In a city with multiple airports, passengers seemingly decide which one to fly from based on several key preferences. Multiple research and airport passenger satisfaction surveys identify these choices as price, air service quality destinations, airline/alliance loyalty and airport ground access.
The fact that ground access is so important to people shouldn’t come as any surprise as every passenger’s journey starts at home and ends with the turn of a door key somewhere around the world.
It is also worth remembering that on many short-haul trips, travel to/from the airport takes as much, if not more time, than the actual flight itself, and can significantly add to the hassle of air travel.
Traditionally, airports have earned a significant proportion of their revenues from passengers and employees parking their cars near the terminals.
But growing congestions on roads and car parks, unreliable journey times, ever stricter environmental regulations and changing travel habits have made make public transport access to/from airports increasingly viable in recent years and, in many cases, are now the preferred option of passengers.
The European Commission (EC) recommends that public transport and landside access to airports should be considered as part of the intermodal solution, stressing that where rail connections already exist at an airport, rail and air schedules should be aligned; and where there is no rail access, bus or coach shuttles to nearby rail stations should be provided.
Flightpath 2050, Europe’s Vision for Aviation, sets out the European Commission’s goal for 90% of travellers within Europe to be able to complete their journey, door-to-door, within four hours.
However, because there is only so much the aviation industry can do to reduce flight times, in order to meet the EC’s objective, radical steps will need to be taken to reduce the time passengers spend travelling to and from airports and making connections.
At a recent Airport Access Ideas Forum organised by the Global AirRail Alliance, leaders of air and ground transportation companies discussed how to make the journey to and from airport as frictionless as possible.
One of the key challenges addressed was the inability to provide passengers with a travel guarantee for door-to-door journeys.
Passengers indicate that they want their entire journey covered by partnership agreements (after all, they buy tickets to a destination city, not just its airport), so that in the event that their journey is interrupted, they will be offered an alternative means of transport.
Lack of ambition, co-operation, the absence of data integration and regulatory constraints has meant that this type of service is not widely available today.
To address this challenge, airports, airlines and ground transport operators need to start co-operating more with each other, and share data. Doing this will allow them to co-ordinate and plan for increased passenger flows, offer joint promotions and improve the overall passenger experience.
And demonstrating these benefits would help encourage customers to share their data between operators.
According to Blackstone Gates and the RE:Digital Group, which have partnered to design a global customer knowledge travel platform, passenger data held and used solely by individual travel service providers such as the airlines, hotels and rail companies, provides little value to passengers over the course of their entire journey.
Steve England, founder of RE:Digital Group, explains: “For too long, transport providers have thought only about themselves and what is in it for their business. Yet, the only reason they exist is because of the fare-paying passenger.
“It is time transport corporations stopped paying lip service to the mantra of putting the passenger first and truly think of the passenger experience in all they do. Technology can enable frictionless journeys, however, corporate ‘can’t do’ attitudes get in the way of a better passenger experience.”
It is also too easy to forget that many airport access issues actually begin in the terminal themselves with the problems passengers face trying to navigate their way through airport wayfinding systems to reach the public transport options.
Indeed, just finding the right rail link, taxi ranks or coach station can sometimes be daunting and prove as stressful as worrying about delayed trains or traffic jams on the way to the airport.
Passenger experience consultancy, Transporting Cities, recently carried out ‘passenger journey assessments’ at a number of airports with a direct rail link to the city centre, and discovered that ground access information for arriving passengers is often confusing
From our point of view, the biggest challenge to providing an excellent journey experience is recognising that passengers’ assumptions on rail services are informed by their home systems.
In the case of major airports, passengers often arrive from far-flung destinations and will interpret rail services differently. Also, as service levels are normally defined by the local operator, the offering maybe very different to what the newly arrived passengers is used to experiencing.
Each assessment involved a walkthrough from plane to train, assuming the role of a first-time user. This allows us to spot obstacles that a local doesn’t even notice, but there is more work to be done to advocate for the needs of passengers who are unfamiliar with the service.
Making the system more easily accessible for these passengers will increase the overall user experience. Both the Global AirRail Alliance and Transporting Cities have called for some level of standardisation in information provision across major airports so that a visitor to any global airport can expect to see a familiar guide through to the rail service.
For example, if multiple rail operators and/or rail services serve an airport, more often than not passengers are left to their own devices to distinguish between them and to interpret the wayfinding signs or figure out which ticket machine sells the correct tickets. As a result, sometimes their first experience in a new city is being fined for having the wrong ticket!
Improving airport access by introducing different public and private transport options is crucial for passenger experience, but more choice brings information noise.
To simplify and ensure the consistency of information and services provided to passengers, all transport operators need to be part of the service planning conversations from the start, as this can improve the journey experience and increase operators’ revenue.