Passenger Segmentation Trends


In the half-century since the inception of commercial air travel, the industry has matured and the nature of air travel has changed dramatically. In this time, the expectations of the traveling public have also grown and become more refined. The changes in the industry and in the expectations of the traveler have begun to alter the way we approach our understanding, and thus the segmentation, of passengers.

The key to successful segmentation of any population lies in the selection of the criteria on which the portioning is based. For example, although it is possible to segment travelers based on the color of their luggage, it is unlikely that such a partition will lead to significant insights, or a deeper understanding of what influences the passenger’s experience in a terminal building.

Increasingly, the basic criteria used to segment passengers (purpose of trip and frequency of travel) no longer provide adequate insights into the passenger experience.  This is reflected in emerging research which is looking at more meaningful ways to segment and understand the modern traveling public. We are beginning to recognize the need to explore, at a deeper level the drivers and characteristics of passengers.

A recent study at Copenhagen International Airport resulted in a novel segmentation of the airport’s traveling public. The Copenhagen segmentation (Attention Customers; Experience Customers; Efficiency Customers; Selection Customers) extends the traditional breakdown based on frequency of travel by augmenting it with a pseudo “degree of engagement” by the passenger in the airport environment. As an example, the Attention class of passengers has high expectations of service, yet few expectations of the airport environment (with which they have limited engagement). By contrast, the Experience passengers are most highly engaged in the service, and the environment provided in the terminal building.

In another recent study of passenger retail behavior, Livingstone found that retail activities are strongly influenced by the structure of the passenger group: whether it be sole traveler, a traveler with companion travelers, or a traveler accompanied by non-traveling wavers. Extrapolating from Livingstone’s results, it seems logical that a segmentation based on the structure of the passenger group could yield more meaningful results than the traditional approach based on the basic criteria (nature of trip and frequency of travel).

A  further example of a trend towards a deeper level of segmentation is the research recently undertaken by Swedavia AB. In this work, the researchers also departed from the basic segmentation criteria and instead created groups reflective of general lifestyle preferences (of humans), rather than specific characteristics of passengers in airports. As an example, the Swedavia “Active Cosmopolitan” category is described as the set of passengers who: “Live in the now, indulge and treat themselves to things; career is important; gender equality is important; like challenges and risks; high demands on comfort; appreciate environmentally friendly alternatives; important to follow fashion and look young”.

The above examples are indicative of the emerging, although as yet un-articulated, industry trend towards passenger segmentation based on the core values of the passenger. The idea of extracting a set of core passenger values is loosely based on the Japanese design philosophy Kansei.  Extrapolating from the characteristics and ethos of Kansei design, we can describe the core passenger value(s) as the set of minimal, authentic factors which influence passenger experience.

Based on research conducted at BNE, we have segmented passengers based on their core value, time. Segmenting passengers on the basis of the core passenger value constitutes a novel approach to understanding airport passengers, and one, which ultimately, is likely to lead to better understanding and insights of the customer. Leveraging lessons learned from work in service design, as well as insights from the rich field of human-centered design, there is suggestive evidence that this approach may be the vehicle through which we can make the transition from service design to experience design.


Livingstone, A. 2013. “Passenger experience in an airport retail environment.” PhD, School of Design, Queensland University of Technology (QUT)
Persson, M. 2013. “How to build customer oriented airports the Swedish way.” Paper presented at the Passenger Terminal Conference, Geneva, Switzerland, 9-11 April 2013
Pine, B and J Gilmore. 2011. The experience economy: Harvard Business Review Press
Shaw, S. 2007. Airline marketing and management. 6th ed. Cornwall: Ashgate
Shostack, G. 1982. “How to design a service.” European Journal of Marketing 16 (1): 49-63
Tarbuck, S. 2012. “Copenhagen Airport: Meeting our passengers’ expectations for the future, today!” Paper presented at the Passenger Terminal Conference, Vienna, Austria.

One thought on “Passenger Segmentation Trends

  1. While it would be nice to design airports that meet everyone’s need and desires, I would venture that very few travelers perfectly meet the demographics of any designated demographic as people’s likes and dislikes, as well as wants and needs are as varied as there are humans. As a result, financial and other limitations necessitate that airports integrate some finite number of passenger-centric amenities into a terminal facility and hope that they will appease the need of most of their patrons.

    The challenge facing airport managers is not in integrating every amenity into the terminals to appease all passengers…but to choose which ones will provide the most benefits for those who use the airport within the financial and other restrictions set forth internally and externally. Airport managers do know they cannot keep everyone happy…but they can manage how to deal with customer dissatisfaction and evolve their facilities to meet the ever-changing needs of the traveling public.

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