COVID-19: The role of the airport operator in customer experience management

Stanley Minsuk Suh by Stanley Minsuk Suh | Apr 8, 2020

Aviation is now facing unprecedented challenges amid the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus. This is mainly due to travel restrictions that have limited the connectivity between countries and continents and as a result paralyzed entire economy sectors.

It is a dramatically challenging time for airports to manage operations in a sustainable manner while securing the safety of customers, employees, and the public.

Health and safety remains paramount for airports and, in times like this, airports have an opportunity to continually focus on customer experience and putting customers in the center of their business.

In introducing measures against coronavirus the ACI Airport Customer Experience Management Model can be of assistance to airports.

Customer understanding

During times of upheaval, customers are subject to changes that need to be introduced in response to issues.

But, by stepping up their efforts to embrace passengers’ feelings and sentiments during these uncertain time, airports could increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.

As the world is living through this health crisis, Incheon airport is no exception. Like most airports, Incheon airport has been heavily hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, reporting a sharp decrease in passenger volume and its revenues.

However, as a main gateway to Korea, it is imperative to the safety of customers that Incheon ensures the highest level of disinfection in accordance with government measures. Also, continuous management of customer experience and satisfaction are one of the important roles and responsibilities that Incheon focuses on.

As one way to do so, Incheon recently declared its commitment to be a ‘COVID-19 Free Airport’ by establishing infection preventive practices including multiple checkpoints and strong disinfection.

Moreover, Incheon underlines the importance of communication with customers in order to achieve this goal, to ease customer anxiety, and to promote efforts of dedicated airport employees.

Here are some initiatives Incheon has implemented:

  • Emphasis on disinfection, sterilization, and sanitization: the airport strengthened disinfection for arrival, departure and commercial areas in terminals everyday (floors, elevators, escalators, moving walks, toilets, check-in counters, and security screening equipment, etc.) and provided air ventilation 24/7 to improve air quality. Hand sanitizer has been made available everywhere in the airport – from the information desk and bus ticket counters to the parking lots. Personal protective equipment has been provided to all airport staff who come into contact with passengers. Public announcements, banners, and videos on the “DOs and DON’T”s for preventing the spread of COVID-19 were made and the airport also implemented strong disinfection of transportation such as public buses, shuttle buses, trains, and airport maglev.
  • Special immigration procedures for arriving passengers: Incheon established separate special entry halls and immigration procedures have been newly implemented for passengers arriving from highly affected areas. This separation helps the airport prevent any potential exposures to the coronavirus.
  • Three-stage temperature checks for all departing passengers: In addition to specialized quarantine and testing measures for in-bound passengers, Incheon airport implemented three-stage temperature checks for outbound passengers. All departing passengers must go through a 3-step body temperature checkpoint procedure: the first checkpoint at the airport entrance, second in the security area of the departure hall, and the third in front of the boarding gate. Measurements are done with thermal imaging cameras and non-contact thermometers. Passengers who show signs of fever (body temperature measuring above 37.5°C) can be denied boarding. These measures are aimed at preventing infected passengers from entering into terminal buildings and boarding aircraft, moreover, it can relieve some fears and stresses from being exposed to infection. In addition, these procedures could ultimately mitigate the spread of coronavirus at the destination airport, city, and perhaps entire country.
Stage 1: Terminal Entrances, Stage 2: Departure hall, Stage 3: Boarding gates

Service design and innovation

Service design thinking and innovation are very important aspects in customer experience management. Recent innovative initiatives implemented now at Incheon airport are aligned with this basic principle.

For instance, passengers arriving from highly affected areas are subjected to the coronavirus testing, especially those who have symptoms. This initiative is the so-called “Walkthrough testing booth”.

It is aimed mainly to protect passengers and to ensure that Incheon airport plays its role in accelerating coronavirus testing, moreover it reduces stress for passengers during their waiting time. To achieve these goals, Incheon airport was able to increase testing speed to six times faster than conventional testing methods.

Airport community collaboration

It cannot be emphasized enough that collaboration with the airport community, including government agencies, airlines, and contractors, etc., plays a key role in airport operation and customer experience management. In times like this, when all efforts are aimed at stopping the spread of the virus, it is impossible to comfort passengers without collaboration and accurate communication within the airport community.

Clearly, the relationship between members of the airport community cannot be built in a day. It means that all members of the airport community should be closely connected in advance to navigate through any emergency.

Incheon has now proven to be a leading example in achieving mutual cooperation with related organizations for the safety of passengers, employees, and the overall health of the country.

Although this is an unsettling time for everyone, Incheon airport is focusing on having a positive impact on customers by providing reassurance and ensuring safety is top of mind through consistency and diligence.

Through this example, Incheon airport has proven that placing customers at the core of their business persistently and in any situation, including during a time of crisis, will in turn, lead to the increase in customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Stanley Minsuk Suh

Stanley Minsuk Suh

Manager, ASQ
Stanley Minsuk Suh has over 10 years of experience in the aviation industry, starting his career with Incheon International Airport Corporation. He co-developed the ACI Airport Customer Experience Accreditation programme and assists operation and management of the different ASQ programmes.
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