Play areas, Texas atmosphere among desired features at D-FW airport, study finds

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Going on a summer vacation with children and traveling by air usually means packing a carry-on bag with everything from extra diapers and clothes to enough toys to ward off boredom during airport layovers and waits.

If officials at Texas' busiest airport heed the advice of students in a University of North Texas anthropology class, however, parents won't have to pack so much. Instead, they can find what they need right at the airport before they board a flight.

And business travelers who want to take an authentic Texan souvenir home and experience a true taste of the state for lunch or dinner can also find what they want right at the airport.  

Six students in the Ethnography of Product and Technology Use class taught by Dr. Christina Wasson, UNT assistant professor of anthropology, interviewed travelers at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport at the request of the airport's manager of marketing research and manager of concessions. The students targeted travelers in Terminal A, which includes gates for American Airlines and its regional partner, American Eagle. D-FW International is a hub for the airlines, with many travelers using it for connecting flights.

The class divided the 83 people who spoke to them into five groups -- Traveling Families, Working Travelers, Healthy Travelers, Upscale Travelers and Low-Maintenance Travelers.

The Traveling Families proved to be the neediest group in terms of desired airport services, says Yvette Justice, a master's student in anthropology.

Justice says most of the families said they had positive experiences at D-FW

International and believe the airport is accommodating of families. They praised the space in the terminal, the quick check-in process for families and the airport's stroller carrying system.

However, the families pointed out that Terminal A lacks concessions that cater to children, such as The Disney Store, and sell children's clothing, such as Old Navy or The Gap.

"It is difficult for families to anticipate what they will end up needing during their travel. A child may have an accident and suddenly need a change of clothes, which parents may not have in a carry-on bag. Airport concessions have the opportunity to satisfy unexpected needs," Justice says.

The families added that concessions that already sell children's items, such as diapers, need to be more clearly identified.

In addition, the families agreed that the airport needs a play area to entertain children during a long layover or flight delay.

"Traveling families are conscious of how they affect others. They acknowledge that children are difficult to entertain. To counteract boredom, parents carry toys or take their children for short walks, but this is not enough," Justice says. "They would like to be in an area where they do not feel like their children are disturbing other travelers."

An arcade with video games or a portable video player rental facility would also be useful, the families said. Some described the arcades at airports in Amarillo and Atlanta and the play area at Portland (Oregon) International Airport.

Justice says all five groups of travelers, but particularly the Working Travelers, wanted to see the state of Texas more represented and promoted at D-FW International.

Three Working Travelers said they wanted to eat at an authentic Texan restaurant during layovers, and a Dallas native suggested having well-known city restaurants open branches at the airport. In addition, some of those interviewed said they wanted to buy Texas souvenirs, but could not find any shops in Terminal A that specialized in Texas items.

Justice suggests D-FW International also promote local artists by offering them a place in the terminal to sell their artwork and develop links with museums and other institutions to promote area sights, as other airports are doing.

"For instance, when Sue the dinosaur skeleton came to the Field Museum in Chicago, a replica was displayed at the O'Hare Airport," she says. "In Dallas, the Nasher Sculpture Center could place a promotional display at D-FW International."

In other findings:

  • The Working Travelers needed a space where they could plug in their laptop computers and spread out papers to work. Cafes in D-FW International's new train stations may address this need. The new cafes sound similar to Los Angeles International Airport's Travel Right Café, which has tableside dataport jacks and electrical outlets that allow travelers to use their laptop computers and recharge cellular phones at no charge while they eat and drink.
  • The Healthy Travelers said Terminal A needed restaurant chains with a "healthy" image, such as Jamba Juice and Souper Salad. Justice points out that healthy foods are available at the terminal's current concessions - such as salads at McDonald's - but travelers do not seek out these foods since they are offered at restaurants with brand identities that are not centered on health.
  • Signs for the concessions in Terminal A, which are light boxes interspersed among the advertisements on the walls, need to be distinctive from other advertising signs, and the concessions need to be advertised at every three to four gates because the gates are far apart from each other.


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