Person waiting in the lounge as airplane flies in the background
May 20, 2024

Smoothing out the Ribbon of the Passenger Journey

Three friends gathered around a computer planning a trip together


As airlines seek to improve their passenger experience, many are looking outside the aircraft — and indeed outside the airport — to make their customers’ full you want it to be streaming through the air, free of knots or wrinkles, clearly defined yet with enough flexibility to be reactive to last-minute changes or potential disruption.


Consider the ribbon of the ideal connected journey that’s possible today: plan your trip online, check in via the airline app, leave your home or office to travel to the airport, drop bags if needed, pass through security, perhaps head to the lounge, board the aircraft, enjoy the flight (relaxing with a preordered meal and continuing your inflight entertainment from your previous trip or your home streaming service), arrive and pass through the airport, and then take ground transportation to your destination.


Increasing self-service and automation has smoothed out many of the knots in the ribbon for passengers who are comfortable with app-based technology, touchscreen kiosks, and the do-it-yourself model — especially around time-and-effort sensitive requirements like airport check-in or queuing for a taxi. At times, though, our ribbon can strain still in terms of passenger experience: did the airline partner ride-hailing car run into traffic, leading to stress about being late? Was there a security delay? Did the immigration e-gates go down again? Was there enough capacity on the inflight connectivity? Was there a partner ride-hailing app in the arrival city?


eVTOL on display at show


As the industry continues to smooth out the ribbon, it needs to take advantage of new and forthcoming technologies — and there are few more promising and disruptive than eVTOLS.

Fundamentally, some key benefits of this new generation of travel technology are being missed when the industry discusses urban air mobility or e-taxis. Rather than replacing swift and efficient urban and suburban mobility solutions like trains and metros, a key benefit from the forthcoming eVTOL revolution will be driven by the trend of many people with hybrid or fully remote positions deciding to live in peri-urban, exurban, or rural locations, often further away from major cities and their airports.

These change drivers coincide with hubs like London Heathrow and Amsterdam Schiphol experiencing limits on their expansion — driven by the local and global environmental impacts of not just aviation but also local surface road transportation.

By contrast, aviation has an underused resource: regional airports. Often these have long haul-suitable runways (the legacies of former airbases or required for an existing maintenance operation, for example) and embedded carbon has already been spent in many cases, so the growth of revitalising regional hubs can be remarkably carbon-efficient.

Airbus a330-800 flying on a clear sunny day


New aircraft like the 737 MAX and Airbus A320neo (particularly the A321XLR) and the growing availability of low-capital-expenditure small-to-medium previous- generation wide bodies like the Airbus A330ceo mean that new airline hub models can open outside their traditional locations of city-outskirt airports. Combine these new hub operations with the enormous regional catchment that eVTOLs can offer and there’s a world of opportunity for connections and aviation development.

Often, these regional airports are a substantial distance outside a regional city, meaning that local noise impacts from aircraft, eVTOL and drone operations will be markedly lower than major city airports, while the space for eVTOL operations is available where it might not be at a JFK or a Charles de Gaulle. Indeed, with the growth in drone-delivery cargo, these airports offer round-the-clock advantages.

Local employment and connectivity benefits are attractive to regional development bodies, local authorities, business groups and local residents, while labour markets are ripe and jobs within the new digital infrastructure are highly desirable. These hubs can even develop into aerotropolises, connected both into cities by existing public transportation lines or new extensions and as mega-region hubs using eVTOL aircraft for the final 100-200 miles.

Aviation investment timescales are long, and the eVTOL industry is at a fulcrum point where developing concrete plans to integrate it into airline operations can shape the future of travel. The time to be thinking more deeply about how those operations might work is now.

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