Opinion: Airport stress could have terminal effect on industry

Whilst flying has become cheaper, convenient and more accessible over the years, the airport experience itself has probably never been more stressful.

In fact, a study by CPP found a third of people who fly now believe the airport experience is more stressful than the working week, with nearly a quarter saying it is worse than moving house.

Heightened security measures following 9/11 have only exacerbated the problem, and nearly four million people say they have now given up on flying altogether.

Overcrowding is set to intensify the issue. Recent Department for Transport figures revealed the largest London airports – Heathrow, Gatwick, and Stansted – will be at full capacity within the next 20 years, meaning longer queues, more crowds and fewer seats.

The aviation industry must focus on improving the passenger experience if it is to avoid losing customers to alternative modes of transport. CPP recently worked with psychologist David Moxon to better understand why airports cause such anxiety. His study revealed there are four main factors that combine to make airports stressful:

Lack of control: Our research suggests the most stressful parts of the airport experience relate to a sense of ‘lack of control’. Flight delays, mislaying belongings and getting to the gate on time – all these rely on factors often out of an individual’s control.

Busy environment: If a large group of people are unexpected or we feel overwhelmed this can lead to increased stress. Heathrow, the largest UK airport and biggest international airport in the world with 62 million passengers last year, was cited in our study as the most stressful airport in the UK.

Time deadlines: Our results show that 37% report anxiety about running late. Next time you are in an airport, observe how passengers increase their walking speed because of fear of being late or being unsure of where to go.

‘Accumulation’ effects: If travellers are in a state of high stress already, hassles at the airport are likely to compound it. Our survey results found 13% arrived at the airport stressed after getting lost on the way, while 14% were put at a heightened level of anxiety by finding somewhere to park.

We asked people what they wanted and top of the list were reduced queues, cheaper and nicer food options and more seating areas – all things that can be realistically achieved.

Travel operators already offer relaxing services such as airport lounges, and should find new ways to promote these to passengers. Lounges are not solely the option of those travelling with business or first class tickets – we recently introduced a service which gives members access to a private lounge, in addition to a text message service which informs them of where and when their flight is boarding, and whether there are any delays.

But travellers also have a part to play in making their experience less stressful – checking in online, reducing the amount of luggage they take or opting for fast-track security can all help mitigate those ‘accumulator’ stressors.

As terminals become more crowded, it will be vital for airports to take travellers’ concerns more seriously and take steps to improve the experience. Equally, travellers should aim to plan ahead and take advantage of the airport services on offer.

CPP’s Airport Angel offers travellers access to an airport lounge service and first class facilities as well as text alerts. CPP has also teamed up with some key suppliers to gain great travel deals for Airport Angel members.

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