During the Aviation Festival, London, the Keynote Airport CEO Panel discussed how airports could adapt their services and experiences to recover quickly from disruption and match the evolving needs of returning passengers. The panel, led by John Strickland of JLS Consulting, featured insights from Stewart Wingate, CEO, Gatwick Airport Limited, John Holland Kaye, CEO, Heathrow Airport, Ltd., Kadri Samsunlu, CEO, IGA Istanbul Airport, and Julie Shainock, Global Managing Director, Travel and Transportation Industry, Microsoft.
Julie Shainock of Microsoft suggested that data exchange between airlines and airports and IT infrastructure, which supports frictionless travel, are winning strategies for recovery and the future. “An open data platform between airlines and airports, when there is a disruption, would be so nice. The airport could do it themselves [and notify passengers that they are] sending a cart or trolley down to the gate with food and water, Coca Cola, whatever you want to offer. I do think some of those things can happen,” she said. “Then the other piece is a frictionless environment, moving us along. You’re doing a lot of that today. But the open data platform—sharing information—is probably one of the key areas that we must look to collaborate between airlines and airports going forward.”
Gatwick’s CEO, Stewart Wingate, agreed. “I think this matter of sharing information is really important,” he said. “Certainly at Gatwick and I’m sure at Heathrow as well. At Gatwick, we recognize that, and we’ve had a few tests of severe disruptions. Many years ago, we learned our lessons from that. One of the things that we did was to work with airport labs. And we created what’s called the community. We were the first airport to roll this out. But it is very much an open platform. It’s available to anybody who’s got an airport ID. And it means that as you go through the airport as a passenger or a user of the airport, you can ask any member of any company’s staff about information, for example, on your flight. And they can go on to this app. And they can tell you all sorts of information about the logistics of the flight, what the estimated takeoff time is, the estimated landing time of arrival is how many people are going through the airport that day, how many people are going through at that hour. There’s all sort of information… We started going to great lengths to put those out and ensure platforms have information in place, then train people to use it effectively. What we’ve also done is, in times of disruption, say a weather disruption… It’s not just about the information that we have at our fingertips. It’s also how we behave. What we’ve put in place is what we call terminal captains. The minute we start to escalate our control of a situation when things are getting disrupted, we designate one of the senior members of the team [as the terminal captain]. And their specific role within crisis management is to make sure that they look after the welfare and the safety of the passengers. While everybody else is worried about how to clear snow or whether we have enough de-icing media, one person from our senior team has designated throughout the crisis to make sure that, for example, people haven’t been held on an aircraft for six or seven hours. Or in the gate room, without any water, a Coca-Cola, or some food. We’ve got those very practical responses built into the systems and processes that we use when we are dealing with disruption.”
Heathrow’s CEO, John Holland Kaye, suggested the key is to give people control and information to help guide their decision-making at the time of disruption.
“Is it worth me waiting to see if the flight is delayed, will it actually fly, or should I go home? The more you can democratize information…and it’s continually improving. The more we can put that [information] into passengers’ hands, the better,” he said. “We have to take ownership for that, even if we have no actual accountability or responsibility for delivering service. That’s something we learned out of snow crises a decade ago. And it’s quite liberating because it means that you make sure that the processes are put in place to support people. It’s all about having your standard operating procedures, and then you contingency standard operating procedures, you’ve got people who have rehearsed them and implemented them. We occasionally have issues around Border Force, they don’t have enough people, and when the technology fails, we can have long queues…We have a contingency plan that when we think the queue is going to get beyond an hour, we bring out the contingency supplies.”
Kadri Samsunlu, CEO, IGA Istanbul Airport said, seamless travel is a priority for the airport. “To do that, we need to get rid of these disruptions from our processes. What’s important is data sharing and joint decision making with our stakeholders [the police, the customs, or the airlines],” he said. “For us, of course, the biggest customer is Turkish Airlines. We are trying to integrate our systems as much as we can with their system, so [the two systems] will be talking with each other. Currently, [we are working] with the tower manager on the details of a cooperative decision-making system, which means the decisions will be taken jointly, which will increase the efficiency on the operation side. We will be able to provide better comfort to the passengers, as well… Because in the eye of the passengers, they don’t care about the policy, don’t care about the cost, and only know the airport operator. We are trying to do better in Istanbul to push the necessary buttons at the end of the other stakeholders to take care of the problems quickly and efficiently. Also, we are continuously offering them contingencies for the technologies they are using. So if it fails, the system doesn’t stop.”
By Marisa Garcia