business. I don’t mean to single London Luton out, I am sure it is not alone in rendering such charges.

If you are lucky and you have checked-in online and only have hand baggage then you get to miss the bag drop queue. If you are unlucky, you get to line-up for the privilege of the airline charging you for excess weight if one of your bags slips over the limit.

Then there is the nightmare that is security. After more queuing, it’s laptop out; keys, coins and mobile out of pockets; belt off; shoes off; jacket off. I once made a mistake of forgetting I had a deodorant can in my laptop bag. I had to wait 20 minutes before it was my turn for a manual bag inspection. It was a time-consuming and degrading experience.

Having queued at the bag drop and security, you are now qualified to buy an over-priced cup of coffee before joining the queue at the gate.

Finally, you board the plane, fight for space to place your bag in the overhead lockers and squeeze into your seat. In fairness, I think airlines have done a pretty good job at providing a tolerable in-flight experience at a cheap ticket price, so I have no objection to the non-reclining seats and paid-for cups of tea typical of the low cost airlines.

So, how could the air travel experience be improved? If there was an easy answer then it would have already been implemented. I think it is at the airport where improvements need to be made. Technology is helping. We have online check-in, mobile boarding passes, automated passport and boarding pass readers. This is all good and helps to speed passengers’ journeys through the airport.

Security that is the issue, though. Business and First Class passengers get to fast-track but still go through the same security procedures. I wonder if it is time to consider a new approach, one where less people have to be subjected to the full security process, so relieving the queues and reducing the staffing requirement? I don’t see passenger profiling ever being politically acceptable but, for example, could frequent travellers pre-apply for security vetting. They could carry a biometric “security-vetted” card. This could be scanned along with finger-print or retina scanning which would then allow them to bypass the hand baggage scanning.

Could something like this work? I don’t have the answer but surely there are some smart people out there who might do.

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Paul Richer is Senior Partner of Genesys, a management consultancy specialising in providing advice on technology for the travel, tourism and hospitality industries. Genesys has built a worldwide reputation for its knowledge and experience of new system procurement, online technology and strategies including website audits and online booking systems, reviewing and formulating companies’ IT strategies and more. Clients include many of the best known names in travel. Paul has co-authored several reports examining the impact of technology on the distribution of travel, including “Distribution Technology in the Travel Industry” originally published by Financial Times Retail and “Marketing Destinations Online – Strategies for the Information Age” published by the World Tourism Organisation. He has presented at and chaired many online travel conferences, is regularly quoted in the press and has also been invited to make several appearances on television to debate the subject. Prior to founding Genesys in 1994, Paul was Business Development Director of Finite Group plc and Head of the Group’s IT strategy consultancy. He holds an MBA from Cranfield School of Management, is a Fellow of the Institute of Travel & Tourism and Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. More information at

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