Aerial view Munich Airport. Multiple aircraft are at the gates.

Meeting the needs of the premium leisure traveller: at the airport

Details and Design banner with text on graph paper backgroundAs the aviation industry adjusts to a changed world after most Covid-related travel restrictions have been lifted, a key question is how the design of the business class experience will evolve to meet the needs of the new mix of business traveller — and premium leisure passengers too. This segment brings airlines as much as three quarters of their profit, so getting it right is a non-negotiable for future success. 

The airport experience is critical here: it’s the start and end of every trip, and often has the least premium feel of the entire experience.

But who are the premium leisure travellers aviation needs to design for?

To start with, they are more likely to be travelling with a partner and potentially other family members as intergenerational and blended family travel become more popular. That means that airlines need to put effort into meeting the needs of all these travellers with their premium class airport experience design: not only how to ensure that parents and grandparents feel like they are making the most of their vacation, but also how to keep kids happy, occupied — and, crucially for many other passengers, quiet.


The premium experience has to start at the airport door, if not before. Airlines are leaving money and the passenger experience on the table by not offering chauffeur-driven car services: either as a welcome inclusion, for a nominal and partially subsidised fee, or even as a fully paid add-on. Your author knows travellers who simply want the airline to take care of every detail on their trip, and are happy to pay for carriers to take this part of the equation, often the most stressful, out of their hands. Emirates does this well, and other airlines should follow.

At the airport, the checkin and security design must be low-stress and fast-track services effective — and easily navigable by passengers who are not as regular a traveller cohort as road warriors. 

Separate premium checkin areas make all the difference, as do dedicated fast-track lanes and the ability to shortcut loud, confusing and highly perfumed duty-free stores. Virgin Atlantic’s model here is top-notch, down to the little details like a recombobulation sofa: the Upper Class Wing’s curbside assistance and dedicated security lane beats many airlines’ first class experience.

Virgin's upper class wing at Heathrow is a large open space with wooden floors and a big red carpet with seats atop. Large windows are floor to ceiling.

Virgin’s Upper Class Wing at Heathrow starts some of the world’s best premium PaxEx. Image: John Walton

Lounges, too, need to be less business-y and more leisurely. The model where serried ranks of boring grey leather chairs face each other, or where the only place people can find a flat surface for all their electronics is a bland, miserable “business zone” with uncomfortable high stools to perch on, doesn’t truly meet the needs of the premium leisure traveller. Loveseats and semi-private areas where families can decompress before their flight are a big plus. Cathay Pacific gets these details right, especially at its outstation lounges.

Cathay's lounge is a setting of various seating styles in grey and brown.

Cathay’s lounge design, especially at outstations, is praiseworthy. Image – John Walton

Design, redesign and updating of airport traveller paths must also take into account universal design for all levels of ability. This will also meet the particular needs of the multiple cohorts of leisure travellers, particularly older passengers, who may well feel less confident in walking long distances than road warriors forty years their junior. The compact, considered design of Munich Airport’s Terminal 2 or Tokyo Haneda’s international terminal are great examples here.

Munich Airport is busy with passengers. Departure boards are seen up close.

Munich T2’s co-ownership and co-design with Lufthansa is a model to follow. Image: Munich Airport

Younger passengers, too, need space — and perhaps even some sort of physical play environment — to burn off steam before the flight, which is a benefit for every passenger. Singapore Changi’s play areas and outdoor spaces are excellent here. 

Many an SNL sketch has been written and performed about boarding, and this is somewhere that airlines need to put much of their effort. Are paying business class passengers without road-warrior precious metal cards really as far down the airline’s priority list as they are down the boarding list?

Once on the aircraft, many more factors come into play: come back later next week for more analysis on how airlines can design their onboard experience to meet the premium leisure traveller’s needs.

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Featured image credited to Munich Airport