12 July 2012 by Martin Bowman
Our Airports are Key to Making a Good Impression - Here's Looking at You UKBA
With the on-going row over immigration queues at Heathrow in the run up to the world’s biggest sporting event, the Olympic Games, why does it appear to be only UK-based hub airports that suffer from poor stakeholder performance?
A recent inspection put the blame squarely at the door of the UK Border Agency who were labelled ‘inefficient’ by inspectors and criticised for not scheduling staff breaks to coincide with quiet periods and not putting on extra staff when the airport is to be busy.
Now, with only 2 weeks until the Games commence, the issues are mounting. One look at the statement from Chief Inspector of Borders, John Vine on the BBC website confirms this.
The basic approach to measuring service levels at the immigration checkpoints outlined at the end of John Vine’s statement means the passenger experience at UK borders is always likely to be poor. This token-based method never has been, and never will be, an effective method of queue measurement. Moreover, as this data is manually collated, there is no way it can be shared in real time with passengers to proactively manage queue perceptions (click here to see how Oslo Airport does this).
Airport operators such as Dubai, Amsterdam and Oslo are able to manage the flow of passengers across the entire terminal process by adopting an approach similar to the Eurocontrol A-CDM initiative within the terminal environment. Ironically, Heathrow recently became the 5th airport in Europe to achieve A-CDM compliance!
These airports use airport-wide stakeholder collaboration to coordinate a vast array of different airlines, ground handlers, customs, security and retail spaces. Modern airports such as Dubai are awash with technology, much of it unseen by passengers but all designed to make their journey as easy as possible and keep things running at maximum efficiency.
Given the importance of creating a lasting impression on international visitors, tourists and business people alike do we really want important guests (because that is what genuine visitors are at the moment – important guests here to spend money) to believe that as a country, the UK is so disorganised it cannot efficiently manage one of the things we are known the world over for, a good queue?
For the most part, the UK’s airports are keen to engage in this model of holistic stakeholder engagement, for the improvement of the experience of all passengers. However, the one area the airports do not control is the UK Border Agency.
The arrival of the smartphone has made it easier than ever to track passengers through the airport as solutions such as BluFi within ChromaACDB make it is possible to see how passengers flow through the terminal. This data can be integrated into a much wider database which looks at demands on various parts of the airport caused by expected passenger numbers and allows all stakeholders to assign adequate resources.
Given the international focus on the UK and, in particular, our largest airport; is it not time that the UK Border Agency accepted it’s time to join the 21st century and embrace the proven systems in place at the likes of Dubai Airport for the benefit of us all? Why should UK airports stand alone in being slow to embrace collaborative terminal operations?