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BLOG:Searching for the Key to Frictionless Travel

Searching for the Key to Frictionless Travel

The only way to experience an experience is to experience it.” — Bill Moggridge

It happened again. I was stuck in the security line with multiple switchbacks extending to the check-in counter. I had 55 minutes until my flight took off. On any normal day, security would take 15 minutes and I would be on my way, but not this day. I got through security in 45 minutes and missed my flight. The airline also closed its doors 15 minutes before departure; go figure.

With experiences like this under our belt, the Labs team at Universal Mind started with an expansive task - improve the airport travel experience. There are so many opinions about travel circulating, including our own, so it was a challenge to look at this problem objectively. By taking an investigative, human-centered design approach, we were able to find overlapping interests and shared goals that would improve the experience for the traveler — as well as the internal experience for people who work for the airport and the airlines.

Our project sought to look at the travel stakeholder relationships and interests- the airport, the airline, and the customer - to see where common interests lie so we could start tackling a problem that solves multiple industry pain points. The greatest challenge was to create a simple solution that was viable, feasible and desirable, that solved most of these pain points.

A Little Research (Goes a Long Way)

We combined primary and secondary research practices to best understand our stakeholders. Our primary research consisted of phone interviews with our customers and our secondary research sources consisted of industry reports from sources like PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and International Air Transport Association (IATA) and other industry leaders to understand customers, airports, and airlines. With both methods, we were able to see how our primary research subjects measured against the industry standard.

Like a good detective in the game CLUE (called Cluedo in Europe), a UX Designer needs to look at all the facts and piece together to get the story of what happened and find the culprit(s) (read: source of friction) based on evidence uncovered in research. We researched, discovered, and defined four traveler archetypes: leisure traveler, the business traveler, the traveler with groups, and flight attendants and pilots who experience similar journeys as travelers but are agents of the airline. Archetypes show how a typical user group behaves and indicates how they will be using an application. Archetypes provide the context designers need to design a useful solution.

Get To Know Your Users

After we defined our archetypes, we began the challenge of recruiting users to interview. We needed to define our archetypes in order to understand who we needed to talk to in order to better understand their behaviors and motivations. We reached out to our social networks and connected with coworkers who happened to know flight attendants, consultants, families traveling in groups, and leisure travelers.

After we conducted the user interviews, we put together journey maps that marked the pain points in the archetypes’ journey. A journey map is a visual representation of the overall story from an individual user’s perspective. It helps designers better understand where points of friction occur in the user’s experience and design better solutions for users. After speaking to our users and reading industry research, the greatest pain points were: security, boarding, baggage check and claim, and customs.

To better understand these pain points, we spent time in airports observing travelers and - taking Bill Moggridge’s advice - we experienced the experience. It was terrible.

The pieces of the story were coming together and this is what we found…

Security We noticed a common trend between the pain points: travelers were getting stuck in long security lines because of people trying to avoid baggage fees or lost luggage scenarios by carrying everything with them. Baggage was causing delays at security because carry-ons were stuffed to the seam. The bags become heavy and unwieldy. Your three kids have six pockets, which is too many pockets to check in the 30 seconds you have to throw things on the belt and move on. In the midst of taking shoes off, and taking out the laptop, and putting liquids in a ziplock, and taking off your belt, something gets overlooked or lost and the lines get long.

Boarding Once a traveler gets through security, they make their way to the gate. This does not guarantee there is enough space in the overhead bin. While the traveler anxiously waits in line to claim a spot in the overhead bin, the stress is only building and detracting from any potential business nearby. This results in lost retail and service opportunities for the airport.

When we spoke to flight attendants, we were surprised to find the most difficult part of their job was getting people and their baggage on and off planes. In fact, many airlines specifically train flight attendants how to make the baggage fit in the overhead bin and deal with upset customers. Flight attendants described instances when passengers broke down in tears and threw tantrums about not being able to get bin space. This affects the overall experience for every other passenger on the plane. In some cases, passengers get so worked up they are asked to leave the plane for other passengers’ safety.

These types of situations cause further delays which result in a flight attendant getting written up. Delays are costly to the airline and flight attendants could get terminated for too many costly delays. The stress of handling angry customers and staying on time is high. With people bringing on more and more belongings to avoid fees, flight attendants have their hands full, literally. On top of that, flight attendants don’t have scheduled breaks, so they’re running to catch flights and handling passengers up to 16 hours a day. Boarding is a stressful process for everyone involved - the traveler and the flight attendant.

Baggage Claim Once a traveler does decide to bite the bullet and check their bag, there is a 3.7/1000 chance their bag will get lost. This along with the many anecdotal lost luggage nightmare stories adds to the anxiety of waiting at a baggage claim for your item to roll out.

Customs Now imagine you are traveling internationally and need to get through customs. Getting your bags past the bomb sniffing dogs, through another x-ray machine, and to the plane is another physical and mental stress. This is more time wasted waiting in line with all of your bags with the additional stress of needing to cross international borders.

Once we had identified multiple pain points related to waiting, we were ready to tie all the threads together into a focused approach and potential solution concepts.

Technology While we were conducting interviews, we were also reading about trends in the industry. We looked at technologies like beacons, walk through body scanners, inflight vending machines, biometrics, wearables, virtual assistants, and the list goes on. However, it seemed like the technologies were being pushed without considering the full context of how it would be used. The closest technologies that seemed to address travelers existing needs were mobile airport specific apps. Many users we interviewed already used an airline app to manage their travel. In fact, according to Google travel reports, 76% of travelers are using airline apps. We knew we needed to utilize this platform to access our users.

Instead of looking to new technologies, we looked at technologies users were adopting to see how we could capitalize on these existing platforms and introduce new technologies through this channel. For example, many early adopters use Uber. This group already desires a frictionless experience. If we tap into the existing user base and add more services, we already know it’s viable, feasible and desirable.

Constraints Set You Free

We decided we needed some constraints in order to design a specific solution. We wanted to define our audience and what kind of technologies we could utilize. We chose to focus on the leisure traveler archetype since this is the largest group of travelers. Three out of four domestic trips are taken for leisure purposes. We also chose to focus on a technology we could implement within 6 months and roll out in phases. Walkthrough body scanners and in-flight vending machines went out the door and we focused on technologies we could push forward today. Based on our interviews and journey maps, we defined our problem as wasted time waiting in the airport.

Creating A Solution

Each member of the team came up with solutions that would help alleviate some of the pain points at security, boarding, baggage check and claim, and customs. Out of our brainstorms, the most logical solutions that capitalized on the leisure traveler’s existing habits and needs were building relevant notifications using contextual information and incorporating existing service platforms like Uber to ultimately eliminate luggage from the physical travel experience and decrease wait times. By tying all three solutions into a holistic service offering, we created a storyboard following a user from their front door to their hotel room. (See sketches)

In retrospect, the solution seemed so simple. We needed a way to bridge the solutions together and that solution happened to be through mobile notifications and an existing service platform like Uber in order to eliminate baggage and its effect on long wait times.

The solution needed to be viable, feasible, and desirable and this solution satisfied all three.


By taking an investigative, human-centered design approach, we were able to propose a researched solution for a complex problem involving multiple stakeholders. We tackled the challenge of sifting through enormous amounts of data, rules, and regulations, and solutions and focused on the user. We started at the root of the problem: the user and the user’s journey, and imagined a solution that was viable, feasible, and desirable. Although the search for frictionless travel is far from over, imagine being able to sit back and relax on your next flight without anything weighing you down.