Visiting an airport is like riding a roller coaster for many passengers, even seasoned flyers, because there’s a constant rise in tension. They arrive at the terminal stressed after searching for a car park and then battle a busy check-in area only to find another queue at the check-in counters. Then it’s another queue at security. And then another at customs. Finally, after all the anticipation of making it to their gate (the big drop), they get a brief second to relax… before the coaster picks up speed all over again.

There’s actually a lot of things airports have in common with theme parks. Long queues. Over-priced food and souvenirs. The occasional engineering issue. However, rarely the fun. Why is that? Can we as airports play a bigger role in entertaining our customers?

I don’t necessarily mean entertaining customers by sticking a ferris wheel in the middle of your terminal either (or a cinema, or a giant slide like Changi, as fun as they might be). I’m talking about entertainment with no footprint. Building upon the platforms we already use to communicate with our customers: smartphones and laptops. The same BYO device approach that airlines now use to entertain their customers onboard. The only difference is airports would be providing it to all passengers, while they wait.

It doesn’t have to be movies and TV shows either (although the opportunity for large airports to partner with the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Hulu as airlines have done isn’t out of the question). Instead think about what you can create or license on more achievable budgets, like podcasts, ebooks or music, that are of interest to travellers. Perhaps it’s a partnership with international or local creators, writers or musicians, or perhaps it’s all produced in house. What can capture the attention of your customers for longer than 5 minutes? And can that content also be a valuable addition to your airport brand?

The token airport book shop has kept passenger minds busy for decades and many airports have enjoyed leaving it up to the retailers to provide the ‘fun’. But is this sustainable if we truly want to provide an exceptional experience.

Vancouver Airport CEO Craig Richmond said a few months back that if it was up to him to fix airport security in Canada, he’d get someone from Disney to do it. ‘I can teach someone security regulations in 2 weeks, but I can’t teach you how to look after people’. Let’s also seriously consider what else we can learn from Disney (park and studio) when it comes to entertainment. It won’t be as grand but small things can have a big impact when done right.

Do airports have a bigger role to play here or are passengers so overwhelmed with choice already?