Last week's satisfaction survey by consumer group Which? has revealed what UK passengers are looking for from their airports. 11,265 passengers were surveyed during 2017/2018 and were asked to score airports across ten categories, from retail and other facilities to queues and customer service. The final customer score was based on a combination of overall satisfaction and how likely respondents were to recommend the airport to a friend.
The results indicate that the UK's smaller airports are doing a great job of providing a positive travelling experience for their customers. Given that they have fewer constraints on their operation - both legally and practically – this comes as no huge surprise, but it does give the bigger airports a push to raise their game. Competition between airports has never been fiercer, with new routes opening all the time, and passengers are increasingly willing to pay a premium or travel further to get a flying start to their journey.
To a certain extent, the UK's larger airports have been a victim of their own success. Many have seen significant - and, in some cases, unexpected - growth in passenger numbers in recent years and this has put pressure on existing infrastructure and staff, creating a number of pinch points for passengers as they pass through. However, these challenges have not gone unnoticed, and a number of the bigger airports investing heavily in new terminal facilities and increased staff levels to improve the overall customer experience. But what else could and should UK airports be doing to innovate and not only survive, but thrive? And what lessons can the more local airports, and indeed the international goliaths, such as Hamad International Airport in Qatar or Changi in Singapore, offer?
Many airports are utilising biometrics to ensure a smoother passenger experience from check-in to boarding. Sydney airport has recently begun trialling ‘couch-to-gate’ Vision-Box facial recognition technology; and, as part of Hamad's ambition to become a 'Smart Airport' it is planning to embrace biometric technology, essentially ensuring that 'your face is your passport'.
Beijing Airport, recently ranked the second-busiest airport in the world for the seventh year in a row, and handling an average of 96 million passengers each year, has recently adopted Alibaba Cloud's AI technology 'ET Aviation Brain' to increase airport efficiency and reduce passenger delays by digitally assigning planes to aprons, or parking spaces for aircraft.
And visitors to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics can expect to be greeted on arrival at Haneda Airport by a number of robots available to provide help with a number of tasks from luggage transportation to language assistance. Haneda hopes that the robots will compensate for a possible lack of staff while passenger numbers spike during the Games.
Closer to home, Gatwick last year installed 2,000 indoor navigation beacons to enable augmented reality wayfinding at the airport. These provide an indoor navigation system which is seen as being much more reliable than GPS and enables third parties, airlines and the airport to develop augmented reality wayfinding tools within their apps. The technology could be used to send out reminders to late running passengers, or to notify an airline of their location in order to make an informed decision on whether to wait or offload their luggage so the aircraft can take off on time.
If some of these airports can rise to the challenge, then the sky's the limit.