Airports and excellent customer service – can it really be?

Indoor TreesThe next time you’re sitting in one of those impossibly uncomfortable hard plastic seats at Newark International Airport and you see a suggestion box hidden somewhere, slip a picture of Singapore’s Changi International Airport in there. It’s certain to be an experience any traveler will remember for years to come.

In the online blog  The Middle Seat, Scott McCartney writes about Andrew Tregonning and his wife’s experience covering the joys of an airport. No it’s not a syntax error – the couple traveling from New Zealand to India actually wanted a long layover at the Singapore airport. Imagine amenities such as comfortable sleeping areas, work areas, showers, pedicures, premium bars, a swimming pool, and even a tour of Singapore for nominal fees. The airport has a four-story amusement park for the children, and in Terminal 3, a city in itself, such passenger services as a dry cleaner, medical center, grocery store, pharmacy, jewelry and clothing stores all at one’s fingertips.

As a sharp contrast, JD Powers and Associates’ nationwide survey 2010 North American Airport Satisfaction Study which rated comfort and amenities in the United States most likely would have exploded if given the opportunity to rate Singapore’s airport. The survey covered basic needs which included seating comfort, ease of moving through the airport, getting passengers in and out of the airport efficiently, and reducing passenger stress with the TSA. Small airports scored significantly higher than the largest airports.

For large United States airports, Detroit Metropolitan scored the best with such amenities as an arbored concourse, people movers, sculptures, an on-site Hyatt Hotel and purple lit tunnels to connect terminals. Scores were rated on accessibility, check-in, security, terminals, food and retail service, and the efficiency of baggage claim. The Minneapolis/ St. Paul International Airport scored closely behind the one in Detroit; the connection between the airport and the Mall of America is cited as being very convenient. My son flies through Detroit regularly and agreed that it was one of the nicer airports in the US. He also reminded me of a post he wrote about the Charlotte airport in 2009.

Do you think it’s possible to actually transform travel into a less stressful environment given the security demands of today’s society? While North America may never be able to offer the top-notch creature comforts of the Singapore Airport, why not start with some of the more practical ideas to lessen the stress? Let us begin with some soothing music quietly resonating throughout our airports. How about reducing the number of announcements and the noisy horns of the passenger carts traveling through the concourses?

In Singapore, touch screens are provided in every bathroom to allow passengers to send a text message to attendants when towels or tissues are needed in the restrooms. Currency exchange booths and clothing stores are all in one area to encourage and stimulate competition for both merchandise and prices.

All of the 28,000 employees at the Singapore Airport are required to attend an orientation to help them help passengers. It’s a people pleasing business where successful concession spaces support 50 percent of the airport’s revenue which keeps the costs down and helps to pay for the amenities. Even the JD Power survey concludes that high levels of airport satisfaction create a strong positive impact on retail spending. Passengers who are “delighted” rather than “disappointed” spend up to 45 percent more at an airport. That’s a substantial difference.

While I’m pretty sure, the United States will never boast a butterfly garden as does Singapore, shouldn’t we still be taking lessons from those who do it so much better? Ironically last week I watched the ABC series Pan Am which takes place in the 1960’s and flying sure looked like more fun, and a much more relaxing and exciting way to travel.

photo credit: mikecogh

One Response to “Airports and excellent customer service – can it really be?”

  1. Rachel said:

    Dec 13, 11 at 4:19 pm

    There is a new (or newly renovated) terminal at SF International Airport where Virgin America and American Airlines fly in and out that is similar to what you are talking about. My husband and I recently traveled through there and were really impressed by how comfortable it was. It was clean, well-lit, and well-designed with lots of open space. The stores included a wine bar, a cheese shop, and a massage parlor and there was a special exhibition about LPs and records. And (this was my favorite part) at one of the fast food spots right next to the terminals, there was no trash bin – only recycling and composting bins. Everything they sold and provided, including the disposable utensils and all the packaging, was either recyclable or compostable!

    It’s the first time I’ve ever been disappointed that I didn’t have more time to spend in an airport terminal.