For aviation, the end of 2022 has its own meaning. It signifies the conclusion of a period of great misfortune for the industry. Along with the rest of the world air transport suffered a big deal over the past three years. Covid-19 struck which dimmed the industry and send the sector into a dark spell. Contentedly, I want to believe that we are now in the post pandemic era. Most of the nonsense that devastated civil aviation has gone with just a few exceptions remain at certain locations around the world. And having recently examined various research and other specialised studies, I would say that we can look ahead in 2023 with a degree of optimism.
Having said that, as aviation is under restoration; we should look the position of airports. I am under the impression that there is a need for airports to transform by becoming increasingly innovative and adventurous. This assertion isn’t based on most common Covid-19 related deliberations and disputes. Neither it stems out of sentimental reasons for a quick return to normality. As far as I am concerned, I’ve already wrote articles which highlight the challenges and dilemmas that currently confront airports. I maintain the position that proper recovery requires “skilled and talented manipulation” if passengers are to return in good faith.
Passengers have choice, airports don’t!
My reasoning for airports to change through innovation and ingenuity is based on the fact that nowadays passengers have higher expectations and bigger demands. And these hopes require airports to offer more efficient services, improved quality and outstanding journey experiences. Otherwise, people will move on to find elsewhere better, cheaper, faster; whatever that ‘something’ may be. To put it simply, passengers have choice, airports don’t! We all know that airports can’t survive without passengers. The thorny question is how can airports sustain a healthy passenger flow by using technological advances and resourcefulness?
As air transport recovers, airports find themselves to be within a very competitive field. A competition that stresses the need for better products and more efficient services. Strangely enough, these are exactly the same features which passengers find interesting or want them to outline their own travel experience. Oddly, as airports get in more competition the ‘passenger experience’ concept stretches more. This means that passenger satisfaction will be best accomplished through new ideas, fresh concepts and by adopting the latest in design and technology.
The current speedy expansion of the industry is a good indicator showing the scale of competition for airports. Around the globe there is noticeable increase on new airports or airports undergoing major development. In India for instance, from 74 airports few years ago, projections indicate 220 airports within the next five years. Similarly, the growth of Saudi Arabia’s air transport with a focus on airport infrastructure, demonstrates the scale of the issue. An impressive network of airports will be active very soon within this country. Other than generating internal competition, the new arrangement presents trials to airport operators within the region too.
Airports would have to become smarter
So, in such strong rivalry seems clear that airports find themselves in a stimulating situation. The quality of services and products offered to the travelling community has to be excellent. Take issues such as hygiene, safety and sanitation for example. People are very aware and decidedly alerted around such issues these days. This knack gives passengers choice, a privilege which airports do not have. With this point in mind, airport operators must focus on how to meet new passenger expectations and public behaviours.
Competition is high within the entire sector with the standards of cleanliness and hygiene extensively measured nowadays. This means passengers have more informative choices. Hygiene considered to be the main assessment criterion to evaluate the state of terminals, transit systems and all public spaces. Therefore, assuming that in 2023 they do not want to drop position on the relevant rating lists; airports would have to become smarter. They have to develop ground-breaking techniques for managing facilities and public spaces.
It is also very important for airports to understand that public consciousness and acquaintance with technologies and automation nowadays is high. Having this knowledge, makes travellers more demanding. This is because in conjunction with a desire for comfort, passengers want a smooth airport journey. People do not like queues and waiting times. A technologically shaped journey supported by top class retail, effective communication and outstanding customer care is the ultimate ‘passenger experience’ model. In this sense, airports must invest on technologies such as biometrics, contactless / scanned processes and speedy electronic lanes in order to entice travellers.
Focus on the development of the ‘passenger experience’
Curiously, a vast number of techniques and models which could improve passenger experience already exist. Airports have to either invest or capitalize in order to stay abreast with competition. I remember reading an article titled ‘Trolleys go high-tech at Manchester Airport’. The airport operator made a multi-million-pound investment to upgrade the trolley fleet. Other than having a customer friendlier design, the fleet combined advanced qualities including application of GPS for efficient allocation and tracking.
On a similar note, Changi International Airport began further transformation of the airport services with focus on the use of digital platforms. Understanding how critical it is to provide the ‘best passenger experience’; the company engaged digitization in most of its activities. The new digital opportunities provided passengers ample accessibility and flexibility as they go through the airport. In turn, passengers can enjoy shopping, feel more relax and comfortable. In line with the previous examples, Dubai Airports announced another significant digital experience for their customers. DAC claim to be the world’s ‘smart reading airport’ offering passengers a unique journey through their airports.
The cases described above, in a way recapitulate and echoed my reasoning for airports to focus on the development of ‘passenger experience’. Each traveller’s journey through an airport now more than ever before matters a lot. The vast socio-economic shock that the industry experienced since 2020 is still raw for the majority of people. To persuade passengers to come back or to trek through an airport is rather arduous. The biggest mistake airport operators can make is to assume that people will choose to fly from their facility. Regrettably, people use bizarre criteria to select where they fly from!
The airport – passenger relationship
Finally, unlike before, there is a continuous race between airports going on just now. Whether the race is at local level, within national boundaries or amid regional settings; the competition demands from all players to be at their best. In these conditions’ airports should work out quickly how to sustain customers and passengers. For me, a combination of available solutions, technology and innovation is the best mixture to fix the issue. The airport – passenger relationship is an important one. So, for travellers to remain loyal and come back they must feel they get the best in service. To this, I conclude with a quote by American entrepreneur and author Jim Rohn, “If you help enough people get what they want, you can have everything you want.”