Balancing COVID-19 biosafety and airline passenger experiences

Balancing COVID-19 biosafety and airline passenger experiences
Jun 2, 2021

How U.S. airports can offer adequate biosafety while still providing revenue-generating passenger experiences.

Airports today face unique, numerous, and ever-evolving challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The combination of a new focus on biosafety, the accelerated adoption of digital technologies, and changes to consumer behaviors while traveling, heighten the importance of a frictionless passenger experience for non-aeronautical revenue growth. Optimal passenger experiences curated by airports are especially important as we enter a period when airlines seem to be more focused on offering emotional comfort and biosafety at the expense of outstanding passenger experiences. The passenger journey will soon intertwine touchless and contactless technologies with the more mundane.

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Passenger behavior changes

How are passenger behaviors changing? What behavioral modifications may remain after the pandemic ends?

Industry experts define the airport customer experience as the way a customer perceives their interaction with an airport; it is the sum of all touchpoints (in person or otherwise) a passenger has during their journey.

Airports must commit to the new reality that today’s customer experience becomes tomorrow’s expectation—and the challenge for airports is that this experience changes every day.

The newest behavioral change stems from a passenger’s innate desire to feel confident that their journey within the airport will be risk-free. While being vaccinated is the number one factor that will instill higher confidence, such things as floor stickers for social distancing, new holdroom seating configurations, cleaning when crews can be seen, and virtual town hall meetings to convey safety techniques in place can provide the emotional comfort people need to use the airport without worry.

With the rapid adoption of touchless technologies, there are four new challenges, not only for the passenger, but for the airport as well. Understanding these challenges from the end user’s perspective (a customer-first mentality) provides a foundation for a well-conceived operations roadmap.

Special regard for the aging population

It’s also important to understand that passengers may have experiences that vary due to their age or physical ability. Thus, airports must make special considerations for passengers with disabilities or lower mobility while still providing outstanding, memorable, and touchless experiences.

Many travelers require specialized services such as wheelchair assistance or help boarding or disembarking. Impeding these airport activities can adversely affect the airport experience. Airports must explore alternatives to technologies that ensure all individuals can receive the same seamless and safe travel experience at the airport.

While the adoption curve for personal electronic devices is significant, some passengers may not have direct access to an electronic device. Alternatives need to be in place in the event a traveler cannot use a biometric self-check-in.

Because many touchless components synergize with devices such as smartphones or wearables, stakeholders need to be aware that not all travelers might have access to these devices; they must ensure safe alternatives are in place to communicate information, facilitate airport activities, and provide unobstructed movement.

What airports need to do

Each of these four strategic challenges highlights the importance of touchless technology within airports and the need for airports to ensure that biosafety and other technologies improve the customer experience while keeping passengers safe and emotionally comforted.

Consider where your airport stands, and look at this issue from a business process management perspective:

  • Focus on creating an airport able to adapt to ever-changing technology and customer desires.
  • Diagnose where your airport stands on the delivery of a touchless experience.
  • Map the passenger process and improve checkpoint efficiencies to drive post-security spending.
  • Determine the risk exposure (level of safety) from a passenger’s perspective and score it.
  • Document and communicate to employees all guidance on the passenger experience.
  • Establish key performance indicators you can monitor and continually improve.
  • Benchmark your progress against the progress at peer airports.

Biometrics are a key part of the airport’s touchless ecosystem; along with self-service and other touchless technologies, they’re becoming airport must-haves. But as vital as these technologies are to aviation in a COVID-19 (and possibly post-COVID-19 world), airports will need to manage them with passenger experiences firmly in mind.

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Meet the authors
  1. Stephen Freibrun, Principal, Airports and Americas Sector Lead, Aviation

    Stephen advises airports on commercial strategies, with more than three decades of management and real estate experience in the public and private sectors. View bio

  2. Allan Bachan, Vice President and Managing Director, Aviation MRO Operations

    Allan has more than 30 years of experience as an expert in aviation maintenance and engineering; maintenance, repair, and overhaul; and supply chain solutions and systems domains. View bio

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