Airports and Idiots

January 3, 2018

This article first appeared in the December 2017 edition of our free newsletter, to subscribe click here

So we flew back from Canada to Cayman after Christmas. I travel a lot; to and from the US, Canada, Europe and the Caribbean. Airports suffer from greater and lesser degrees of design and operational competence in their layout and user experience.

Flying WestJet from Terminal 3 at Toronto airport is an astonishing five-act opera of total idiocy.

There is a complete misuse of space and human effort that creates the most delay and inconvenience for the traveler and results in the worst experience for all involved, including the staff.

There are 4 separate roadblocks that caused queues and delays:

  1.  The check-in machines. It was relatively quiet when we arrived at the airport (about 7:15am) and there were queues to use the automatic check-in machines
  2. The baggage drop. You then have to queue again in order to partake of the privilege of putting your bag on a conveyor and scanning your boarding pass because this is ‘better’
  3.  The queue outside the queuing area outside security – In order to get into the queuing area for security. Clever – I was surprised that they managed to create another queue where I least expected it.
  4.  You then wait inside the queuing area to wait to play your part in the kabuki theater of airport security

As I mentioned already this was a relatively quiet time of day and there were queues at all of the roadblocks. On a busy day, it must be literally insane (or more insane)

I counted the number of staff and I believe that there were at least 10-15 airline staff required to maintain this system (herding the sheep who are doing all the work) and 3 security staff before you get into the security area proper.

It also requires a number of automatic check-in machines and a number of baggage processing machines. A significant capital investment and ongoing maintenance cost (a number of both were out of order).

I drew out the floor plan. It is impressive that they create so many queues for so many people with as many switchbacks and direction changes as possible. If you were to consciously create a system to induce as much spatial disorientation and nausea as possible it would be difficult to do better.

At some point it will be obvious to everyone that the customer experience at commercial airports is specifically designed to be the worst possible, minimizing the effectiveness of the resources available. They are doing a great job.

However, they could take the opposite approach – make the experience as pleasant as possible for the customer. Using the same number of airline staff and have traditional check-in desks that would achieve two significant benefits to the customer.

  1. It would be significantly quicker
  2. It would not be a soul destroying, nausea-inducing, degrading experience

But that would be crazy….

So, hats-off to the team at Toronto Terminal 3. From Zurich to the Caribbean, Heathrow to Los Angeles and Dubai to Denver they have pulled out all the stops to create a singularly terrible, terrible experience that beats the competition hands down. Maximising customer effort and discomfort while minimising the humanity of the overall experience. The worst airport experience I have had in 2017 by a shockingly vast margin.


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