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BLOGS Last modified on November 14, 2013

Guest blog: Who owns the passenger experience in US airports?

It’s been said that there’s no place quite like the United States when it comes to scale of ambition, commitment to customer service and sheer size of opportunity for all. 

This is certainly the case in the aviation sector where US gateways account for 18 of the 50 busiest passenger airports in the world, including the biggest of them all, Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta!


The world’s largest airlines are all American, too. But, while the majority of the world has a defined operating model whereby the airports own and operate their facilities directly, the picture in the USA is slightly more complex. 


Nowhere is this more evident than at New York–JFK, where key airlines are responsible for the management of terminals. This state-owned and airline-leased operation is common across the US; but it begs a key question: who exactly is responsible for the passenger experience – the airport or the airline?





Airports are the guys with their name above the door and, in the interests of self-sustainment and operational growth, they have a vested interest in ensuring passengers choose to depart and arrive via their runways, terminals and transport interchanges.


Airports have to care about their customers and, it could be argued, that it is their passenger-focused operation/services that make them stand out from the crowd and encourage repeat travel.


And as we all know, without repeat travel – i.e. a constant stream of passengers – there’s no compelling reason for airlines to select that particular airport to fly from.


On the downside, airports are often wrongly blamed by passengers for things that that they have little or no control over.


For example, when the car park is full, the security queue is too long or the retail operation leaves a bit to be desired, it is the airport that will more than likely be held responsible.





From an airline point of view, they are the ones that bring passengers to an airport, not the other way around.


They believe that the passenger experience starts from the moment a flight is booked and having the ability to personalise, optimise and improve that experience across the board is one that exists for the airlines and the airlines only.


However, they expect airports to do all that they can to make the ‘airport experience’ an enjoyable one. For, as we all know, a happy passenger spends more money – be it on retail or F&B at the airport or duty free items onboard flights.



Other agencies


What about the role played by organisations like the TSA, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the likes? Mere process points in the wider context of an airport operation? Not quite. In particular, the time spent waiting to be processed can make or break the entire experience.


These agencies, as indicated by the TSA’s (albeit cancelled) Automated Wait Time project, have a duty to deliver a great experience for travellers.



A way forward?


In reality, there’s no single member of the aviation community who holds full responsibility for the passenger and their overall experience.


Clearly it’s reliant on collaboration and requires the relevant relationships, processes, service level agreements and enabling technologies to make it happen – no matter who is leading the charge.


Whoever takes responsibility the requirement for increasingly optimised terminal operations is key in attracting, retaining and maximising the long-term value of a passenger.


Martin Bowman is transport sector director of Amor Group, a Lockheed Martin company.

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