Europe Airports: Key Adoption Drivers Based on Customer Experience - Pre and Post-COVID


Category Analysis – Airport
Region: Europe

As per research reports, the annual growth of the total number of passengers at European airports increased by 6.1% in 2018. But post-COVID, passenger traffic fell by 59.5% during March 2020, which caused an overall decrease of 21% for Q1 passenger traffic. With the existing uncertainty about the speed of recovery in demand for air transport, airports are now calling for a data-driven approach to establish a post-COVID landscape.

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The analysis is based on customer reviews and conversations online in the segment. The analysis results presented are completely unbiased and not based on any subjective judgment. The source data used for the analysis are user conversations available publicly online like public forums and social media.


Total number of customer conversations analyzed


Nov 2019 Pre-COVID 3,591

Apr 2020 Post-COVID 7,068


Executive Summary – Key Takeaway



Europe Airport Industry Overview 

Air passengers in Europe reached 2.43 billion in 2019, from 1.1 billion in 2018

Source: Statista 

  • Airports Council International, Europe had predicted to see +2.3% passenger growth in a business-as-usual scenario.

  • But due to COVID, it forecasts a loss of 873 million passengers for Europe’s airports in 2020, a decrease of -35%

Europe Airports: Key Adoption Drivers Based on Customer Experience – Pre and Post-COVID

Today, airport passengers are expecting a higher customer experience than just the basic facilities that they used to get earlier.  Long waiting times, unhygienic facilities, and lack of food options are no longer considered an acceptable airport customer experience. The stress of not knowing the way to their terminals, inconvenient car parking, or a long wait for security checks were considered an expected part of air travel, but not anymore. 

The new-age passengers expect excellence, and their expectations are always rising. Airports need to be flexible in the way they operate to meet the evolving customer experience. If not, they are sure to get left behind. In this fast-changing landscape, it is important to understand how to deliver a wonderful customer experience.

Clootrack research looked into the passenger conversations of Europe airports that serve more than 2.43 billion annual passengers and provides unique insights that include:

  • Perceptions of passengers during pre-COVID days
  • Passengers’ perception and priority changes post-COVID
  • Passengers’ rating of key drivers and sub-drivers
  • Comparative analysis of Europe airports and ranking based on Key drivers

What Were The Key Drivers of Customer Experience For European Airports During Pre-COVID?

Can airports exceed passenger expectations? This can happen only when there is alignment in terms of what airports think passengers want, versus what passengers really want from an airport. If airports are willing to listen, air passengers are more than happy to share their good and bad experiences, their demands and expectations about how they’d like the airport experience to be improved. 

When Clootrack analyzed 3,591 online conversations of Europe airport passengers, it came out clear that passengers have their own wish lists. Clootrack has listed down the top 7 drivers of customer experience for Airports pre-COVID in Europe.

Clootrack lists the top 7 category drivers based on customer experience during the pre-COVID period.

1. Passport Control

Passport control area at airports is one such place that is prone to be crowded or congested during peak hours. This becomes the primary source of annoyance for passengers. The amount of time in passport control adds up to exhaustion and a bad customer experience for the passengers.   

A passenger says, “Can’t believe how long I’ve waited for the passport control. Completely exhausted just queuing in lines.” 

 It has to be completely frustrating when a passenger has to say this. “Have been waiting at the passport control for over 1 hour for my partner to cross through, there are hundreds of people in the queue and only 3 desks open. This happens every time we fly via Heathrow! Truly poor service!!”  

Many Booths 15.93%
Worse Service  100.00%
Rude Passport 24.20%
Long Walk 15.93%
User-Friendly Service 15.93%

Passengers express their opinion that they need more booths for smooth clearance at passport control. People don’t expect to be standing for 2 hours to get through passport control. Passengers want more executives to clear up the crowd, friendly staff, and shorter queues at the passport control

2. Aesthetic Design

Most of the passengers spend quite a bit of time during their travel going in and out of airports. A modern, pleasant, and user-friendly environment will definitely uplift the mood of the passengers.

A lot of passengers are fascinated with the architecture, comfort, and space in the departure lounge. They like to have a spacious feeling without feeling overwhelmed.

Water Fountain 100.00%
Clear Signage 16.32%
Water Fountain 16.32%

Water fountains and clear signage are the important drivers of aesthetic design. According to airport architects, it is important to create a calm and aesthetically pleasing airport environment, and this can bring a huge difference when it comes to beating the competition.

3. Connecting Flight

Passengers prefer direct flights while traveling, irrespective of a business trip or a vacation. But many times passengers require to make flight connections to reach their destination. Sadly, connecting flights very often mean longer traveling time.

And when there is a close transfer, even the most experienced passenger can break out into a cold sweat. Passengers have to brave crowded monorails, shuttle buses, lost luggage, lengthy kilometers of the airport, and sometimes a missed flight as well – and these can give a nightmare to a passenger.

