Phoenix: Preparing for the future, while exceeding expectations today

Posted: 7 February 2009 | Danny Murphy, Aviation Director, City of Phoenix | No comments yet

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is the gateway to the southwestern United States, serving 40 million passengers a year. As the first and last impression for visitors to the Grand Canyon State and elsewhere, Sky Harbor strives to provide customer service exceeding expectations. Perhaps that is why we are known as America’s Friendliest Airport.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is the gateway to the southwestern United States, serving 40 million passengers a year. As the first and last impression for visitors to the Grand Canyon State and elsewhere, Sky Harbor strives to provide customer service exceeding expectations. Perhaps that is why we are known as America’s Friendliest Airport.

Despite the current economy, Phoenix is located in one of the fastest growing regions in the United States and as the primary airport for the state, Sky Harbor must continue to prepare for the economic turn-around and the long-term future. Therefore, we are in the process of an Airport Development Programme which will better serve customers’ needs and enrich their travel experience. The programme involves a variety of projects, some directly impacting passengers and others behind the scenes. One of the most exciting projects is the automated train.

Automated train

Within five years, an automated train will connect Sky Harbor’s three terminals with the light rail system. The new METRO light rail began servicing the metropolitan Phoenix area in late December 2008. Sky Harbor’s automated train project will improve customer service while having the added benefit of bettering the local economy through job creation, business opportunities, and tourism development.

Construction on Sky Harbor’s automated train has already begun and will be developed in two stages. Stage one will connect the airport’s largest and busiest terminal, Terminal 4, with the new light rail system and will also stop at Sky Harbor’s east economy parking lot. Stage one is approximately two miles long and has an estimated completion date of 2013. Stage two will connect to stage one at Terminal 4, heading west to Sky Harbor’s other two terminals, and the Rental Car Centre, before returning along the same route in the opposite direction. Development of stage two is expected to begin in 2016 and be operational by 2020. Trains will run 24 hours a day and arrive at stations approximately every two minutes during peak periods.

The automated train will enhance customer service at Sky Harbor by easily and safely accommodating wheelchairs, strollers and baggage carts. This project will also help to relieve curbside congestion, minimise passenger wait times, provide a climate controlled connection to metro Phoenix’s light rail system, and accommodate the future growth of Sky Harbor. In fact, models show that the automated train will reduce traffic on Sky Harbor’s roadways by approximately 18%.

PHX Airport Shuttle

Because the first stage of Sky Harbor’s automated train won’t be in operation until 2013, the airport is offering a free bus service to and from the new light rail system. The PHX Airport Shuttle connects customers to all of Sky Harbor’s terminals. This provides another option for getting to the airport for passengers, as well as airport employees and other visitors. Shuttle service will mirror the light rail schedule. Running every ten minutes, the buses each have multiple luggage racks on board, providing plenty of space for passenger bags. The shuttle buses are also compliant with the Americans with Disability Act, complete with ramps which deploy and secure belts for wheelchairs.

Sky Harbor’s PHX Airport Shuttle provides an easy connection for those coming to the airport, without inconveniencing other light rail passengers who are commuting between the east and west Valley.

New concourse

Sky Harbor’s busiest terminal, Terminal 4, currently has seven concourses, with room for one more. The eighth concourse will be constructed when airline demand warrants. Terminal 4 houses the two largest airlines at Sky Harbor, US Airways and Southwest Airlines. Its newest concourse, the D concourse, was recently recognised by The Arizona Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) with the Kemper Goodwin Award, as part of its 2008 AIA Arizona Special Awards Programme.

The Award was given to DWL Architects, the architectural design firm for the D concourse, which houses gates for Southwest Airlines. The award is given annually to a project that embodies design excellence, exhibits outstanding craftsmanship and exemplifies teamwork. DWL worked closely with the Phoenix Aviation Department’s design and construction division in creating a structure with higher ceilings, increased natural light, and an atmosphere that reflects the beauty of Arizona.

The D Concourse features a contemporary design with a 30 foot tall window wall on the South end. This affords passengers and visitors an unobstructed view of aircraft activity on the south side of Sky Harbor, as well as a vista of nearby South Mountain. It also has a wide selection of shops and restaurants to serve the needs of the passengers. It was completed in 2005 at a cost of $50 million. Hunt Construction Group was the general contractor for the project.

David Hensley, Deputy Aviation Director for Design and Construction for the City of Phoenix Aviation Department, said, “We’re pleased that the AIA chose to recognise the D Concourse in this manner. It is the result of the excellent cooperation and teamwork exhibited between the Aviation Department, the architect and the contractor throughout the project.”

Focus on accessibility

Improving customer service means making the travelling experience easier for people of all abilities. That is why Sky Harbor has launched several innovative programmes aimed at improving accessibility inside its three terminals. A state-of-the-art paging system, remodelled restrooms, and new emergency evacuation areas have garnered the attention of the travelling public and airports throughout the world.

Paging system

Sky Harbor’s Passenger Information and Paging System broke new ground by making airport paging easier to use and accessible to everyone who visits the Phoenix Airport.

The system does away with the traditional ‘white paging phone.’ Sky Harbor visitors now send and receive messages in English, Spanish and German at Paging Assistance Locations or PALs. When passengers are paged at Sky Harbor, they now visit a PAL. The names of those people being paged are both announced through speakers inside the terminals and displayed on monitors throughout the airport. This method allows both visually and hearing impaired passengers to receive pages. Sky Harbor worked closely with the Phoenix Mayor’s Commission on Disability Issues to design this system and to make sure that the PALs were accessible to everyone.

