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PASSENGER SERVICES Last modified on May 30, 2016

Out to impress

From trendy new uniforms in Denver to Nao the robot at Tokyo Haneda, it has already been quite a year for customer service innovation at airports around the world, writes Joe Bates.

Denver was one of the first to shine in 2016, introducing arguably the coolest airport uniforms on the planet for its customer service teams.

The new blue plaid uniforms – launched in partnership with Colorado-based Spyder Active Sports – are being worn by customer service agents at information booths, airport ambassadors and volunteers from its Canine Airport Therapy Squad (CATS).

“The new look for our customer service team will increase the visibility of our dedicated volunteers and employees who answer questions, direct passengers and help introduce millions of people every year to our special brand of Colorado hospitality,” says Denver International Airport’s CEO, Kim Day.

“We are creating a new look and identity that reflects the spirit of the Rocky Mountain region, where we actively engage with passengers to help create an elevated travelling experience.”

I, Robot

Nao has joined the growing list of airport robots by providing Japan Airlines passengers at Tokyo Haneda Airport with information about flight schedules, security requirements and weather reports.

Japan Airlines started trials of the humanoid robot guide at Haneda in February and the tiniest member of its workforce at just 60 centimetres tall proved popular with customers. Now the airline has to decide whether he impressed them enough to become a more permanent fixture at the airport.

Built by a French company, it speaks Japanese, English and Chinese and was placed in the departure hall and security check areas for maximum impact during the trials. 
Making some noise

In March, Austin-Bergstrom celebrated the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in the city by presenting its own SXSW sanctioned showcase of events in addition to its regular weekly lives shows.

“The SXSW shows make for extra musical fun added to the airport’s usual live music performances,” said the Texas gateway, noting that airport concessionaire, DNC, has been a sponsor of live music at Austin-Bergstrom since its inception. 

A very different kind of noise is being made at Gatwick courtesy of the world’s largest interactive sound installation installed on its iconic 180-metre long Skybridge.

For the sounds to be heard in the ‘A Living River’ soundscape are from China’s Yangtze River courtesy 128 kilometres of cables and 160 speakers across 80 channels that immerse visitors in 3D sound for the duration of their journey across the Skybridge.
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The soundscape includes everything from rushing water, the crackling of rocks and stones on the riverbed to skylarks singing in the trees and, incredibly, all were recorded by award winning sound designer and audio specialist, Nick Ryan, and a colleague during a whirlwind five-day trip to China when they recorded over 100 hours of material.

The sounds react and change to people’s movements (using motion sensors), so everyone’s experience is unique and, as an added element, the installation is responsive to live weather, so if it’s raining on the Yangtze you will hear rain in the Skybridge.

Described as a “one-off” installation by Gatwick’s chief commercial officer Guy Stephenson, the soundscape is designed to celebrate the work of HSBC’s 15-year partnership with World Wildlife Fund and The Water Programme in the Yangtze.
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“Airports are all about experiences and I believe that we have created something unique here that will delight and entertainment our customers and that they will go home and talk about it and Gatwick Airport,” Stephenson told Airport World.

“I think if we put a smile on people’s faces then it will be a success. Is there any commercial benefit in it for us? Not really, but then again not everything is measurable. If people like it and talk about it then that’s great and they will hopefully want to come back.”

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Food for thought

And the world of airport retail and F&B hasn’t been far behind either in terms of the unveiling of new and sometimes literally mouth watering new facilities.

These have included the opening of a new celebrity chef restaurant at Washington Dulles (Wolfgang Puck); the unveiling of the world’s first airport gin distillery at London Gatwick; plans for a rodeo bar and Belgian beer kiosk at Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW); and the creation of the largest M&M’s store in travel retail at Hong Kong International Airport.

According to DFS, the new 35sqm M&M’s outlet at Hong Kong International Airport is designed to offer “chocolate lovers a unique, entertaining and fun travel experience, driving travellers into the store”. 

Located close to Gate N28 in Terminal 1 and set up in partnership with International Travel Retail, it is described as an “interactive retail theatre with a focus on fun as well as personalised and unique to Hong Kong”. 

Sense of place displays include a replica of one of Hong Kong’s iconic dragon boats along with artwork that incorporates the brand’s world famous Red and Yellow characters.

Website innovation

Rio de Janeiro’s Tom Jobim International Airport also has a new member of staff in the shape of its new sign language expert, Hugo.

He is described as a “virtual interpreter” by airport operator, RIOgaleão, and is a new addition to its website as part of an initiative to make the gateway more accessible and, subsequently the airport experience more enjoyable, for all users.

RIOgaleão says that Hugo is designed to help people with impaired hearing better understand, use and explore the airport website site to find information such as the location of airlines, buses, BRT [bus rapid transit] system, shops and restaurants.

The airport believes that it is a pioneering new service and states that it is one that it is particularly proud to have introduced as the 2010 Census revealed that up to 10 million people in Brazil alone have hearing difficulties, a large proportion of which don’t speak Portuguese.

Users can activate and interact with Hugo on the airport’s website – www.riogaleao.com – by clicking on the ‘Hand Talk’ icon in the corner of the screen.

The airport is expected to enjoy a record-breaking year for passenger traffic as Rio, of course, will host both the Olympic Games and the Paralympics later this year.

RIOgaleão notes notes that Rio de Janeiro’s hosting of two such huge sporting events this year ensures that ‘accessibility’ is its watchword for 2016.

It says: “We hope that Hugo ensures that we have a communication channel for all at Tom Jobim International Airport.”
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Welcome to Michigan

Finally, Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) – which earlier this year introduced dedicated kerbside pick up areas for disabled passengers – has unveiled a new Pure Michigan photo exhibition which it hopes will please passengers and encourage them to explore the area.

For the newly installed photo experience at the International Arrivals Hall of the McNamara Terminal and in the North Terminal at will been seen by nearly 1.5 million international travellers that pass through the airport’s Federal Inspection Services facilities each year.

The campaign is one of the first of its kind in the US and is the result of a collaboration between Travel Michigan, the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, Detroit Metropolitan Airport, the airlines and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). 

Artwork as large as 12ft high and 61ft long, featuring images of Detroit cultural landmarks and the state’s natural beauty can be found at the European and Asian arrival gates and the baggage claim area in customs.

Native language videos featuring Detroit will also play on video monitors located throughout the customs area in the near future. 

As flights arrive, the videos will be served up in the most appropriate language, including English, German and Mandarin. Pure Michigan ads will also play on the monitors.

“Our arriving international travellers are now greeted with beautiful images of our state’s iconic landscapes, natural areas and culture – what better way to say, welcome to Michigan,” enthuses airport CEO, Thomas Naughton.

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