How are airports using the internet to improve passenger experience?


In my previous post I wrote about airlines and how they use mobile technology to improve passenger experience. While I wish I saw more airline-airport pairs combining forces, it wouldn’t be fair not to mention airports’ efforts to make customers happy. Here are two unique European airports and their stories.

London City Airport

London City Airport has won numerous awards throughout the years and it boosts itself with having the fastest processing times, which is a strong value proposition especially for business travellers (63% of its total passengers).

For them the airport is conveniently located just 12 minutes from Canary Wharf, 14 minutes from Olympic Park and 22 minutes from Bank. Add to this standard 20 minute door-to-gate upon departure and 15 minute tarmac-to-train upon arrival. Not bad right? But how do you know you deliver to your promise? Well, you have to measure it.

200 cameras have been installed at London City Airport to track passengers. The software turns face-tracking into pixels on top of people’s heads and measures their real-time speed and trajectory. The airport can tell for example how fast each check-in desk is servicing customers and predict bottlenecks elsewhere at the airport.

“Everybody thinks cameras are expensive, but that’s really not the case. It’s crunching the data that needs more attention. For that you need to know what you want to change, monitor it and improve it“ said Declan Collier, CEO. At London City Airport it’s three things:

– optimise staff application by redistributing employees where they’re needed

– prioritise infrastructure development by knowing current usage

– give passengers real-time information

For the last point they combine data with airlines, rail, road and concessionaires, which means it’s not unusual for a passenger to receive a message like this “Hello Mr Johnson, today you can stay extra 25 min in your office because traffic is good. In case you’ve missed lunch you can order here and sit anywhere at the airport – we’ll deliver it to you.”

One would wonder if they ever get unhappy passengers, but it seems sometimes they do. However, they put these Twitter messages on a digital board at the terminal for everybody to see and work on solving them. The campaign is called “Put me on the board” and was hugely successful with employees and customers alike.

Helsinki Airport

Helsinki airport too has a very sophisticated real-time tracking system that generates heat maps of the airport traffic. To be precise it was the world’s first airport to deploy one. Helsinki Airport’s Senior VP – Joni Sundelin, however, decided to talk about the Quality Hunters series instead.

Quality Hunters is an initiative by Helsinki Airport and Finnair. It brings together the passengers and the service development professionals at each company in an effort to produce practical ideas that can make travel better for everyone. That’s right – crowd-sourcing for better air travel! Here are two ideas that came of Quality Hunters’ co-creative workshops and were realised at Helsinki airport:

TravelLab: TravelLab is a fun mobile laboratory. Over the summer, it was bringing prototypes of new services to passengers, who got to try them out, like yoga for example. The services are both fun and practical, but they all aim to make travelling through Helsinki Airport even smoother. Here’s what Quality Hunters says on its website regarding TravelLab “Some of the ideas that will be tested in TravelLab may seem familiar to those of you who have been following and taking part in our discussions and workshops, as they have, in fact, been created by you.”

A Match Made in Hel: It’s an event that brings top skaters from Europe and Asia to promote Helsinki as as the airport for fast transfers between East and West. The event takes place on 12-13 October and will be hosted by celebrated Finnish professional skateboarder Arto Saari and crew who will show off their skills at a one-of-a-kind, pop-up skate park on the airport grounds. I know, it’s unheard of, so I just let you watch the promotional video.

What are some exceptional services that you have experienced at airports? Which are the top airports in terms of human-centered design and customer-led innovation?

AirXperience KLM Amsterdam Schiphol

About the author: Elina Zheleva is an Independent Passenger Experience Expert and a vivid supporter of Human-Centered Design. She is the editor and curator of Airport Hub & Passenger eXperience. Her new initiative is – an event  for aviation experts and air travel startups. Previously she has worked in the European Aviation Safety Agency taking various roles in planning and controlling.