How UX and Design Can Improve Flying

How UX and DesignCan ImproveI have chalked up a lot of travel miles in my time, and consider myself an expert at navigating an airport. Experience has taught me how to decipher almost any boarding pass, no matter how opaquely designed. That said, I still sometimes struggle with figuring out exactly where to go for a flight, and I know less experienced travelers do. I can’t say how many times have I seen people (usually very elderly or clearly foreign travelers) try to get through security with an itinerary instead of a boarding pass. On the plane, people struggle to accurately identify which seat is theirs (this has even happened to me, recently, to my great shame).

It may not be a life-or-death problem, but clearly travel documents are an opportunity for a design improvement. At least year’s Hx Refactored event, one speaker (I think it was Jared Spool talking about a project by another designer) showed some potential new designs for boarding passes. One was certainly Tyler Thompson’s reimagined look using color:

From Tyler Thompson's page at
From Tyler Thompson’s page at

Certainly more aesthetically pleasing than the typical boarding pass, and pertinent information is easier to find. I did overhear another conference attendee in my vicinity point out that this sort of color printing isn’t compatible with the infrastructure currently in airports and could cost quite a bit to implement; fair point, although not necessarily a reason to stick with the standard boarding pass.

Adam Glynn-Finnegan offers a second take on boarding passes that recognizes that multiple audiences must make sense of the information on them: The TSA agents handling security, the airport employees handling boarding, and the passengers themselves. Glynn-Finnegan lays out information accordingly, so each audience just has to scan one area of the boarding pass for the information needed:

Adam Glynn-Finnegan's take on the boarding pass.
Adam Glynn-Finnegan’s take on the boarding pass.

Last month, I flew JetBlue and was pleased to see that they have reimagined their boarding passes in real life. I don’t know that their new design will eliminate airport confusion, but they addressed a couple things that should help:

  • Visual indicator of where my seat is, including whether it’s a window, middle, or aisle, and which side of the plane
  • Clearer explanation of the different times on the boarding pass–when I need to be at the gate, what the latest time is to be at the gate, and when the plane actually takes off and lands
  • What I am entitled to in terms of baggage checking


Now note that this is a boarding pass I printed myself, not one printed at the airport. The person at Hx Refactored who commented about the printing equipment at airports wasn’t wrong–many times, they’re only capable of basic black-and-white printing that doesn’t lend itself to design innovations. But even so, this is an improvement over the historical boarding pass. Kudos to JetBlue for thinking about the user experience of air travel.