Efficient operations lead to satisfied passengers
Helsinki Airport, operated by Finavia, is Finland’s main airport and is a popular transfer point between Asia and Europe thanks to its geographical position and range of fast, efficient transfers. Building on these strengths required a new approach, as Eero Knuutila, Head of Service Development at Finavia, explains.
The passenger experience is perhaps the single most important development area at Helsinki Airport, and, for us, this goes hand-in-hand with operational efficiency. One very much feeds the other – if we uphold operational efficiency, the passenger experience naturally attains more consistency. And if the experience is generally perceived as a well-managed and positive one, this is also an indication that operations are running smoothly and efficiently.
But why is the passenger experience so important to us? The answers lie in our efforts to differentiate ourselves. Instead of attempting to compete with the world’s most luxurious airports, with their colossal offerings of shops and services, we have isolated four areas in which we can make a noteworthy difference to how passengers perceive the airport and their time here.
These are: providing passengers with the ‘gift of time’ by reducing process times and walking distances; giving passengers confidence in a consistent experience, allowing them to bank on things running as they have come to expect; providing a much-needed feeling of refreshment; and giving them the chance to experience something uniquely Finnish as they pass through the airport. By developing these strengths further, we aim to be seen as one of the customer-experience forerunners among the world’s airports.
I’d like to explain a little more about how we are working to enhance the passenger experience in relation to the first two of these areas – the ‘gift of time’ and upholding confidence – with the help of a new approach.
Building a crystal ball
In order to make progress in the areas we have targeted, we first need to know more about how our visitors behave, and we must develop our ability to predict where they will be in the short-, mid- and long-term future. To achieve this, we have gathered much of the information we have access to, in order to build a kind of ‘crystal ball’ – this is our best chance at predicting conditions for their visit at any specific future moment.
We do not have access to all the data on every passenger who flies in and out of Helsinki Airport – this belongs to the airlines, strictly speaking – but we can still observe and measure many different variables.
For instance, we know a great deal about the flights themselves. We know the number of passengers on-board, and their arrival and departure times, which are naturally monitored in real-time. We also know how many passengers on each flight will be connecting onwards at our airport.
Then we have the measurements of our own performance per processing point, whether at security or border controls, or in terms of walking distance between each of these points and the visitor’s eventual gate. And finally we have the measurements on how our shops and services at or around these locations are being utilised – another important metric when examining customer satisfaction.
All of this data is fed into the new platform we have been developing with the help of Amorph Systems. By constructing an overview of the airport’s conditions as they develop over time, we can gain insights on how our own operational efficiency can be optimised to enhance the passenger experience.
The way people flow
Measuring and developing efficiency, as we see it, means careful observation of a number of factors. In a general sense, our own punctuality is the basis for both our promise of the ‘gift of time’ to passengers, as well as their confidence in our ability, on their next trip, to live up to the efficient, timely performance they have experienced.
But to look at the situation in more detail, capacity constraints are an important factor. Seeing the flow of visitors between the various process points helps us to isolate and identify the cause of bottlenecks. We can also compare staff and resource allocation to process point activity – are our people in the right places at the right time?
Processing all of this information allows us to calculate dynamic KPIs such as predicted waiting times, exposing the dependency between checkpoints and allowing us to optimise how visitors move between them, not forgetting our commercial performance objectives. This view over the big picture, combining all the views from the variety of touch points we can observe, is the best way to study passenger flows – taking in as much of their behaviour as we can manage.
We are also able to incorporate passenger profiles into this overview, as well as patterns related to particular flights. Though we don’t have accurate profiles for each individual passenger, assumptions can, of course, be made about nationality based on their origin and destination, as well as by exchanging information with airlines. This information can then be used to better the passenger experience in other ways, as we shall see.
As better passenger experience is an objective shared by all the operators along the passenger’s journey, it is clear that our work in this area is not only valuable to ourselves, but also to the airlines, commercial operators and authorities. There is, therefore, plenty of motivation to share information, as well as the results of our short- and long-term forecasting.
Signposting the future
What, then, can we do with all the insights provided by this huge collection of data? There are abundant possibilities, some of which are already being explored, while others form our roadmap for the future of this platform. For now, we have the ability to forecast the amount of passengers and bags per flight, as well as allocate staff and resources according to the changing demand at checkpoints based on delayed flights or other circumstances. In these situations, the system is already allowing us to stay ahead of these unpredictable challenges, to some extent.
The next step in this area of development will be to implement continuous staff planning based on the latest available input data, and communicate the changes and their implications with passengers. This should allow you to use the airport’s information services just as you would a weather forecast, providing guidance on the best time to arrive. We hope this additional manifestation of the ‘gift of time’ may see some passengers arrive early to beat an upcoming period of peak activity, and, for example, choose to dine at the airport or make use of some other additional services.
In the further future, findings from the system will help us to evaluate scenarios such as airport expansion, flight schedule changes, or the modelling of other changing parameter sets. In this fashion we can move beyond design based solely upon established principles and common sense, and bring in real usage data to see what impact it may have on any plan or proposal.
And finally, there are also ways of employing this data that may have a more tangible impact for passengers. One example of this which is already at the implementation stage is the use of dynamic digital signage at Helsinki Airport.
Signs pointing passengers to processing points which are only open at certain times of day can be changed into advertisements to avoid misdirection. Advertisements themselves can be shown in a different selection of languages depending on the passenger groups passing them at a specific time. There are abundant possibilities here, all of which can have, at the very minimum, a subtle positive impact on the passenger experience.
I hope these glimpses have shown the true interdependence of operational efficiency and passenger experience, and the importance of treating them as a single set of considerations. While we are still at the beginning of the development journey, the new feedback provided by this way of working already promises marked improvements in how we build on our existing strengths to differentiate.
Eero Knuutila is responsible for the development of passenger experience and services at Finavia, comprising all relevant aspects of passenger experience, including digital channels, premises, processes and self-service, customer service and passenger analytics.