Why Does Passenger Flow Matter?

Traveling through airports can be stressful for passengers.

If it’s not long lines at check-in, then it is ticketing. If it isn’t ticketing, then it’s security checkpoints.

These moments where passengers do not have control cause even more stress that they might not make that flight. Air passenger flow is the art of conducting passengers through airport facilities, including incoming traffic from drop off to gates, as well as from gates to baggage claim, pickup and parking.

Optimizing this process is not as simple as a single metric. You cannot say air passenger flow is always improved as passengers can move faster from point A to point B. Speed is not the only relevant factor. Airport facilities also benefit from passengers shopping and eating meals. Optimizing the journey is about making it easier and quicker for passengers to find what they need at any given time. That level of convenience is closely tied to satisfaction.

But satisfaction is one piece of the story.

Air traffic to double by 2035

The International Air Traffic Association estimates the current volume of air traffic will double by 2035.

With global air traffic on the rise at such a rapid rate, airports must seek new ways to deliver high quality service and exceptional travel experiences. But not every airport can expand infrastructure accordingly. And almost no airport wants to double in size if it can find new, more efficient approaches that will be responsive to passenger needs.

Airports around the world, from international hubs to small regional airports, are focusing on how to deliver high quality service and a pleasing experience to ensure passengers choose them instead of a competitor airport.

Less time spent in lines lifts revenue

Flight delays and cancellations are often beyond an airport’s control. However, proactively communicating issues before they derail a passenger’s journey can make a significant impact on stress, decision-making, and satisfaction.

According to a recent survey, an extra ten minutes spent waiting in a security line reduces a passenger’s spending on retail by 30 percent on average.

Streamlining traffic flow through the terminal becomes an important method to generate more non-airline revenue from dining and retail.

Passenger Flow Management Tactics: Measure, analyze, respond

There are a slew of technologies that enhance the passenger check-in experience by delivering interactive experiences, dynamic messaging, convenience and personalization. But which options should airport operators choose, and how should they prioritize?

Measure your foot traffic

To deliver the best possible passenger experience, you need a deep understanding of passengers and their journey through your airport.

  • When do they arrive?
  • How long are they standing in line?
  • At what point do they need additional information?
  • Where do they spend time once they are past security?

To understand the traffic flow in your airport, as well as how to optimize it, you need a data-driven way to identify gaps in communication.

You can start with measurement studies of passenger wait times. Focus on ticketing, security, in-terminal shuttles, and taxi and rideshare pickup areas. These areas are often full of optimization opportunities.

Start by surveying guest relations workers. Ask for the most common questions they get regarding directions, wait times and travel instructions. Their answers will help determine if additional wayfinding or directional signage can help.

Additional technologies for immediate feedback

There are a range of technologies to help airports understand passenger flow and ultimately deliver improved outcomes in a programmatic way.

Measurement sensor technologies:

  • Monitor passenger volumes, journey times and line times
  • Establish performance baselines,
  • Understand passenger habits and
  • Improve crowd flow
  • Conduct quick, ten-second passenger satisfaction scores

How to use real-time anonymized data to improve service

With historical data and current situational data in hand, airports have a data-driven way to adapt in real-time to changing conditions within the airport. Frequently, operators can walk into a day, armed with an accurate forecast. If/when reality looks different than the forecast, sensor-driven solutions can provide early warning of a potential issue, as well as specific locations where additional resources should be deployed.

These real-time adaptations help to prevent unexpected bottlenecks.

Real-time monitoring technology

Walkbase is a software tool that privately and securely analyzes data from a full network of sensors and connected devices.

The central analytics platform creates an accurate visualization of passenger dwell and flow through a given airport terminal or facility. This data allows for data-driven understanding of airport passenger flow. The most effective airports build that precise feedback into continuous optimization programs, where they create and measure hypotheses, such as:

  • "We believe that increasing security staff by 5 should increase flow rate by 30%
  • “We think that wayfinding signage will decrease the questions passengers ask attendants to save 25 hours per day”
  • As well as more specific adaptations to signage, processes, and service

Clear and Efficient Signage for Passenger Flow Management

Digital signage technology helps passengers quickly locate their gate and time for arrival or departure in even the busiest of airports.

Airport terminals and waiting areas display digital messages with updates occurring as needed for gate changes, shuttle delays and wait times. Keeping information updated helps passengers get to where they’re going in an efficient manner.

Adaptive wayfinding

Digital signage also offers clear and simple wayfinding even as pathing changes over time. When walkways, escalators and elevators are out of service, digital signage can provide detour directions. When a certain project is completed, updating the signage is as simple as logging into a central software tool and implementing the changes. In addition, building automation system data can be used to provide instructions to passengers for managing service outages such as elevators or escalators.

Reducing stress

Dynamic messaging can also help with passenger flow and general satisfaction. Next train countdowns and average wait times for security or baggage claim can help make guiding your travelers through the airport as simple as possible, while lessening stress because they know exactly what to expect.


Digital signage can be customized on an almost entirely personal level. FIDS displays highlight flights in the color of the passenger’s choice resulting in less time spent searching for where to head next and more time spent traveling. Messages can be delivered and updated as needed, in multiple languages based upon originating and destination cities of travel.

Choosing a Passenger Flow Management Partner

Every airport terminal is unique, and even two buildings on the same campus can have vastly different needs. There isn’t a one size fits all solution for passenger flow management, and it is virtually impossible to manage on your own.

When looking for a partner to enhance your airport operations and improve terminal passenger flow, do not opt for a simple “plug and play” tool that requires hands-on management and isn’t developed specifically for your needs. Seek an experienced partner who can help you develop a unique solution specifically for transportation hubs. The plan should include specific details based on your terminal layout, upcoming construction projects and daily travel volume.

At Scala, we aim to engage directly with you to identify the best digital signage products for your unique situation. If you are ready to take your airport terminal operations into the 21st century with scalable, digital age solutions for your unique needs, we are standing by to help. Let’s talk about your operational challenges and begin identifying solutions.