The passenger experience of air travellers at airports around the world has been difficult at best due to the Covid pandemic. At that time flight restrictions and Covid regulations meant that more documentation was needed at airports and in addition there was the enforcement of mask wearing causing inconvenience to passengers. To make matters worse, once restrictions were lifted there was a surge in demand for air travel which airports around the world found difficult to cope with because many staff had been laid off during the pandemic when demand for air travel was less. As a result, the passenger experience was reduced drastically as there were mass delays and cancellations at airports around the world, in particular affecting airports in Europe as well as North America.
Speaking to a couple who are frequent air travelers around the world about their passenger experience, they commented that their recent visit to Chennai in India was marred by numerous questions asked of the lady passenger as she passed through passport control on arrival. Understandably however, the Chennai authorities may have been jittery because of the recent removal of 20 customs officers from duty as a result of the seizure of smuggled gold, phones and other valuables from 113 air travelers, as revealed in the Times of India. Such was the situation, that it could have also affected the treatment and therefore the passenger experience of many people traveling at around the same time. However, what is the situation elsewhere?
It does appear that when the couple traveled to Sri Lanka the passenger experience was completely different. Staff at Sri Lanka’s Colombo Airport were co-operative and friendly and there were even notices put up encouraging feedback on their passenger experience. The couple also commented on the fact that the airport appeared to be promoting tourism in country. This will be music to the ears of people in the IATA (International Air Transport Association) who have been promoting the idea of using aviation as a vehicle to generate greater economic growth and prosperity in Sri Lanka. Philip Goh, the IATA’s Vice President of the Asia Pacific Region, has commented that aviation can play an important role in Sri Lanka’s economic and social advancement but that it would need government support. He then urged the government to do more to develop a strong airline sector and develop Colombo into an aviation hub.
In terms of other countries, it does appear that London’s Heathrow airport, according to the International Airport Review, became London’s airport of choice for those wanting to have a smooth journey over the summer. Passenger experience was good with passenger satisfaction being rated higher than pre-pandemic levels. Security wait times were on average 1.5 minutes. People used the extra time they had to stock up on sandwiches with the store Pret A Manger selling one million over the summer. Others bought items for the beach with one pair of sunglasses being sold every two minutes. Heathrow Chief Executive Officer John Holland-Kaye said that he was proud of the work their staff had done in giving passengers a super start to their summer holidays.
In airports such as Finland’s Helsinki- Vantaa International Airport, there is a new emphasis on passenger experience which may be a growing trend in airport development. According to Enoch Opare Mintah, writing for the International Airport Review, the airport provides a green scenic passenger experience. When he landed at the airport he was met with green scenery. A person he spoke to felt that the green plants in the airport provided an initial therapy to their jetlag. Another said that the scenery was therapeutic. It is clear that passenger experience is greatly improved by making airports more visually attractive.
It appears that the theme of making airports more visually attractive has continued with Orlando International Airport in Florida in the United States. According to the International Airport Review, the airport has been credited with having the country’s most active art programs. It now has an art gallery and new art experience to honor it. Kevin J. Thibault Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority has a history of supporting art in public spaces and sees the value of engaging passengers and enriching them culturally.
However the truth is that even though these efforts have taken place the impact on passenger experience is mixed. According to Sjytrax, there are mixed feelings from passengers about the experience at the airport. One passenger describes it as a terrific experience and a big improvement on previous visits saying how it was quick to move through the airport for departures and arrivals. Another passenger remarks that at the time that they traveled their arrival was marred by delays and waiting for baggage and maltreatment of their elderly parents by staff. One can see that regardless of how aesthetically pleasing an airport is, people do care about having smooth and timely passage through airports. As we know North America, is no stranger to mass delays and congestion through airports causing misery for many having had to deal with it in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic.
As one can see passenger experience at airports around the world is an area that is important for air travelers. Many airports are striving for better performance with the support of aviation institutions such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA). In addition, even though airports have struggled to maintain a good passenger experience for air travelers during the pandemic and its immediate aftermath, they are now starting to improve greatly. This includes making the passenger experience in airports more aesthetically pleasing. We have to wait to see how this progresses.