Heathrow Terminal 2 – Creating the ideal airport passenger experience?

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Heathrow Terminal 2

Photo courtesy Heathrow Airport Authority

Post from Jonathan Mindell

When Terminal 2 opens at Heathrow Airport in June, it will have undergone a rigorous pre-opening testing programme to ensure everything ‘works’ and there is no repeat of the debacle when Terminal 5 opened six years ago. The focus of the trial was to test and get feedback on the new environment, the processes and the considerable technology that is required to operate an airport terminal.

However, the best way of delivering a positive passenger experience is to ensure that at the point of customer engagement, front-line staff are prepared for whatever people and circumstances throw at them. It is hard to plan for un-planned events, but there would have been real benefit gained from introducing more disruption into the trials to mirror the real-life experiences of modern-day flying.

The Passenger Experience – a series of ‘Moments of Truth’

Over 30 years ago Jan Carlzon led the turnaround of Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) on the simple premise that in a customer-driven environment and economy, the key to success was the way in which he organised and empowered the company and its staff to manage the many millions of ‘Moments of Truth’ that customers experienced with the organisation.

His approach was to focus on the customer contact points (on average 5 per passenger per journey) and ensure that front-line staff could address each customer’s individual needs. In this way customers would have a positive experience with the airline (largely through positive engagement with its people), prompting both loyalty and a more positive reputation. This simple idea, through focussed execution on the ground, helped transform SAS to become a more customer-centric and profitable airline.

Thirty years on the concept of ‘Moments of Truth’ is still just as relevant to customer centric businesses, yet too often the focus on customer engagement remains a low priority.

This coming month, London’s Heathrow Airport opens the doors to its new Terminal 2 (T2), with the promise that it will offer one of the world’s most pleasant travelling experiences.

As the promotional material for the new terminal says, T2 is “central to Heathrow’s vision of making every journey better. Partner airlines will move closer together to improve flight connections and there will be more natural light and space than you are used to seeing in an airport. It will be an extraordinary new space in its own right – great for airlines and the staff who work there and great for every single passenger”. The emphasis of Heathrow’s vision seems to be focused on the significantly improved physical environment that the terminal will provide. However, the acid test as to how much better the passenger experience will be will come from the customer interaction and engagement and the level of interventions required by front-line staff.

Terminal 2 Proving trials – a comprehensive test of the infrastructure, if not the full customer experience

Recently, along with 2,500 others, I participated in a ‘trial’ at the nearly finished T2. The aim was to simulate departing, connecting and arriving passenger experiences, to test the infrastructure, space and people that will handle over 10 million passengers in the first year of operation for the new terminal.

The trial itself was extremely well organized and clearly a major part of the overall project plan – also learning from the less than sparkling opening of the (now award-winning) Terminal 5. Everyone was given a series of ‘scripts’ to follow different scenarios, aimed at testing out likely real-life events at the airport. Once through check-in and security, I was into the main departure area where there was a party atmosphere, with games, competitions and even jugglers and magicians to keep the ‘trialists’ happy.

Granted that the other distractions in a regular airport, such as the shops, were not open, but this was far from the normal atmosphere found in an airport terminal. In other senses as well, this day did not replicate the ‘norm’ that I experience in over 100 flights a year that I take – there were no flight delays, no broken down travellators, and no ‘grumpiness’ from either the trialists or the staff!

Jonathan MindellRead the rest of Jonathan’s experiences

Jonathan Mindell is a Senior Business Leader with a Passion for Service Excellence and Improving Customer Engagement.

He has consistently delivered improved business performance, achieved by optimising the customer, client, business partner and employee ‘experience’ for service-based organisations that bring benefit to peoples’ lives.

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