10th Annual Airport Revenue News Conference Recap: Re-imagining the Airport Customer Experience

Resonating throughout the 10th annual Airport Revenue News (ARN) conference sessions in Orlando, Florida, this month was the notion of the customer experience as an essential factor in enhancing non‐aeronautical revenues and as a design criterion for current passenger terminal development. From leadership, performance and customer service discussions led by airport retail experts, former Southwest Airlines and Disney World executives to celebrity chefs from the Food Network, there was no shortage of reminders ‐ as speaker and AirMall Director of Business Development, Alan Gluck, put it ‐ that “…customers vote with their wallets.”

Here are some highlights from our visit to the 2014 ARN conference:


Designing Literally around the Customer Experience ‐ Comparing existing versus greenfield passenger terminal redevelopments, panelists were quick to remind us how important it is for new terminals to commence the integrated design process by ensuring that the planning and operational stakeholders as well as the vendors are engaged in the process early and concurrently, in order to avoid the paradigm of being “handed” a set of terminal floor plans to simply “plug‐in” retail into the building usually well after the design is completed. New airport passenger terminals the world over – from Dallas Ft.‐Worth to Pulkovo, Russia to Mumbai, India – are building around the post‐security customer experience to give travelers a plethora of world class options and amenities after they travel past security as well as customers and border control. As Oakland International Airport Director of Aviation and ARN Small/Medium Airport Director of the Year Awardee, Deborah Ale‐Flint suggested, airports might look to the hospitality and lifestyle industries to find alternative customer service models that airports should consider adopting to re‐focus on the customer perspective in passenger terminals.

The travel experience is now from your doorway to the jetway – And it is ironic, noted Stephen Friedbrun of ICF International‐SHE, a discussion panel moderator, that many surveyed passengers seldom consider “design” as a decisive factor in their travel decisions. The reality is that customers in most regions have choices and their decision to travel through or connect at a particular airport, whether they acknowledge it or not, can reflect their satisfaction with their entire experience before they board the aircraft. Along those lines, Corgan’s Mark Lobell, suggested in his panel discussion that there are certainly myriad opportunities to engage the customer at every step of the way in the journey – including “branding” the passenger security check point (see image of Boston Logan’s Terminal C newly‐launched checkpoint showcasing Boston’s sports heritage, right).

There’s no shortage of ideas to improve the door‐to‐jetway experience at the ARN Conference Exhibitors Hall, with innovative phone charging products like FuelRod™ that aspire to be located in “SwapBox” dispensers at every airport concourse in the country to, according to their literature, “be the first reusable, portable charging system that allows you to fuel (charge) your mobile device on the go, and then recharge or swap for a fresh one.”

Leveraging technology to “bring the Airport to the passengers” – Presenters also discussed how technology can literally bring the airport to the passengers. Paradies Sr. VP of Strategic Planning & Development, John Cugasi, explained that their “At Your Service” product is a mobile merchandise unit with its own battery powered POS and refrigeration unit that quickly move from gate‐to‐gate without forcing “gate huggers” – airport‐speak for passengers who remain at their seats in the gate over the duration of terminal wait time – to leave the gate to access the airport’s retail offerings (see image of the kiosk, left).

As Rick Blatstein, CEO of OTG, a purveyor of technology‐enabled unique food and beverageofferings, asserted in his presentation that  “connecting with the customer defines their experience.” With that in mind, OTG’s unique “chef‐driven, local concepts” can be ordered straight to your seat at the passenger holdroom with a simple tap on an iPad stationed right in the gate area (see image of the iPad stations in at PHL, Terminal F, right). Additionally, with 47% of travelers at LaGuardia Airport’s Terminals C and D not using English as a default language setting on their iPhones, Blatstein noted that there’s certainly an opportunity to leverage technology to further engage nearly half of the other international travelers at the airport.

One idea that was presented by Alan Gluck of AIRMALL USA was a unique service for passengers, ChargeItSpot. ChargeItSpot was developed by a small Philadelphia start‐up firm and is already available in Center City Philadelphia at numerous restaurants and retail shops and developments. The ChargeItSpot charging locker system allows travelers safely lock their devices while recharging to avoid the ignominy of squatting around column wraps and dark corners at the terminal while recharging their personal electronic devices. The ability to free up the traveler and have them out and about in the terminal will not only change the passenger’s overall travel experience but tremendously impact the airport’s commercial operators as well.

Looking ahead, Oakland International’s, Deborah Ale‐Flint, suggested that her airport – in a manner befitting the tech‐savvy Bay Area ‐ wouldbe interested in “personalizing” the airport experience using actual data illustrating passenger usage patterns. As technology applications continue to rapidly proliferate in the aviation sector and provide myriad new opportunities to connect with and enhance the customer travelexperience, ARN panelists concluded that that technology should always be an enabler – a means to an end – and never a replacement for customer service with the human touch.

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