The Airport of the Future

The March issue of Fast Company has a feature about Alaska Airline’s efforts to redesign its check-in process at the Seattle airport. Despite the earnest “world of tomorrow” vibe in the project name, it’s a pretty good example of service design.

Ed White, [Alaska’s VP of corporate real estate] assembled a team of employees from across the company to design a better system. It visited theme parks, hospitals, and retailers to see what it could learn. It found less confusion and shorter waits at places where employees were available to direct customers…

The team began brainstorming lobby ideas. At a Seattle warehouse, it built mock-ups, using cardboard boxes for podiums, kiosks, and belts. It tested a curved design, one resembling a fishbone, and one with counters placed at 90-degree angles to each other. It built a small prototype in Anchorage to test systems with real passengers and Alaska employees.

Incidentally, Delta has been incorporating similar improvements to its check-in service in Atlanta, and Southwest has been running a little laboratory of its own in San Diego to experiment with assigned seats.

With their focus on time/motion studies, these redesigns strike me as a bit more about system design than service design, but as we saw with the Terminal 5 debacle in London earlier this year, system design is a pretty critical piece of the puzzle. I’m happy that people are looking at this as a design problem at all.

[via 37 Signals]

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