COVID-19: Top 10 customer experience recommendations: Restart and recovery of airport operations

Guest Author by Guest Author | Aug 21, 2020

Written by Alexandra Droc, Senior Consultant, Ineco with contributing authors Mareike Asmus, Airport Marketing, Ineco and Cristina Delgado, Area Manager, Ineco

There is no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed passenger perceptions of air travel.

The COVID-19 outbreak grew in the first quarter of this year, initially centered in the Asia-Pacific region. The recently released ACI Airport Service Quality Barometer highlights that the customer satisfaction at airports has dropped slightly in comparison to the last year´s first quarter in Asia-Pacific, mainly in large airports which could be a reflection of growing concern about the safety of travel.

Changing passenger needs and expectations

Historically, waiting times and long queues, the efficiency and friendliness of staff, made check-in, security and passport controls, boarding and baggage reclaim, some of an airport’s most critical areas in terms of passenger satisfaction.

These points have been recorded in ASQ surveys for a long time, but many of these pain points became even more critical as the virus touched every country across the globe. Challenging access to ground transportation and complex accessibility, matched with the clarity of way-finding and levels of cleanliness have played a greater role in passenger perception.

Many airports have started adapting to the new COVID reality and implemented preventive measures.

There is a growing focus on reducing crowding, hygiene measures have been implemented and standardized across airports including protective screens, hand sanitizer dispensers, and masks.

With all these adaptations and changes in mind, organizations such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council Aviation Recovery Task Force recommendations and the joint European Union Aviation Safety Agency and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control Aviation Health Safety Protocol have created guidelines and standards for airports.

A balance needs to be struck, however, between measures based on medical and scientific evidence that will help restore passenger confidence in air travel and those that may disproportionately impact the recovery of air travel.  

Actions airports can take to enhance their customer experience amid COVID-19

INECO’s recommendations on the top 10 actions to be pursued by airports around the world are:

1. Strengthen health measures: providing a continuous feeling of safety and a healthy environment is an absolute must in the post COVID-19 world. Due to a shift in pain points and customers’ newly developed expectations, the usual hygienic measures alone are not enough.

2. Deliver long-distance visibility: modern terminal lay-outs allow the traveller to be guided seamlessly through the airport. Due to the design and structure of the building, passengers are provided with the possibility to see further distances allowing them to anticipate what is coming next.  

3, Create and adapt open-air spaces: it has been shown at Barcelona-El Prat Airport, passengers appreciate being able to spend their down time in an outdoor space, after having passed all the numerous security checks and health measures.

4. Ensure enhanced cleanliness at all stages of the journey: Studies by ISSA, The Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association, showed that the customers’ attention is raised by uncleanliness and influences their decisions. Security trays in particular prove to be a delicate point. Cleanliness is not only limited to what the eye can see.

5. Accelerate the use of adaptive digital communication support: communication and processes should be contactless and easily adaptable. While Schiphol Airport uses digital screens to manage flows at security, other airports use advertising monitors in main passenger flows that can be switched rapidly to emergency communication in crisis situations.

6. Provide real time information: the increasing use of technology enables airport operators to submit precise information by implementing Internet of Things technology. Accurate communication on departure and arrival schedules, wait times, as well as the time needed to get to a certain location should reach passengers effortlessly, as software applications and website traffic reach high volumes.

7. Adopt Internet of Things technology in processes for efficiency: one of the most stressful features of travelling is the loss of luggage during the trip. On the one hand, new technologies can prevent baggage loss by providing operators with efficient solutions and, on the other hand, they improve passenger experience by enabling airports to inform users about the whereabouts of their belongings. Some airports are offering badges informing users on the location of their luggage. Brussels Airport, for example, notifies passengers via smart phone when their belongings are ready for pick up. While waiting for their text, they are encouraged to enjoy other airport areas.

8. Redesign and adapt services and products based on customer and employee feedback: as soon as an issue is reported, it should be investigated and corrective action rapidly implemented. Incidents should be registered and investigated as promptly as possible and the reporting customer or employee should always be informed on the specific corrective actions. Action plans need to be established and efficiency monitored closely; additionally, surveys should be carried out on a regular basis.

9. Focus on friendliness of staff: the current landscape makes travelers more sensitive and potentially more irritable than pre-COVID times. Focusing on the friendliness of staff is key. While these are also difficult circumstances for employees, additional training can raise awareness about the situation and trigger appropriate action.

10. Offer a high quality free and unlimited Internet connection: apart of the obvious purposes, a high-speed internet connection is a must, not only for passengers but also for airports which use beacons and sensors to guide passengers through the terminal, to monitor their movements, gather data, push both commercial activities and promotions, or selected operational information.

Global harmonization

There is no doubt that the measures outlined will help airports to rebuild passenger confidence in air travel and reassure them that their health and safety is the number one priority.

The most effective way for airports to do this, however, is to align new processes and procedures with globally-established protocols or standards set by organizations like ICAO, EASA and the ECDC.

Global consistency on high standards of health, hygiene and cleanliness will help to underpin a sustained recovery of air travel.

Alexandra Droc has more than 5 years’ experience working on passenger journey improvements and customer experience implementation in the airport industry. As a Senior Consultant with Ineco she collaborates on the development of customer-centric solutions for multiple clients from the airport industry, putting a great deal of importance on opportunities to increase revenues. Prior to joining INECO, she developed her career with Brussels Airport Company and Aeropuertos Argentina 2000. She holds a Master´s Degree from the University of Louvain and a specialization in Integrated Marketing, as well as expertise in Design Thinking.

Mareike Asmus has over 20 years of experience in the international aviation industry in operations together with business development and marketing. She started her career in the airline sector working for Lufthansa and Vueling Airlines and joined Ineco as Senior Consultant 12 years ago where she has been involved in aviation projects ever since, among others in Route Development for Aena, the Spanish Airports Operator.

Cristina Delgado is a Transport Consultant, MSc Civil Engineer with 15 years’ experience in strategic transport planning and mobility with Ineco. As Area Manager of the Economics and Transport Policy Area she strives to provide tailor-made solutions in consultancy projects, such as smart transport planning, strategic policies, regulation and competence, logistics and freight, transport economics, PPPs, and project finance of all transportation modes – aviation, railway, roadway, maritime and public transport.

The article was provided by a third party and, as such, the views expressed therein and/or presented are their own and may not represent or reflect the views of ACI, its management, Board, or members. Readers should not act on the basis of any information contained in the blog without referring to applicable laws and regulations and/or without appropriate professional advice.

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