article

From the car park to the aircraft

Posted: 10 June 2011 | Fraser Brown, Head of Travel Services at Heathrow Airport | No comments yet

If you’re anything like me, you’ll love the feeling of sitting back in your seat as the plane engines roar to life beneath you and you feel the thrill of acceleration for take-off. Last year alone, 66 million passengers experienced that feeling at Heathrow.

With over 180 destinations worldwide, it would be easy to let the glamour of flying detract our attention from the fundamental parts of the passenger’s journey. BAA is investing in redeveloping Heathrow’s infrastructure to create lighter and more spacious facilities, and in improving our services and offerings. In recent years, this has included the opening of Terminal 5 at a cost of £4.2bn, the £200m redevelopment of Terminal 4 and the on-going redevelopment of the eastern part of the airport at a cost of £2.2bn, which will include a brand new Terminal 2.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll love the feeling of sitting back in your seat as the plane engines roar to life beneath you and you feel the thrill of acceleration for take-off. Last year alone, 66 million passengers experienced that feeling at Heathrow.

With over 180 destinations worldwide, it would be easy to let the glamour of flying detract our attention from the fundamental parts of the passenger’s journey. BAA is investing in redeveloping Heathrow’s infrastructure to create lighter and more spacious facilities, and in improving our services and offerings. In recent years, this has included the opening of Terminal 5 at a cost of £4.2bn, the £200m redevelopment of Terminal 4 and the on-going redevelopment of the eastern part of the airport at a cost of £2.2bn, which will include a brand new Terminal 2.

Heathrow’s success also depends on maintaining competitive airport charges. To do this, revenues need to be raised by offering additional services that add extra value to the passenger’s experience of the airport. Investment in our airport car parks helps to put passenger’s minds at ease as they enter the airport, whilst supporting our retailers as passengers are then more likely to be in the right frame of mind for shopping and taking advantage of airport prices. Our retailers then raise further revenue for Heathrow, which in turn reduces the cost of flying for passengers.

Studies have shown that relaxed passengers are more likely to engage with the services and offerings available at an airport and that their state of mind and enjoyment of take-off and the flight ahead is highly influenced by the journey that they have undertaken to reach that point.

It is important then that we provide a smooth airport experience from start to finish so that there is no weak link in the chain and that at every stage we strive to make passengers’ journeys better.

Getting people to and from Heathrow is an enormous operation and is governed by the objectives of our Surface Access Strategy. While increasing the number of people who use public transport to reach us is important, we also recognise that there will always be passengers for whom the private car is the only viable choice.

Heathrow currently has 24,000 customer parking spaces that have been managed by Apcoa since 2009. The airport has a further 13,000 serving the needs of over 70,000 people who work at the Heathrow campus. Our car parking facilities are the first and last contact that many of our passengers have with the airport and so providing safe and secure facilities, which are easily accessible and convenient to our passengers is of high importance.

The two main options for drivers are to use our car parking services, or to ‘kiss and fly’, which is what we call the practise of dropping off or picking up passengers. Our aim is to always promote airport parking over kiss and fly (two journeys as opposed to four), as this has a crucial impact on both traffic flow and the environment.

We have created the best possible car parking experience by carefully thinking through every element of how passengers interact with the car park from navigating into the car park, to getting to the terminal, and then doing it all again in reverse on their way back. To do this, we’ve introduced innovative new technology, added new facilities, such as the multi-storey car park at Terminal 5, and undertaken major refurbishment, which has included improvements to lighting and passenger walkways and the installation of CCTV to ensure that we provide an environment which gives our passengers peace of mind.

Innovation and car parking are not terms that people usually associate with each other, but our passengers have told us how much they love the new technology that we’re using to make car parking easier for them and more manageable for us. Not only have we been quick to embrace new technology, but Heathrow has also been the birthplace of new innovations, such as Automatic Number Plate Recognition, from which we have developed the Car Finder System. The Car Finder System is as simple as the name suggests and offers an incredibly efficient solution to a problem that many of us commonly experience when parking our cars in a large car park.

Passengers can locate their vehicles by using their ticket or entering their registration number at a Car Finder Kiosk, which can be found next to the pay stations. The system uses number plate recognition with the CCTV to instantly work out exactly where the car is and let the passenger know. The system was specifically designed for implementation at Terminal 5 through collaboration between our car park operator and their technology suppliers. It’s currently located on every level of the Short Stay car park in Terminal 5 and we are now looking to add the system to as many car parks as possible across the airport. Not only does it improve the experience of using the car park for individual passengers, but on a wider level it ensures a swift and efficient entry and exit to the car parks and provides an important security feature as it allows us to track abandoned vehicles and prevent attempted car crime.

