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JFK Airport Boarding System 2.0  

Redesign the long-haul boarding system for the JFK International Airport to achieve traveler satisfaction and promote efficiency

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JFK Airport Boarding System 2.0 

JFK Airport Boarding 2.0 is a system redesign that helps passengers go through boarding more easily with less time and stress.



Problem framing 

Concept development

User testing



JFK Airport



My Role 

UI UX design
Design strategy
User research
System design
Branding design


The aviation industry was in a major crisis during Covid-19. We want to embrace this rapid shift through a human-centered design approach, transforming a moment of business peril into an opportunity for growth for post-pandemic travel. 


The challenge is redesigning a large-scope system, re-constructing user experience flow, and improving user engagement on an existing mobile application and boarding pass.

  • Increase passenger conversion rate and generate more air travel business

  • Improved user engagement and retention rate

  • Crowd control during post-pandemic travel 

  • Promote efficiency and positive emotions for both passengers and airport staff



Capitalizing on reduced foot traffic and more space, we walked the airport an entire day. We found three key pain points and opportunities: improving the wayfinding experience, optimizing the information interfaces, and creating a more efficient security process.

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All stakeholders needed to come together to make the design process more effective and smooth. We immediately began reaching out to passengers and staff to understand their perspectives. Meanwhile, their stories help us identify key user flow touchpoints. 

We conducted interviews with airport staff from 3 departments and six passengers to find out:

  • What needs and goals drive people to air travel during Covid?

  • What are people struggling with while going through the airport?

  • How can we build a better rapport between passengers and airport staff?

  • How can we better enhance the general working flow?

airport interview


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Problem Statement

Olivia needs an easy boarding experience from New York to Brazil, as she often feels stressed going through the airport.

User Goal

Book a flight and travel back to Brazil easily and safely.

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How might we guide passengers along the boarding process with enhanced efficiency and positive emotions? 



Before we jump into brainstorming, it is crucial to define success and understand the ideal user flow for the passengers at scale. Then we can work backward by reversing the polarity of the hectic boarding experience. 


Going through security was the biggest issue from our research insights, so we decided to narrow the problem scope prior to the boarding stage.

Four questions inform my backcasting decisions 

  1. What is an ideal airport experience?  -Backcasting

  2. How can we solve problems for the majority? -Inclusive

  3. What contexts need to be considered?  -Contextual 

  4. How might we remove the need for human guidance?  -Emotional Factor


​We used backcasting thinking, "What if" the ideal scenarios to find our opportunities. Our design is run back to what we can feasibly achieve to close the gap. 

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We found many situations where passengers just needed assurance that “they were on track.” The ideal experience should offer operational efficiency and give travelers a sense of calmness, control, and reassurance. As passengers perform better and faster, the staff have an easy time working, which generates and reinforces a positive feedback loop.


To understand what and how do the current products helping passengers, I side to side compare TSA's official mobile app and FLIO, an airport indoor navigation app.


My goal is to find out what they do well and not well, and what we can do to fill the unmet needs.

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Referring back to the interviews, I found that none of the passengers downloaded an app for catching a flight. They need more immediate and direct alerts.


The life of a flight app for infrequent users will be a maximum of 2-3 days if they are motivated to download it.


To conclude, mobile apps for air flights have limitations

Beyond the mobile experience, we connected several key touchpoints and redesigned the system flow. 


1. Crowd-control time slots system

Inspired by the queue management/calling system used by restaurants and amusement parks, we apply the concept in the user flow.

The algorithm assigns individuals time slots based on departure time to

  • drastically minimize waiting time

  • control the crowd size

  • guarantee passengers to catch flights


Passengers are only required to show up when their time is called. 

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2. Ahead of time boarding instruction notice 

A day before take-off, the passengers will get a text with their flight details, baggage instructions, time slot, and security checkpoint.


Passengers will also receive carry-on instructions and security tips so they have enough time to double-check their luggage before leaving for the airport.


Passengers feel calmer and in control, being informed ahead of time, decreasing the last-minute "Left passport at home" or "Overweight luggage" possibilities. 

3. Clear and helpful Boarding Pass

Passengers directly encounter the interfaces, which they carry throughout the boarding stages. We put much energy into this crucial experience.



The current boarding pass is a collection of strangely ordered acronyms and oddly formatted numbers that demand efforts to decipher, which leads to cognitive confusion and stress.

  • ​Wrong visual hierarchy. Lack of visual clarity, grids, space, and good typography.

  • Chaotic information structure. Low readability in general.  

  • Tiny text for important information. Challenging to scan the name, gate, and seat number. 

  • The physical form and size of the pass are difficult to carry around. A boarding pass needs to be kept safe, but it often bends and gets lost somewhere.

  • Keeping a piece of paper is more difficult for passengers with more luggage or carrying a baby. 


After de-construct the whole boarding steps and analyzing the current design, I re-constructed the interface with 3 boarding phrases. 

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I see a boarding pass as a more highly functional tool than a mere ticket, the only interface users carry with them from checking, finding a seat, to getting off the flight for luggage.

My thinking behind this design is to re-construct each line to simplify complex data by removing as much friction as possible, leaving out what passengers need to know.


The final should fit naturally to a passenger's airport experience by showing all the right amount of information, at the right time, without any noise. 

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4. Digital Boarding Pass

As the physical counterpart, the digital boarding pass has segmented into three stages with the right information a passenger needs to know 

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Creating a storyboard to show what a journey looks like:

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We conducted usability tests with 3 frequent flyers in person to test the concept. Our objective is to identify the main pain points where they interfere with the user experience, trust, and enjoyment. Then recommended ways to address these issues.

  • Using red on the boarding pass highlights the critical information and contributes to the Airplane branding. ​

  • Most like folding the ticket and sticking it into the passport. Some express concern about the ticket falling off.

  • There should be more clarity in information for add-on services and the distinction between paid and unpaid services. ​

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1. Look for leverage points in system design

The leverage point in a system is the point that can trigger a feedback loop on multiple levels at once. In this case, the passengers' and security officers' emotional tension is one leverage point. Another point is the long line at boarding. I had fun designing an extensive system, which required thinking of a solution for a broad audience on multiple platforms. I also pushed myself to think beyond mobile apps and on a system level. 

2. Micro​ Consideration 

Micro consideration means we should consider people's journeys with a high level of detail at each touchpoint. We must think thoroughly about how people act naturally in a given situation. The goal is to find the most appropriate solution to bring peace and harmony in a time of mixed signals, chaos, and uncertainty. The elegance comes from stripping away what is unnecessary and revealing the essence. 

3. Question the root cause from the First Principle Thinking

Building digital solutions will provide passengers with a better experience, but this will incur high costs for a business without immediate visible impact because around 80% of passengers will choose cheaper flights over a good experience. 

Therefore, an airline should come up with low-cost solutions like sending real-time messages on WhatsApp and SMS or assigning time slots to break down passengers into groups.


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