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OTHER ARTICLES Last modified on December 30, 2016

People Matters - The human touch

Dr Richard Plenty and Terri Morrissey reflect on the importance of stakeholder engagement.

Walking into the Arrivals Hall at Dublin Airport’s Terminal 2 last December was an uplifting experience. As the doors to the Hall slid open from the functional but rather soulless customs area, a wave of familiar festive tunes provided a wall of cheer for everyone, whether visiting the country or returning home for Christmas.

For the incoming passenger the warmth of the welcome was striking, the more so since the local community were taking the lead with adult choirs, choral societies, orchestras and even schools contributing to the entertainment. 

There was a sense that people had turned out voluntarily in a spirited and concerted effort to make first impressions memorable.

The airport experience should be all about the joy of connecting people and places – and episodes like this remind us of that. Unfortunately, only too often all that gets remembered is the hassle of travel. Fears about personal safety, long lines at security and immigration, lost baggage, endless walks through buildings undergoing renovation – not to mention traffic to and from the airport – can all make the journey stressful and difficult for the passenger.  

The human touch plays a major role in mitigating the strain and stress of travel. However, to do this well, day in and day out, is difficult to achieve. Everyone who works at an airport, whether employed by the airport itself,
by airlines, contractors, concessionaires or government authorities have some part to play in the passenger experience, either directly or indirectly. 

How can airport leaders ensure the human touch gets the attention it deserves given the number of players involved? 

  • Walk in the passengers’ shoes and see things with their eyes. Map their journey through the airport; identify the bottlenecks and potential difficulties in interfaces with people. Seek passenger feedback, including ASQ data and complaints. Redesign where necessary to improve their experience.
  • Make the time and resources available to explain to all stakeholders the customer experience vision for the airport. Ensure training is in place for all stakeholders, not just direct employees. Aim to get people enthusiastic and engaged in the passenger experience. Involve them in the process, listen to their ideas and address any issues they may have.

Leaders don’t always give stakeholder engagement the priority it deserves. It can seem much less important than pressing operational, security and technical issues. 

But improvements in passenger experience depend critically on the contributions of many different groups and all stakeholders have a role to play. Investing in the resources needed to bring stakeholders on board makes good sense. 

While airports connect people with places, airport leaders connect stakeholders with the customer.


Arrivals and departures

Philippe Rainville will become the new president and CEO of Aéroports de Montréal (ADM) on January 1, 2017, succeeding James Cherry, who retires at the end of 2016. He has served as ADM’s vice-president of planning, engineering and construction since 2014 and therefore knows the airport well.

The former managing director of Tirana International Airport in Albania, Andrea Gebbeken, has joined the top table at Munich Airport as the managing director responsible for end-customer business, corporate security, and quality and project management. 

Robert Gilbert is the new chief development officer of Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA). He will be responsible for leading and co-ordinating the planning and delivery of all elements of the LAWA capital programme including LAX’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP). 

London Heathrow has a new chief financial officer, Javier Echave, who has assumed the position permanently after a period as interim CFO. Since joining Heathrow (then BAA) in 2008, he has advised the board and chief executive on establishing the company’s current capital structure and positioning Heathrow with a strong credit rating in the financial markets. 

Bert van der Stege has been appointed vice president business development and chief commercial officer of Halifax International Airport Authority (HIAA), replacing Ian Arthur, who recently resigned from HIAA for family reasons.

London City Airport has recruited from within and named Alison FitzGerald as its new chief operating officer following the departure of Darren Grover. FitzGerald, who joined the airport in 2014 as chief information officer, takes on responsibility for all operational areas of the business across the terminal and airfield. She will also retain responsibility for technology.

Auckland Airport has announced the appointment of Shakeel Adam as its new general manager aeronautical commercial. He will start work at Auckland Airport in the New Year.


About the authors

Dr Richard Plenty is managing director of This Is… and delivers ACI’s ‘Airport Human Resources’ training. Terri Morrissey is chairperson of This Is… and CEO of the Psychological Society of Ireland. Contact them through  

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