Monday, 20 April 2009

Status codes at Terminal 5

We are all used to status codes – they are not exactly new. En e-mail may be sent, received, read or flagged for follow-up. A training course may be archived, current or planned. I could go on – most business software will use status codes in some form or another. They convey relevant and pre-selected information about whatever it is you are tracking. So far, so unexciting.

I did see some neat status codes over the weekend at a very swish place called Heathrow Terminal 5. It was my first visit to this lovely new terminal which has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.

I was impressed: imposing architecture, systems that appeared to work well, and lots of showers for little people. Actually I think they were fountains but I suspect they will be very popular as showers as the weather gets hotter. It’s the first thing you want to do when you get off a plane, isn’t it?

Back to status codes - vital at the airport. I was in arrivals – the time shown on the board could be: estimated or actual. An additional status code showed when bags were being unloaded – now that's useful.

What really impressed me about these status codes however, was the board next to it. It had helpful information like the amount of time you should expect to wait for someone once the aircraft has landed. How long it takes for someone with or without a bag to get to the arrivals hall – now that’s not just useful, it’s actually helpful. It’s not rocket science, but it is thoughtful and genuinely helpful.
Of course it was a sunny Sunday and the incoming flight was on time. The arrivals hall wasn’t too crowded and I suspect the systems weren’t being stressed too much.

It is when it all goes wrong that people and systems come together to make decisions and ensure boards such as these give genuinely helpful information, and T5 has some making up to do in that department.

However, for the 95% of the time that things go well it’s an improvement on what I’ve seen before. And an interesting way to think about status codes – maybe they are a little too pithy sometimes?

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