Written by Ulla Lettijeff, Helsinki Airport Director and SVP, Finavia Corporation
Last year was challenging for the global aviation and tourism sectors. In Finland, the COVID-19 crisis pressed air traffic passenger volumes to a huge decline in the end of March 2020. In a very dramatic fashion overnight more than 90% of the traffic vanished at Helsinki Airport. Pre-COVID, on average 60,000 passengers and up to 750 flights per a day travelled through the airport – today there are 2,000–4,000 passengers and only 100–150 flights daily.
In January 2020, as soon as the news about the virus spread, we started to pro-actively intensify cleaning and disinfection, to distribute hand sanitizers, and to communicate new protocols to passengers and staff. Since then a lot of effort, working hours, and money has been invested in ensuring good hygiene and social distancing. We have also implemented several measures to help people to avoid contact throughout their journeys.
At the same time with the new requirements and measures, the airport had to face challenging decisions. Over 70% of turnover disappeared, and we implemented a strict cost-cutting program. All employees were temporarily laid off, 130 permanently, and we had to reduce costs to a minimum in order for the airport to survive beyond COVID.
For the past year the primary focus has been on creating an environment where our passengers can feel confident and safe. We have developed and changed airport operations and invested in new services and technologies to make working and travelling at our airport safer.
The passenger routes have been reorganized several times according to the changing travel restrictions. Special arrangements to limit the number of passengers in queueing, waiting areas, and apron busses were put in place. Large areas of the terminals and one of the three runways was closed. We have done our best to help the business operators at the airport by renegotiating agreements and being flexible with contractual terms.
Helsinki Airport, worked together with different companies and authorities to create innovative services. One of the most recognized is the Helsinki Airport COVID-19 sniffer dogs which received attention worldwide. The dogs arrived at the airport in September and they were an instant success among the passengers, employees, and media. The sniffer dogs can identify the COVID-19 virus earlier than laboratory tests.
Another example of a emerging technologies is the pilot to upgrade the cleaning process of security control trays with the help of UVC technology. UVC light kills bacteria and viruses and is used in the health care and food industry. With this new technology, the empty security control trays can now be disinfected quickly after each use.
Serving passengers and providing unique customer experience becomes even more important during difficult times. Surviving the crisis and taking control of the situation is easier when the foundation is solid, and every employee is on board with what you are trying to achieve.
Airport personnel has always been at the heart of our customer experience management. Employees play a crucial role in shaping the encounters with customers at the airport. Customer service cannot be produced beforehand or sold as a ready-made product. A unique passenger experience is created again and again every day.
We couldn’t have accomplished what they have without all the companies that operate at the airport and their personnel.
Airport employees have worked on the front line, ensuring smooth and safe travel during the COVID-19 crisis.
Recognition was received for our customer experience work through the ASQ award as the Best Airport by Size & Region in Europe for the 15-25 million passenger category. Alongside this award we also received the Best Hygiene Measures Award by Region. Both awards provide us with the acknowledgement that we rose up during a crisis and continue to evolve during the restart and recovery phase.
At the end of the day, positive feedback from passengers is our best reward. This was a difficult year, but we made it. We united our forces and worked together for a common goal.
We believe in the future and in travelling. People want to meet each other, experience new cultures, and embark on adventures. Despite the challenging times, Helsinki Airport continued the development program, renewing and enlarging the airport with a focus on customer experience and passenger comfort – and it has paid off in recognition and continual support from the travelling public.
Ulla Lettijeff is the Airport Director of Helsinki Airport and SVP at Finavia Corporation. Finavia Corporation manages and develops 21 airports in Finland. We offer the best long-haul connections in the Nordics and enable smooth travelling between Europe and other parts of the world. Our ground-breaking work in developing passenger experience, sustainability and snow-how are recognized as being among the best in the world. All our airports are carbon neutral. In 2019, our corporate revenue totaled MEUR 389 and the number of employees was 2,775. Finavia brings the world closer together.
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