Alaska Airlines

Adding a feature to the Alaska Mobile App that lets users search for flights by Airport Crowd Size.

 

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Can the Airport Terminal be better?

After speaking with Alaska Airlines and other airline travelers, I discovered that while lots of accommodations had been made to the flight experience during the pandemic, the airport and gate experience were largely unchanged and an already uncomfortable experience was now even more challenging for travelers.


Can we improve the airport terminal experience for Alaska Airlines customers concerned about traveling in large crowds during COVID?

Role and Duration

Client: Alaska Airlines (Disclaimer: This is an independent project. I do not work for Alaska Airlines and these views are my own.)

Role: Product Designer + UX Researcher

Timeline: December 2021 - 80 hours

Tools: Adobe Suite, Figma, Maze

Solution

To facilitate a more positive experience for travelers at the airport, I designed a search function allowing users to search for and purchase flights by airport crowd size. This is an issue my research points to not being adequately addressed for travelers during COVID. 

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Key Performance Indicators

While testing for these KPIs was out of scope, if I had more time and access to the information I would have measured the following to determine the success of this new feature:

  1. 1. No negative impact on peak travel time bookings. 
    2. Increase in non-peak travel bookings.
    3. Increased customer satisfaction and increased repeat booking rate.
  2. 4. Fewer missed flights / reschedules.

User Interviews 

I started having broad conversations with users identifying where pain points exist within their travel journeys. My goal was to develop a full picture of the entire travel experience, so I could identify areas where I could have the most impact on the customer experience. 


I conducted 5 interviews over Zoom with Alaska Airlines casual travelers between the ages of 24 - 32 and organized takeaways into an affinity map. I noticed in talking to every person, they mentioned how it felt like the vacation started once the airplane had taken off.  

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Key Takeaways

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were stressed arriving at the airport. 

balance cost with departure and arrival times, when selecting flights. 

book flights directly from the airline.

get to the airport 2 hours early, just in case.

Customer Journey Map

After speaking with users, I took what I learned about their process and turned that information into a Customer Journey Map. I started mapping the current customer journey with the goal of understanding where the pain points occur, and what opportunities might exist to design a more positive travel experience.  Some key takeaways from this mapping exercise were:

  1. Travelers move through the airport 4 times on a single round trip journey. 
  2. Security, terminal experience, and gate experience are the most negative emotional times for the travel journey. They all take place at the airport.
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Meet our Persona

I synthesized the information collected from our research phase and developed a persona, Hannah. She was already anxious about the crowds at the airport, and now during COVID, wants to avoid being in a crowded space.

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Big Constraints

While the terminal/gate are big factors in customer satisfaction, Alaska Airlines does not own those facilities making control of the physical environment, at the airport, difficult. 

1. Airports are complex developments with lots of stakeholders.

2. Airlines do not own gate areas.


For the scope and scale of this UX project, terminal improvements cannot include physical design solutions.

How might we improve the airport terminal experience for anxious, non-frequent travelers?

Prioritization Matrix

I developed a list of potential solutions and placed them on a prioritization matrix to quickly understand which solutions would have the most impact and required the least amount of effort. I chose a group of solutions that have overlapping themes and reframed them into a single solution concept.

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Solution: Ability to search for flights based on airport crowd sizes.

User Flow

During my user interviews, I discovered that users often search for flights by balancing cost with scheduling, looking for the perfect fit. This search feature would need to continue to allow for flexible date searching, allowing them to balance cost with scheduling.

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Fitting into the Existing App

Our new search feature needed to fit into the existing app infrastructure, ideally impacting the design of the fewest number of pages possible. Within the “More Search Options” tab, we simply added another button for “Crowd Size” sticking with the Alaska Airlines UI guidelines. 

The page design for the “Crowd Size Search” also utilizes existing app components, like flight cards and flexible booking dates. The goal of the new design elements is to match the existing UI family,  and provide a familiar experience for existing users.

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Data Visualization

There were two key pieces of information to display on the crowd data visualizations: 
1. The number of people at the airport. 
2. The times of the flights. 


I began the process by layering them on top of each other so users could quickly understand how busy the 9AM flight was. As the design progressed, the visual design changed for each data point, more closely aligning with the Alaska Airlines brand identity. 


I made an assumption that Alaska Airlines would be able to connect to a Google API with this crowd information. With our data coming from google in hourly increments, I adjusted our data visualization from a line to a bar chart. The bar chart mimicked the incoming data format and provided the opportunity to communicate an approximate crowd size rather than a defined crowd size.

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High-Fidelity Prototype Testing

We used this prototype to test the search feature with 3 Alaska Airlines users. I would have preferred a larger group, though time constraints limited my outreach period. Overall the test was successful, and the new way to search for flights based on Airport Crowd Size was understood. 

  • 3/3 users were able to locate the new search by Crowd Size option.
  • 3/3 users were able to search for and purchase their preferred flight time.
  • 2/3 users felt they could explain the crowd data visualization to a friend.  

Test the Prototype yourself! 

Play around, change the dates and times to see how the airport's crowd sizes shifts.

Lessons Learned

UX Writing - Simplicity is Complex.

It takes a lot of work to get a message across simply. If we break the new feature down, its purpose is to allow users to select a preferred flight so they won’t feel overwhelmed at the airport. BUT, we also can't discourage peak travel time flights, so identifying the right team for the new search was tricky and took way longer than I anticipated.

I ended up testing several naming conventions against each other. I ended up choosing “Crowd Size", it was concise and did not refer to the search as a negative. Users instantly understood what the search was all about.  Below were some other considerations:

Airport Busyness - Airport Congestion - Airport Crowdedness - Airport Peak Use - Busiest Times - Passenger Volume - Peak Travel Times - Popular Travel Times

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Lets build great products together!

Thanks for stopping by, contact me at: Saitelbachj@gmail.com 

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