COVID-19: What to expect from your next journey at the airport

Valérie St-James by Valérie St-James | Jul 6, 2020

The beginning of 2020 began with what was to become an unprecedented challenge: the COVID-19 outbreak.

Airports have rightly adjusted to meet authorities’ requirements to ensure employee and passenger health and safety, but this raises questions around the current and future passenger experience.

No matter the new measures that may be put in place, airports will continue to deliver a passenger experience and the way passengers will experience their journey at the airport during this difficult time will impact their overall perception of the situation and their confidence in future travels.

Passenger past expectations

The level of passenger satisfaction at an airport is strongly influenced by their initial expectations before starting their journey. Initial expectations reflect how passengers predict that services should be delivered, and these predictions are mostly built on past experiences. Expectations can change over time as a passenger has positive or negative experiences.

Passengers are about to discover a new experience at the airport.

In these unusual times, passengers are now facing a lot of uncertainties. Even though they have expectations built on previous experiences of travelling in different airports, they don’t know what to expect from their next visit. Their next journey at the airport will certainly affect their frame of reference.

Airports that will be proactive in anticipating the new passengers’ expectations will be the most successful in addressing their key concerns. This will help continue generating positive emotions and experiences. Reviewing the customer experience strategy is crucial to addressing potential concerns and to redesign an experience that will reassure the passengers and engender trust in travelling.

Creating a positive environment must remain the focus, no matter the challenges. There are still some ways to delight passengers despite the new constraints – by listening to them and understanding what could create confusion and anxiety.

New passenger expectations

To help airports anticipate passenger reactions to this new reality, ACI’s ASQ team has explored data collected by member airports at the beginning of the crisis. Earlier this year, before drastic measures were implemented, and some airports and borders were closed.

Airports had to react quickly to limit the spread of the virus and, within a few weeks, they implemented a series of new measures. Using initial passenger reactions in a time of crisis can provide valuable insights to airports planning for recovery.

For the past few years, ASQ data has been quite stable in showing that basic needs driving the overall satisfaction in airports are:

  1. Cleanliness of the airport
  2. Availability of washrooms/toilets, and
  3. Internet access/Wi-Fi.

The impact of the crisis has been significant enough for the passenger experience that some of these key drivers have been impacted and changes have been discerned:

Cleanliness of the airport terminal and washrooms

In the context of a health crisis where new hygiene measures had to be implemented, it’s not surprising that cleanliness remains among the essentials. Furthermore, it can be expected that passengers will not only anticipate a clean environment, they will expect a sanitized environment that will limit spread of germs.

The feeling of being safe and secure

The perceived importance of the sense of safety and security has increased in the context of the health crisis. Results show that the airport staff can play a key role in reassuring the passengers by applying and promoting safety measures.

Ease of finding your way through the airport

The ease of finding one’s way through the airport has increased in terms of importance in driving overall satisfaction. With new procedures, additional steps, and new requirements, passengers have lost their reference points and need additional support and guidelines to accomplish what is requested from them. While the measure itself is as important as how it is explained and communicated to the passengers, airport operators should not overwhelm passengers. Announcements in addition to regular calls, for instance, may cause confusion.

Airport Operational Practice – Examples for Managing COVID-19
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Measuring new expectations about safety and hygiene measures

While traffic levels have never been lower in airports, ASQ believes in continuing to monitor the level of satisfaction among passengers. This knowledge will be crucial, especially when airports enter the period of sustained recovery.

We know that passengers will eventually come back, but which type of passenger will travel first and for what reason? We all have our own hypotheses, but airport operators will need to understand what might prevent their passengers from travelling again and how the drivers of satisfaction will evolve over time.

To be proactive and provide the maximum insights to the member airports, ASQ has announced that new questions will be added to the Departures benchmarking survey delivered through a tablet. While the key steps of the passenger journey remain the same, the extra questions cover the new set of expectations about the perception of passengers’ own health safety and additional measures in place.

ASQ Member airports that are collecting surveys using the ASQ app will benefit from the new questions at no extra cost starting in the fourth quarter of 2020. For member airports that would like to access the new questions but are still collecting using paper questionnaires, they might want to consider switching to the cloud-based, paperless solution.

The key is to reassure passengers

Even though consumer perceptions and behaviours have evolved quickly since the beginning of the crisis, feelings of uncertainty remain.  It’s not idealistic to think that some of the measures implemented during the pandemic will remain after recovery.

Finding ways to close the gaps between the airports’ reality and the passengers’ expectations will help maintain a positive customer experience during the transition.

Addressing and tracking the new drivers of satisfaction in the redesign of the passenger journey will be the key to reassure passengers about the safety of air travel.

Valérie St-James

Valérie St-James

Director, ASQ Marketing Research, ACI World
Valerie St-James leads the airport service quality benchmarking programme team’s efforts in market research, operations, quality assurance and new product initiatives. With more than 15 years’ experience, Valerie is known for her expertise in transforming consumer data into meaningful strategic insight. She is devoted in creating robust tools and methodologies allowing airports to emerge in their customer experience journey, while building a strong community and delivering the best passenger experience.
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