Thursday, September 1, 2011

When to publish the gate information?

How many hours before departure should the gate information be published? Airports would usually publish this information at fixed times, maybe when the operational day starts, maybe a few hours prior to departure, depending on whether it is an international, regional or domestic flight.
I am sure airlines will want the airport to publish the gate information as early as possible because they want the passengers at the gate to make sure that there is no delay because of late passengers. Now here comes retail and tells operation to publish the gate as late as possible in order to keep the passengers shopping. In other words, to increase the dwell time.

I  had a rather bad experience as a passenger last year in a shiny new terminal which seemed to be run by retail. There was no gate info available, neither on my boarding pass nor on the FIDS screens. This was not a problem, I was sure, I would get that information in due time. I used the time before the indicated boarding time to stroll around, maybe actually do some shopping. When the expected boarding time came closer, I noticed that I had changed my behaviour. I had started sneaking around a FIDS screen, hoping to get some update. Nothing. The expected boarding time passed by and we were getting towards the scheduled departure time. Now my comfort level dropped immediately. I started to check on other screens. The same. Then, right before the scheduled departure time, the gate was published and I was rushing to the gate. Upon arrival at the gate, the latest information there told me that the flight would be delayed by 20 minutes. Now, apart from this experience, do you think that the delay would only be 20 minutes without the boarding having started?

So, you have both extremes where the passenger already knows the gate upon check-in, and the other end where the airport waits until the latest possible moment which includes possible gate changes. Maybe the answer is something in the middle, where the gate is published based on the best information available, actually known as dynamic gate publication. In such an 'intelligent airport' the passenger will actually be steered through the terminal, i.e. the airport operation can direct the passenger flow. There is evidence that this works and even increases retail spend. See also this older post.