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Mapping long-haul vs. short-haul expectations of travellers

A traveller’s destination can have a real impact on their airport experience, dictating how early they arrive for their flight and what they’re looking to do with the time before they board.

We’re at an interesting time of year for outbound travel from the UK. Sunseekers are preparing their long haul trips to countries such as the Dominican Republic, Dubai and Thailand, while we also see a rush of people catching a quick flight to the best Christmas markets that Europe has to offer.

A traveller’s destination can have a real impact on their airport experience, dictating how early they arrive for their flight and what they’re looking to do with the time before they board. Indeed, the experience and expectations of short-haul and long-haul travellers can vary significantly.

So, how can airport capitalise on the opportunity to generate greater revenues and improve customer satisfaction for these types of travellers?

Getting long-haul travellers off to a gliding start
Our recent research found that one in five long-haul passengers in the UK get to the airport between three and four hours before their flight. And almost half (47%) arrive between two and three hours before. That’s a lot of time to play with. Especially if passengers are then faced with unexpected delays, which 47% of Brits said they’d experienced within the last year.

Airports that can offer a variety of ways to pass this time are more likely to improve the experience for their passengers and bolster their reputation as a go-to travel hub. For example, those with long layovers or who struggle to sleep on flights may value dedicated sleep pods in their terminal. These are becoming a more popular sight in global airports, such as those in Dubai International Airport, and are likely to become increasingly popular in the future.

Other travellers may wish to relax and recharge before facing the confines of a plane for many hours by indulging in spa treatments or visiting airport yoga studios. Whilst health conscious people who don’t want to miss a workout may be inclined to purchase gym access to squeeze in some pre-flight reps. Other unique features starting to crop up in global airports include cinemas and gaming rooms – perfect for keeping passengers entertained during their long wait, especially if travelling with children.

Making time for short-haul travellers
Short-haul travellers can come with a very different set of requirements – they don’t have time to kill during layovers and are typically less likely to get to the airport as early as their long-haul counterparts. That being said, 37% of UK short-haul travellers still arrive at the airport between two and three hours before their flight.

Many travelling to closer-to-home destinations will be doing so as a family, for city breaks or for stag and hen dos. These types of passenger will still be seeking a comfortable and stress-free experience. And that’s when the seemingly ‘simple’ things matter. Indeed, 45% of respondents said that having more places to sit and relax would improve their airport experience. Making use of un-used space to provide comfortable seating for passengers could make a real difference to their time and having dedicated areas such as family zones with play sections for children could go one step further too.

Flying short haul also often means that the flights will be cheaper via budget airlines, with those looking to cut costs further likely opting for flights that are scheduled very early in the morning or towards the end of the day. With 37% of Brits stating they’d like access to quality lounge space where they can enjoy a quiet, relaxed atmosphere before boarding, airports should consider their investment in these spaces. Better yet, with a budget flight in the bag, flyers may want to use money saved to make their trip extra special, and champagne and prosecco packages within some lounges are a nice touch for passengers looking to inject a little luxury into their airport experience.

Final thought
There’s a lot airports can be doing to cater for passengers no matter their destination. Tapping into the growing consumer desire for experience and giving travellers more space and choice in how they spend their time pre-flight presents a real opportunity. Not only will it improve the airport experience for the millions of people taking to the skies around Europe and the rest of the world, but it offers new revenue streams for airports who can convert their spare square metres into financial growth.

Director - Airport Lounge Development | + Posts

Errol is Director of Airport Dimensions. He has been part of a management team that has helped democratise airport lounge access globally and is now focused on helping to fulfil the significant demand that this growth has created by seeking opportunities to develop new lounge propositions globally. He has over 18 years' commercial experience working for a number of leading global businesses across travel, banking and telecoms.