In addition to a new paging system, Sky Harbor made improvements to flight and baggage display monitors, placing them in better locations and increasing the font size, making them easier to read.

Sky Harbor designed the Passenger Information and Paging System in conjunction with ARINC. It cost approximately $16 million, with the money coming from airport capital improvement funds. Phoenix Sky Harbor is operated with user fees, not by local tax dollars. The system goes above and beyond Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.

Assistance restrooms

In response to suggestions from the public, Phoenix Airport Architect Norbert Senftleben spearheaded a project to install adult changing stations in family restrooms. The stations are designed to provide people with disabilities, and their carers if necessary, a comfortable and private location to change clothing or disposable undergarments. “This is something that directly addresses a human need” said Senftleben. “The commercial value is practically insignificant, but from the human point of view, this is very valuable.”

Sky Harbor’s three terminals and Rental Car Centre are equipped with the adult changing stations. Each adult changing station has a 30 by 60 inch padded platform. The platform is located in the corner of the restroom, attached to the wall. The changing station has grab bars, a removable padded vinyl cover and a recessed toe clearance for easy accessibility.

Areas of Rescue Assistance

While it’s important to make the travelling experience more comfortable, safety is vital to all airport visitors. Sky Harbor’s new Areas of Rescue Assistance are tailored to the needs of travellers in wheelchairs or those with limited mobility. The Areas of Rescue are located in landings of stairwells at Sky Harbor, and they are well marked with lighted signs and wheelchair symbols.

If a terminal building were evacuated at Sky Harbor, passengers might be instructed to avoid the elevators and use the nearest set of stairs to exit the building. Areas of Rescue Assistance were created for those people who aren’t able to walk down the stairs. During an emergency, firefighters would know to check the Areas of Rescue for people who need to be transported or need assistance getting down the stairs.

Each Area of Rescue is equipped with an intercom system that provides two-way communication with the Phoenix Airport Communications Centre. There are instructions at each site telling visitors what to do in case of an emergency. In addition, there are Braille enhanced ‘You are here’ maps in these areas. When the Communications Centre is contacted via intercom from one of these locations, the dispatchers can automatically identify the location of the caller. The intercom allows the person in need of assistance to talk to the Communications Centre dispatcher.

Customer service

America’s Friendliest AirportTM

While Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is making great strides in improving its customer experience, through capital projects and improvements, the airport is also improving the way its 30,000 employees serve customers. Over the past year the airport has embarked on a massive employee incentive campaign, to improve customer service and ensure that Sky Harbor remains America’s Friendliest Airport in the eyes of its passengers.

The FLY Challenge (Friendly Let me help You attitude) encourages all airport employees to deliver customer service beyond expectations every day. Anyone who observes airport employees being friendly and providing outstanding customer service can nominate employees for FLY Awards. Sky Harbor’s Customer Service Manager, Alisa Smith is dedicated to recognising the nominated employees and has already presented FLY Awards to more than 500 airport employees.

Smith says, “There is no doubt that the high expectations that airport managers place on themselves and their business partners are making a difference in the customer service experience at Sky Harbor. In fact, many employees have been nominated and awarded multiple times.”

Free Wi-Fi

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is proud to offer free, wireless internet service in all three terminals. Launched in 2005, Sky Harbor’s Wi-Fi service has received numerous accolades from the public. This service benefits travellers every day and is completely free. It serves business and leisure travellers alike and it is part of Sky Harbor’s ongoing commitment to making Phoenix not only a great place to visit, but also to do business. Anyone with a WiFi-ready laptop or electronic device will automatically connect to the internet when they power up near shops or gates at Sky Harbor. The free service is available on both sides of security.

Cell phone lots

Sky Harbor also encourages its visitors to utilise its Cell Phone Waiting Lots. These free lots are available for people coming to the airport to pick up passengers. The Cell Phone Waiting Lots are easily accessible and display updated flight information on large electronic boards. Hundreds of people use the Cell Phone Waiting Lots each day before meeting their friends and family curbside.

Pet parks

Four-legged passengers and visitors aren’t forgotten at Sky Harbor either. The airport features not one, but two pet park locations. The Paw Pad is located just west of Terminal 3 and the Bone Yard is located just west of Terminal 4. Passengers travelling with pets through Sky Harbor have these two fenced locations to give their pets a rest and water break. The pet parks also make it easy for passengers to travel with service animals since they are accessible to those with disabilities. In addition, Sky Harbor’s working dogs such as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) explosive detection canines use both parks. Sky Harbor is one of the few airports in the United States to offer such pet-friendly facilities.

Flu vaccines

The Phoenix airport partners with local health agencies each year to offer free influenza vaccinations. 2009 marks the third year that Sky Harbor has partnered with The Arizona Partnership for Immunisation (TAPI), the Maricopa County Department of Health, and the Arizona Department of Health to provide this valuable service. During the airport’s flu vaccine ‘clinic’ each year, and while the supplies last, flu vaccines are available to anyone who wants one, including passengers, airline employees and airport employees. In 2008, vaccinations were administered to people from across the United States and Canada. The airport and its partners are able to offer the vaccinations free of charge because they are donated to The Partnership for Immunisation from healthcare providers.

Looking ahead

Sky Harbor’s goal through its Airport Development Programme, the FLY Challenge customer service initiative, and all of the airport’s customer service amenities, is to ensure that the airport continues to deliver service beyond expectations. Sky Harbor is the state of Arizona’s largest economic engine, with a daily impact of $90 million. Convenient facilities will continue to position Sky Harbor as an important community and regional resource, while helpful, friendly employees will continue to enhance customers’ experience as they travel through Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

For more information about Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport please visit

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