The airport provides some good examples of managing large numbers of people -- either well or badly, depending on where you are.
Check out the photo above. This guy's whole job is to make sure you don't get in the wrong line-up.
When the self-serve boarding pass machines were installed, the idea was that you would just walk right up to the counter, present your ID, and then give them your luggage. But massive staff reductions have made that design concept a distant dream. Now you need to schlep yourself and your bags back and forth through a giant line-up. The line-up is so long, that it is actually in two parts, not unlike at a movie theatre on the first day of a blockbuster release. [But without the anticipation and excitement of a movie, of course.]
Here's a closer look at this fun situation:
I'm sorry I don't have a picture of the luggage chute for you. Because after you do all this lining up, the agent doesn't take your bags. He or she puts a baggage tag on them and checks your ID. Then you have to hump your bags over to a SINGLE conveyor. A giant clump of people was pushing and shoving to get their skis, snowboards, etc. into this single conveyor window. A situation designed to accommodate one person at a time.
By this point I was starting to laugh out loud. I told the agent I didn't think there was much benefit to the customer for taking the time to check in online. He told me pretty soon I would have to print and tag my own bags. 'Fine, no problem', I said. 'But will I have to line up for the priviledge????'
What useful things can we extract from this long story, hmmm?
Observation #1: There is very little evidence that things stay the same for long. So why would you cement these machines into the floor so that you can't move them without a major renovation? Good environments have a certain amount of flexibility built in.
Observation #2: This layout assumed there would not be line-ups ever. How dumb is that?
Observation #3: It should be obvious where you are supposed to be. If it isn't, either the process flow, the layout, or the signage are wrong. In this case, all three. So now you have a senior staff member spending his day directing traffic, and people are still confused. [And great for staff morale, I'll bet]
Here's a good example of a signage problem:
When you have to have a lot of signs telling people not to do something, you have a design issue. Wouldn't it make sense to do one of the following things:
- design the carousel so you can't sit on it, or
- design the carousel so you can sit on it safely, or
- provide more seating
- Or a combination of all of the above
When I came into the baggage hall, there were several empty carousels. But three large aircraft all had their luggage on this one. No doubt this makes some sense from the standpoint of the baggage handlers. But none from the standpoint of the customer. Not an impressive situation for an airport that only just opened.
When you travel with a researcher or experience consultant, you don't have a normal journey. We spend the whole time trying to figure out how to fix the process without spending a fortune. [My Mom, who was waiting in line with me, thought I was getting upset. I said, "No, I'm just trying to figure out how to fix it, should anyone ever offer me the opportunity".]
There must be airports that do these things well. If you have examples, please share!