This year is a busy one for the UK’s third-largest airline, Jet2.com. We caught up with Gavin Marriott, head of ground operations there, to find out more. He told us how the airline is bucking the trend and why he believes that self-handling helps the team work as one to deliver a better experience for its customers
With new bases at London Stansted and Birmingham coming into operation, alongside the addition of 14 brand new Boeing 737-800 aircraft to its expanding fleet (the company is taking delivery of 34 new aircraft between September 2016 and January 2019), there is lots going on at Jet2.com. On top of that, the airline is overhauling ground handling operations at some bases, including East Midlands Airport, Marriott explains.
Q. You recently announced that you are self-handling at East Midlands Airport. What is the thinking behind this?
We are increasing capacity and introducing additional aircraft, so the operation is becoming more and more complex. The question we found ourselves constantly asking was, ‘Do we want this operation under our total control?’ and the answer was always, ‘Absolutely’. Through self-handling we now have a ‘One Team’ approach, with motivated Jet2.com employees learning how to excel in their role and understanding how this fits into the machinery of delivering a first-class customer experience. We have enjoyed enormous success doing this at Manchester, Leeds Bradford, and at a number of other airports across Europe, and it’s now the right time to do the same at East Midlands.
Q. What does the decision cover – passenger, ramp, cargo…?
Our ground handling operation at East Midlands Airport is now entirely in-house, including front of house, ramp, load control and dispatch. This means that more than 200 Jet2.com employees are responsible for the entire customer journey, right from the moment they arrive at check-in through to when they depart – something which is pretty unique, and allows us to look after our own customers every step of the way. This allows us to build on our award-winning service and deliver an even better end-to-end customer experience at East Midlands Airport.
Q. Will you be investing in GSE or other equipment as a result of this decision?
As part of our transition to self-handling, we are replacing a diesel fleet with a large number of electric vehicles, including six electric beltloaders, and 12 electric baggage tugs.
This all has a very positive impact. The cost saving and environmental impact is obvious, but the safety features are a huge benefit too. As well as rubber strips and buffers, creep mode functionality, and automatic handbrakes, our new GSE is also equipped with ZoneSafe – a proximity warning system which Jet2.com has pioneered with Avonwood, and which is designed to prevent aircraft damage and reduce the likelihood of accidents.
The fleet also bears our distinctive red branding, setting us apart from other operators. Not only do passengers at the airport see the fleet and take note, but our teams work better and take real pride in the new equipment too.
Q. What are the cost implications of switching to self-handling as opposed to using third party handlers?
We naturally looked at all the implications in detail, but the benefits to our operation and to the customer experience outweighed everything. As Jet2.com has grown we have never lost sight of what matters most – the customer experience. This decision will only help us develop that and grow further loyalty.
Q. Do you think that you’ll gain other advantages by bringing handling in-house?
I could cite the advantages all day. As well as improving our operation, safety, customer experience and general visibility, we are creating over 100 new jobs as a result of our decision to self-handle. That is a very positive economic message for the area, as is our commitment to investing in and developing people. Our teams also benefit from only having one set of procedures and requirements to work to – by self-handling, there is only one way of doing things. This clearly has a positive impact on the teams, and on safety.
Q. What challenges are likely to arise as you make this change and how will you cope with them?
One of the key challenges is the GSE, and all that is involved in changing over to a new fleet. You wouldn’t give an inexperienced driver the keys to a high-performance sports car, and the same rule applies here. We will put more than 100 people through a dedicated training programme so that they understand their role and how to operate the equipment, as well as gain a deep understanding of the Jet2.com culture and their place within it. We are already witnessing the benefits of this, through a highly motivated team.
Q. What will be the set-up at your new bases at STN and BHX – will you self-handle there as well?
Our friendly ‘Red Team’ will handle front of house operations at both bases, including check-in and boarding, as well as at our brand new sales desks.
Q. Taking a broader perspective, do you see a trend either towards or away from self-handling in the industry?
We are definitely bucking the trend by moving to a self-handling operation at East Midlands, just as we have done at Manchester, Leeds Bradford, and in various overseas bases including Alicante, Murcia, Palma and Malaga. We have recently been voted the UK’s top airline by users of TripAdvisor, and these improvements to our operation will only see us win more customer satisfaction.