Award Nominee

Heathrow Airport

Automation of the passenger journey

Since 2016 Heathrow has made significant progress in improving the end to end passenger experience giving passengers greater choice and control of their personal journey.


Heathrow has a vision to give passengers ‘the best airport service in the world’ and working with the airline community are introducing automation and technology to deliver a seamless passenger experience. 

Heathrow is striving to offer a fast, personal and reliable service whilst delivering a cost-efficient operation for all airport operators. The SITAs 2017 IT Survey demonstrates that passenger’s expectation is that automation is available throughout their journey and satisfaction levels are directly linked to their ability to use ‘Smart’ devices and self-service products.

Heathrow has responded directly to this with an ambitious automation programme, one of the largest in the world, as part of a long-term strategy to deliver a seamless end-to-end journey. Roll out commenced in 2016 with the self-service offer including self-boarding gates (SBG) and self-service bag drop (SSBD). In the last 2 years Heathrow has installed and transitioned biometrically enabled SBG’s in Terminal’s 2 and 5 and commenced delivery of next generation SSBD units into the operation. The programme is currently planning a further roll out of over 250 automated SSBD’s across the airport and over 400 SBG’s. In Terminal 5, the boarding time for passengers has reduced by an average of 6.85 seconds per passenger, following the installation of SBG’s leading to a more efficient boarding experience.

Heathrow’s aim to increase the level of automation and self-service at the airport has already demonstrated numerous benefits for passengers as recorded in Heathrow’s own surveys and international measures.

The provision of SSBDs in Terminal 5 has also alleviated capacity constraints at check-in. This allows for more efficient processing, whilst reducing waiting times for passengers and has enabled British Airways to review check-in agent roles to provide a more up-front customer-based service rather than a ‘behind desk’ transactional interaction.

Industry wide research shows an ever-increasing demand for self-service options that marry speed and simplicity with outstanding customer experience. Modelling shows that the increased efficiency achieved by automating key touch points throughout the terminal, including bag drop and boarding, could lead to nearly twice the current throughput being achieved once fully deployed. Heathrow has commenced rollout of the SSBD programme in Terminal 2 and early surveys taken indicate that the average transaction time at the check-in desk, has reduced from 120 seconds to 35 seconds using the SSBD’s. Some of the process has been moved upstream to newly created agent roles which enables more seamless processing of passengers. Recently, Heathrow has agreed a strategy towards the introduction of self-adhesive bag tags for airlines producing the bag tag at the SSBD unit. This simplifies the bag tagging process for the passenger thus improving their experience further and reducing the processing time.

The aviation industry is increasingly turning to technological solutions to offer improved service for passengers whilst driving down airline operating costs and delivering increased airport capacity without the cost of large scale infrastructure builds.

Heathrow’s world-leading solution has been to develop Multi Airline Check-In (MACI) where airlines share check-in zones. This principle has been applied to SSBD via Heathrow’s common use bag drop application. This enables maximum flexibility and enhances the capacity available by enabling multi airline use as opposed to dedicated airline use. Further flexibility and resilience are also at the cornerstone of Heathrow’s SSBD solution by enabling the process to revert to traditional full-service check-in with the flick of a switch. This allows the MACI model to be incorporated in the world of automation providing ultimate flexibility for airlines and passengers alike.

The provision of these automated SSBD’s, SBG’s and biometric operations has delivered a step change in terms of self-service options and resultant improvement in passenger’s experience across Heathrow. In Q1 2018 Heathrow achieved our highest ever overall passenger satisfaction with a record ASQ (Airport Service Quality) score of 4.20.  84% of our passengers rated their Heathrow experience as either ‘Excellent’ or ‘Very Good’, a new service record in the history of ASQ.

Our latest ASQ score validates our position as the UK’s best rated major airport, with performance significantly above Gatwick (4.05), Manchester (3.72), Stansted (3.91), Glasgow (4.11), Edinburgh (4.15) and London City Airport (4.17). We also continue to outperform some other major EU hubs such as Madrid (3.95) and Paris CDG (3.77) as well as some key passenger centric airports including Brussels (3.96), Munich (4.15) and Vienna (4.11). For the first time in seven years our ASQ is also higher than Dublin (4.15).

Heathrow continues to develop the Automation journey incorporating and leading on emerging technological advancements embedded in our longer-term strategy.

Supporting documentation

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