Turn your passenger experience back on

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The travel and aviation sector have been more affected than most and restarting operations continues to be a mammoth task.

In our introductory piece Planning for a new era of air travel, we identified a series of critical questions for the sector to answer when restarting their operations and trying to attract customers back to flying. We proposed that designing the experience of travel was more important than ever to build confidence, ensure safe travel and align services to mandated policies and regulations.

In the restart phase the primary consideration has been on safety and implementing and operationalising new restrictions. It’s these restrictions that will create unintended consequences for passengers and it’s here where you should consider focusing your passenger experience efforts to help mitigate the fall-out.

We expand on four areas where designing the passenger experience and service can help you restart successfully:

  • Design in response to new restrictions and procedures
  • Designing the experiences with a view of the new normal
  • Designing the experiences of responsive services and always-on communication
  • Designing for collaboration using real-time data

Design in response to new restrictions and procedures

Many customers have safety concerns about travelling through airports as a result of the global pandemic. With rigorous testing procedures in place, limited facilities and social distancing measures in place, only those who feel they have to travel will be taking to the air.

The restrictions will mean having to design the experience for passengers around some very stringent safety measures.

During this period there should be a concerted effort to take the action required while mitigating the fall-out from the new restrictions to ease customers anxieties and communicate to the wider world that it’s safe and desirable to fly again.

Reduce the negative impact of the new restrictions

We have already seen airports restricting entry to terminal buildings to passengers with a ticket and restricting early arrival at the airport.

These rules, although well-intentioned, can create anxiety for passengers. Often, passengers will turn up with well-wishers who stay with them until they are checked-in and have dropped off their bags. For some, being waved off by well-wishes is an important part of the experience. For others, practical assistance is

Restricting entry in the Terminal building creates a challenge for landside operations teams to manage the arrivals of passengers more so than previously. Therefore, designing the experience of pre-arrival and arrival at the Terminal is far more critical than ever and should include ensuring that passengers are informed and don’t turn up early or with additional people, and if they do, provision is made outside the Terminal.

Actively design the cleanliness journey

Another anxiety for passengers will be how to keep as clean and self-contained as possible throughout the experience.

For airports and airlines, this has meant implementing an even more comprehensive 24/7 cleaning schedule and finding ways to limit contact with surfaces, for example, through the adoption of touchless technologies.

The perception of cleanliness is essential to ensuring passengers feel comfortable. Therefore, designing an experience that communicates cleanliness can help. This can be as simple as making cleaning staff more visible to passengers through the development of uniforms, visually communicating when surfaces were last cleaned and using scent and light at crucial points to reinforce the cleanliness of the space. Just as supermarkets pump the smell of the baking to the front of the store to provide 'freshness and quality' cues, then there should also be consideration of how to use the senses to relieve passengers’ anxieties.

Balance cost-saving and revenue-making with ‘doing the right thing’.

In the short term, airports and airlines will need to recoup some of their losses but also keep unnecessary operating costs to a minimum and there is a careful balance to strike between cost-efficiency with passenger safety.

As part of their restart plans, airports have begun placing PPE (personal protective equipment) vending machines that allow passengers to purchase masks and hand sanitiser throughout their journey through the facility. This serves the purpose of allowing passengers who have forgotten or broken their masks to purchase another.

In principle, PPE vending machines ‘tick the box’ of making masks and sanitizer available, but cost should also not be a barrier to safety. If passengers cannot afford or are not in a position to purchase, then a discretionary alternative should be provided via some other means. Meaning front-line teams need to be equipped and empowered to decide when to distribute one.

With social distancing measures in place, it may also mean airports and airlines need to rethink how to reorganise space in the airport. This could mean reallocating space previously designated for business class passengers to optional private areas for economy passengers to access on a pay-as-you-go basis to escape the crowds.

Designing the experience with a view of the new normal

As well as dealing with the practical fall-out of the restrictions there is also the need to think differently about certain aspects of the airport and airline experience that give some indication of what might stay once things return to some degree of normal.

Developing workarounds for self-service

Although self-service solutions, including check-in and bag drop, can be the answer to limiting contact with other people, they still often require passengers to touch heavily used surfaces, particularly screens.

