The first flight to arrive at the new Terminal 2 at London Heathrow was United Airlines flight UA958 from Chicago, landing at 5:49am local time on 4 June 2014. With it arrived a new approach to baggage handling. Some two years after the opening, how has it worked out?
The new Terminal 2 was described as “the next step” in the transformation of passenger service at Heathrow by owner Heathrow Airport Limited. It was a $3.5 billion project and marks the latest phase of a $15.5 billion private sector investment that has transformed Heathrow for passengers. This investment includes the construction of Terminal 2 A and B, Terminal 5 A, B and C, a new control tower, and the refurbishment of Terminals 3 and 4.
The new Terminal 2, named ‘The Queen’s Terminal’ in honour of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, is made up of 118,000 individual pieces of equipment – from light fittings to escalators – and manned by 24,000 staff from 160 organisations. In trials, some 100,000 bags were passed through the Terminal 2 baggage system, with peak loads tested at 4,000 bags per hour compared to an expected peak of 2,500 bags.
Airline Ground Services caught up with Simon Scoggins, project director Terminal 2 – Heathrow, Star Alliance and Yannick Beunardeau, global head of sales and marketing for Airport Solutions, Amadeus. They describe how the common use approach is working.
In general, the goal of a common use approach was to ensure a seamless and more efficient airport experience for all passengers. How has this idea matched up to real-world experience?
Simon Scoggins, project director Terminal 2 – Heathrow, Star Alliance: Our common use approach at Heathrow Terminal 2 has indeed proved very successful. We can say that the implementation of the new concept has been a success for our member airlines and passengers alike. Customer feedback shows a high degree of satisfaction.
Yannick Beunardeau, global head of sales and marketing for Airport Solutions, Amadeus: At Amadeus we are very happy with the way the terminal has worked out. We have a fully functioning terminal that facilitates the smooth flow of customers through the airport even in peak periods, and allows passengers to check in and drop a bag within an average time of 70 seconds. Collaboration has been crucial to this success. Working through any issues as a group of key stakeholders and having a single common goal has enabled us to deliver the terminal we have today without jeopardising operations.
When you have had hiccups, what has caused them?
Simon Scoggins: A high volume of passengers at peak times has caused some issues, just as in any airport or customer service environment. However, one of the benefits of the multi-airline check-in approach is the ability to process a large number of passengers very quickly, so the T2 approach has actually dealt with peak volumes at peak times more effectively than a traditional operation. Also, T2 is the first terminal in the world to adopt self-bag tagging on a large scale. As such, there was an unforeseen issue caused by the number of bag tags being issued from each of the check-in kiosks. Basically, printers were jamming too regularly and taking the kiosk out of use until it was fixed. Arinc, the supplier of the kiosks, worked hard with stock suppliers, airlines and ground handlers to make design changes such that we now no longer experience this problem.
Passengers can use any self-service kiosk or any bag drop touch point in one of the four check-in zones. How has this worked in reality?
Simon Scoggins: Like with any new system, there is of course always a learning curve. By ensuring that there are enough staff on hand to guide the customers through the system, we have been able to ensure a smooth implementation. We placed emphasis on those flights where we know that customers would not be used to this high degree of automation. Interestingly enough, exactly those airlines who at the beginning were apprehensive about their customers accepting the self-service check-in concept, are now using their London experience to drive more automation both at their home base as well as at other airports. Although passengers have to use a bag drop from their airline’s zone, they can actually use a kiosk from ANY zone. This has helped greatly at times of peak volume as over-demand in one zone can be served through the adjacent zone.
What percentage of passengers dislike/refuse to use the kiosks? Has this volume of ‘refuseniks’ been in line with expectations?
Simon Scoggins: All passengers travelling on an Economy ticket are encouraged to use the kiosk and only those who can’t complete their check in there for a regulatory or technical reason are able to go straight to a traditional check-in desk. Feedback is mainly positive. There are a small number of passengers who don’t like the self-service approach. However we have heard feedback from a number of passengers who were initially sceptical, but actually liked the process once they had been through it.
Yannick Beunardeau: I think in the past there has been a concern that self-service meant no service but gradually the travel industry has altered its perspective on this and we are pleased to see passengers embracing this and actively participating in the pre-departure process.
The new processes, such as issuing common bag tags, speeds up the departure experience and cuts down queues for passengers. It is claimed to provide passengers with much more control over their journey. How can quick check-in empower passengers?
Simon Scoggins: The process allows customers more choice and control; they can decide to take the opportunity of checking in before getting to the airport and thereby saving time, or do everything in the airport as in a traditional check-in approach. As check-in is a prerequisite for every passenger, the less time they spend doing it, the better. They are empowered by having more time after check-in to use as they please – relaxing, shopping or eating.
Yannick Beunardeau: The fact that passengers can use any self-service kiosk or bag drop touch point in our common check-in zone rather than having to wait in their own airline’s queues speeds up the pre-departure process, meaning they have more time to enjoy the airside airport facilities before boarding their flights. This very traveller-centric solution also provides travellers with much more control over their journey, allowing them to have as much or as little interaction with the airport staff as they wish. However, at Amadeus we see improving the customer experience as a continual process, and in particular see baggage drop as becoming more self-driven in the future.
How difficult would it be to add or subtract an airline from the system?
Simon Scoggins: Removing an airline is not an issue. Adding has more facets, as the new carrier(s) must be able to offer all the relevant mobile products, have the necessary applications to support common check-in and adopt the commercial and operating model in place for ground handling.
Are people coming from any other airport to study what you have done and take away lessons?
Simon Scoggins: We are indeed looking at what we learned in London in order to improve the check-in process at other airports, such as Tokyo Narita, Sao Paulo Guarulhos in Brazil and Los Angeles.
If the average needed per passenger to check in and drop a bag is 70 seconds, what is the quickest time possible?
Simon Scoggins: The lowest recorded transaction time we have for one passenger to drop one bag is 20 seconds.
Can you explain how the common use technology behind the solution provides the ability to check in so many passengers from so many different airlines on one system in a confined area?
Simon Scoggins: The new system allows the agent to ‘toggle’ or ‘tab’ between the various airlines’ check-in or departure control systems, just like someone using a home computer might tab between applications. This way they can check in customers from various airlines without needing to log on and off again.
Yannick Beunardeau: This project required a complete reconsideration of the traditional model of passenger processing. Previously, check-in was a full service: passengers queued to get their boarding pass, find out about any delays and spent time wayfinding. At Terminal 2, Amadeus’s cutting edge common use technology is based on Altea DCS. It removes location restrictions and allows Star Alliance airlines to use a single Altea DCS interface to check in customers and print bag tags with their own branding.
Can you provide some behind the scenes insight from the ground handling firm using the system?
Simon Scoggins: After a little familiarisation, staff are comfortable with this new way of working. It takes skill to be able to serve passengers from several different airlines in consecutive transactions, but once an agent is familiar with the processes and systems, they are able to deliver a quality service to all passengers.