As an additional measure to improve the efficient entry and exit of cars, as well as reducing congestion and queuing, we’ve introduced another new technology called the Variable Messaging System, which shows electronic messages in the form of arrows to direct customers to spare spaces. A green light above these spaces indicates that they are vacant.

One of the biggest ways in which technology has shaped our operation usually begins before the passenger has even left home. The internet has greatly improved the way that we interact with our passengers, whether it’s to communicate the latest information or take bookings and so we have invested in our website, which is supported by our presence on social media. The major trend online in recent years has been the phenomenal growth of internet access through smartphones. Last year, 5% of google searches came from mobiles, this year it is 12% and in 2014 it is estimated that more web visits will come from mobile devices than desktop computers.

As a result, mobile versions of BAA’s websites were launched at the end of last year, including http://m.airportparking. heathrowairport.com for airport parking, which has been designed to offer car park booking with streamlined functionality to simplify the booking process on a mobile. More recently, our website has been re-configured to automatically detect when someone accesses it from their phone and then redirect them to the mobile version. The next step is to go beyond simply booking parking and offer the range of services available on the traditional website, including managing a booking and providing a broader range of products. Between 2 – 7% of visits to our website come from mobile devices and orders currently represent just short of 1% of our revenue. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it offers us a solid platform to grow business and keeps us at the forefront of the market.

Once passengers have parked up and unloaded their luggage, the next step is to make their way to the terminal. We know that passengers will have a lot on their minds at this point so it’s important that the onward journey is clearly signposted and provides a smooth and comfortable ride. BAA has invested in new state of the art, low emission buses providing safe, comfortable, swift and environmentally friendly transfers to the terminals, as well as a new system called ‘real time bussing’.

Real time bussing uses GPS tracking technology to relay the location of the bus to passenger information screens that have been installed at all of Heathrow’s long stay and business car parks and terminal forecourts. We’ve also installed new flat screens inside the buses to let passengers know where the bus is going and how far it is to their destination. Once again, this puts the passengers’ minds at ease so that they can concentrate on other aspects of their journey.

This new system is still in the trial phrase, but the next step is to make it even more user friendly and functional. Audio technology will be enabled in time for the summer holidays so that the information is read out to passengers, while the flat screens inside the buses may be used for additional purposes, such as highlighting special offers and promotions from Heathrow’s retailers, information on airport parking, news and entertainment.

This system will also allow Heathrow to monitor journey times and punctuality across its fleet of buses so that the service can be continuously reviewed and improved, for example by adjusting the number of buses on particular routes depending on traffic and demand.

As a result of this £150m investment over the last three years, our car parks have received Park Mark awards for excellence and safety. The Park Mark Award was developed by Secure By Design and the British Parking Association to recognise high standards within the industry.

One of our greatest assets, and not to be overlooked, are our car park operators who are friendly, efficient and always on hand to assist our passengers. Our car parking services remain an integral part of the Heathrow experience and so it’s important that they remain passenger focused and flexible. During last year’s ash cloud event, in which many thousands of passengers were stranded by the closure of large parts of European Airspace, passengers were not charged any extra for the days that they were delayed in returning to Heathrow. The car park operators did a tremendous job of reassuring returning passengers and advising them. In incidents like these, our car park operators will always be fully briefed on wider events that are affecting passengers.

Let’s not forget that in addition to raising revenue, setting the right price for airport parking allows us to take a measured approach to car park expansion and manage the demand. We continuously review our pricing to ensure that it remains competitive and offers real value for money, but with pre-book prices starting at £4.99 per day and unrivalled proximity to the terminals on offer, we are satisfied that we have the level set just right.

With the vast numbers of passengers flying in and out of Heathrow each day (5.7m passengers are forecast for April), not to mention those that have come simply to wave someone off or welcome them into the country, it would be easy to impose solutions, but the development of Heathrow’s car parks is the result of careful listening to the needs of passengers so that we can tailor the service around them, and we will continue to do so to ensure that our car parking remains world class and our passengers are then free to enjoy the rest of their journey.

 

About the Author

Fraser Brown has been Head of Travel Services at Heathrow since 2008 and oversees all commercial aspects of surface access. This includes the management and development of customer car parking, staff parking, car rental, buses, private hire, taxis and the forecourt at the airport.

Fraser’s role not only involves ensuring sufficient accessibility to Heathrow but also that parking is safe and cost effective for travellers. In addition, Fraser is responsible for implementing innovative facilities to deliver new and elevated levels of product quality and service.