In the short term, adopting self-serve solutions that are minimal touch or better still, allow a passenger to use their mobile phone as the primary interface between the self-serve kiosk should be explored.

Also, the experience of the self-serve areas and how they should operate will need to be worked through as it’s like they will need to be reconfigured with built-in capacity and need a greater level of staffing. With social distancing in place, access and management of the area and the passenger-flow will need to be carefully designed and then managed.

Now is a great time to try new retail propositions and formats

Retailers are now having to put measures in place to adopt new guidelines, including pre-packaged food offers and making contactless payment standard.

In light of this, there has never been a greater opportunity to begin to trial different formats of retail. The current restrictions have presented a chance to test new retail experiences that more closely mirror what passengers are used to using outside of the airport.

This testing can include establishing a system that allows passengers to pre-order more targeted food and beverage offers. For example, flying as a young family often means having to opt for the quickest, unhealthiest food option. However, the current restrictions could now enforce more tailored pre-packaged food options that better cater to the needs of families and are more suitable for eating in the airport or in-flight.

Exploring the interplay between the physical and digital also presents opportunities to cater to the restricted dine-in experiences. For example, food delivery service, Deliveroo, has recently launched a new feature called 'Table Service' that allows customers to eat-in but order and pay via their smartphone.

Design the experience of responsive services and ‘always on’ communication

Communication throughout the experience as a new standard

One thing that has characterised people’s lives during lockdown is the need to stay up to date with the latest information. In the restart phase, passengers will need up to date information more than ever before.

Airports will have to diligently keep their information up to date and compliant with changing regulations and make the best use of digital channels to push information to passengers before, during and after they travel.

The distinct challenge here is that information is changing at such a rate it can be challenging to keep up, but passengers will look to their airline and the airport to act as an aggregator and source of authority. Airports and airlines must become more agile and collaborative with their messaging.

So, developing a passenger-centred communications strategy to keep information up-to-date, consistent and communicating with the right ‘tone of voice’ and through digital channels should be a primary consideration for getting the passenger experience right.

While restarting, airports and airlines may need to communicate the results of COVID-19 testing, to stagger boarding, to route passengers to avoid congestion or to outline local rules and restrictions on landing.

There will be the need to continue delivering information to passengers as they are travelling through the airports and onboard. All of this emphasises the importance of capturing passengers’ phone numbers so that communications can be personalised.

Establish new staff roles and prepare for new service situations

As well as digital information, front-line staff will play a critical role as a source of guidance, information and authority for passengers.

Equipping staff with additional service training will help them to communicate more effectively to passengers and deal with new service situations they may not have been dealt with before. For example, politely dispersing a large crowd to ensure social distancing or helping passengers understand the latest guidance on testing.

In addition, there is a subtle consideration of how to protect front-line staff with the appropriate PPE while ensuring they remain accessible to passengers.

Some airlines have already created specialist health and safety roles on the front-line. For example, Emirates Airline has introduced an onboard Cleaning Assistant and Etihad Airways and Abu Dhabi Airport have introduced Wellness Ambassadors to support passengers throughout their journey on the ground and in the air.

Designing for collaboration using real-time data

Working collaboratively and effectively across partners has never been more critical and central to this will be the use of real-time data.

Good collaboration as a standard

In the restart phase, this will mean repurposing the array of monitoring technologies that are already readily used within airports to monitor and manage passenger flow, density and throughput to help manage the safety of passengers and ensure social distancing is maintained. This data can flag overly congested areas that need managing and allow for the front-line to be deployed to the areas where they are needed most. Thermal cameras are already being used to monitor passengers and identify those showing higher than normal temperatures so they can be identified and tested.

There’s an opportunity to design new ways to make data more accessible and usable to those working on the front-line to keep everybody safe while maintaining the best possible experience for passengers.

In conclusion

In today’s compromised world, it would be a mistake to think the experience your passengers have of your facility, airline or service is a ‘nice-to-have’.

Restarting air travel will continue to be a challenge until the pandemic subsides significantly. Until then, those that can balance new restrictions with an understanding of how to ensure passengers’ welfare will be best placed to recover.

As part of Engine’s 'Lead out of Lockdown’ webinar series, we will be exploring the changing demands being placed on services and how the customer and employee experience needs to change as organisations look to restart, reconfigure and reimagine for a post-covid world.

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