“The PAX is an abstraction, a simplification of real passengers, a generalisation of what real passengers look like, think or feel.”1

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Tags: airport design,
spatial configuration, directionality,
social contract

In the aviation industry, passengers are typically referred to as PAX. One report summarizes the basic contours of the PAX as ‘‘a unit regarded as being of a basic standard, usually miniscule in size, somewhat lacking in both intelligence and general ability to find his way about (especially if he is a holiday traveller on a package tour)’’ [2]. Contemporary airport stakeholders often utilize the imaginary figure of the PAX in computational simulations to evaluate the suitability of a particular architectural design or set of processing procedures.

Depending on the particular goals and versions of success held by a given stakeholder, PAX can be passive entities with prescribed routes, “stressed individuals who are always at risk of becoming too confused to be in control as well as subjects choosing their activities as they please and navigating the airport with confidence” [3].  However, recent research has sought to reconceive the passenger as more than just a homogenous entity. People travel for a diverse range of reasons, respond to the stress of travel in radically different ways, and the specific needs for each user can be quite different.

A recent study sought to reclassify passengers based on four interrelated categories - time sensitivity, degree of engagement, proficiency, and travel purpose [4].  The study identified two key relationships that define passenger behavior - a direct relationship between passenger time sensitivity and proficiency, and an inverse relationship between time sensitivity and engagement.  Of the 167 passengers interviewed in the study, none displayed the characteristics of the passenger type typically targeted by airport designers, namely a traveler with a high sensitivity to efficient processing and a desire to engage with airport amenities. 

As air travel is becoming an increasingly popular means of global transit, the “typical” air traveler has become more and more difficult to define.  Often, specific aspects of passenger profiles are mobilised to justify designs serving particular goals and achieve versions of success that different groups of “airport-makers” strive towards [3]. The less that airport stakeholders attempt to simplify this diverse constituency, the more insightful their approaches to airport design will be. 

Whereas in the past passengers were simply
customers, today they are also expected to
act as civilian officers who extend the work of
security workers beyond the checkpoint4.

  1. Adey, Peter. “Airports, Mobility and the Calculative Architecture of Affective Control.” Geoforum, vol. 39, no. 1, Jan. 2008, pp. 438–51. 
  2. Donne, M. “Consumers View of World Air Transport.” Airports for the People: Proceedings of the Eighth World Airports Conference, 1988.
  3. Nikolaeva, Anna. “Spoiled”, “Bored”, “Irritated” and “Nervous”: The Transformations of a Mobile Subject in Airport Design Discourse. Routledge, 2017.
  4. Harrison, Anna, et al. “A New Model for Airport Passenger Segmentation.” Journal of Vacation Marketing, vol. 21, no. 3, 2015, pp. 237–250.