We can understand the sentiment of a passenger when he says, “Almost missed my connecting flight despite coming 2.5 hours early”

Easy Process 93.85%
Many Gates 80.00%
Closed Booths 96.80%
Horrific System 45.71%

Passengers want to sail through the connecting flights smoothly. They do not expect to get in the 2-hour long line just for a connecting flight. 

A frustrated passenger says, “Never taking a connecting flight through this airport again. The only way to make it on time for connecting flights is to run all the way to the gate and push your way through all the security checks. My personal opinion is that you need at least four hours in between your flights to make a comfortable connection.” 

4. Airport Security  

No liquids, laptops in the bucket, empty the pockets, remove shoes and belts – passing through airport security can become a hassle even to the savviest passenger. Passengers can be put off due to the slow security checks at airports. 

“Just back through security check, was very slow and staff almost aggressive treated the public like criminals, I’ll try to avoid here in future” 

Passengers hate when they have to open their hand luggage for electronics and liquids by security check. 

Security Check 67.36%
Security Control 35.29%
Best Security 16.33%
Worst Security 49.83%

Airports should provide pleasant security checks by making it easy and quick. Passengers are quick to thank when they experience a dignified experience. 

Thank you for a very dignified experience going through security tonight.  

5. Car Parking 

Managing airport parking activities properly has a defining effect on the customer experience. Parking premises are one of the first physical points of contact at the airport for many passengers. 

A real-time screen update on the availability of car parking, charging points, cleanliness, and a spacious comfortable look and feel will contribute to a feeling of safety for the passengers.  

Charging Points 57.14%
Best Parking 14.29%
Charging Points 85.71% 

When preparing for their air travel, it is important for car parking visitors to find reliable details and be able to reserve parking spaces online. A customer-friendly website can play a significant role to ease the tension of the passengers.    

Upon the arrival of passengers at the airport, clear visibility and good signage is crucial, and when a pleasant atmosphere is offered in the parking facilities, it will drive a superior experience.   

6. Special Assistance

Special assistance is available at airports for all passengers who need extra help to travel such as the physically disabled, the elderly and those who may find it difficult to communicate, and even people who have autism or dementia.   

In recent times, special assistance passengers represent one of the fastest-growing demographics in aviation. The annual growth in special assistance passengers is 6 times that of the overall rate of passenger growth in many international airports.

Passengers at airports appreciate it if they get magnificent assistance. One passenger expresses his gratitude by saying, “I do really like abt Malaga is that from coach, car or train it’s been really easy to find special assistance and therefore start from there rather than struggle to find check-in #disabledflying.”  

Magnificient Assistance 100.00%
Special Services 69.23%
Special Crew 7.69%
Special Route 7.69%

Some of the airports go the extra mile to create an easy experience for their special assistance passengers. For example, at Heathrow airport, wearing a sunflower lanyard helps the airport staff to recognize that they need special assistance without the passenger needing to declare it. This allows a passenger to travel freely in the airport whilst knowing that if they need any support, the airport staff are available to support them.  

7. Airport Staff 

Air Passengers look for a unique travel experience and it becomes a key element in their expectations. Airport staff plays a key role in creating this unified customer experience. 

Security Staff 50.98%
Friendly Staff 46.95%
Rude Staff 46.13%
Availability of Staff 16.42%

Passengers expect airport staff to provide reliable and accurate services. Airport staff who have professional knowledge of airport services, and those staff who behave kindly and courteously have a higher likelihood to win the customers’ trust and confidence.

When customers say, “In summary, 3 hours of queuing and waiting in a soulless airport staffed by incompetent, unsmiling people.” – It indeed needs more attention to how airport staff behaves.


It’s important to note that during Pre-COVID times, passengers laid high emphasis on airport screening, aesthetic designs, car parking and airport staff.

Brand Equity for Europe Airport Pre-COVID

Below is the brand equity of 6 different airports. It shows how customers feel about a particular brand for each of the category drivers.


  • Amsterdam is leading in passport control and connecting flights

  • Passengers liked Frankfurt for its aesthetic designs

  • Airport security is ranked the highest in Heathrow airport

  • Airport staff got a thumbs up from passengers of Munich airport

Top Conversations Taking Place On Europe Airports Pre-COVID

 “The staff did everything to help me with security and passport control, i could directly friendly thanks for your help”

“Almost missed my connecting flight despite coming 2.5 hours early!”

“I didn’t have to open my hand luggage for electronics and liquids by security check fantastic work @schiphol”

“I went to three sets of bathrooms (where water fountains usually are) and couldn’t find any…”

“The parking page on your website is very difficult to understand. If I understand correctly, you can book online for the duration of an entire day, although I need half an hour?”

“Waiting, waiting, waiting… for a long time to special assistance no one minds us.”

“Most airport staff aware and happy to offer help when they notice the lanyard”

What Were The Key Drivers of Customer Experience For European Airports During Post-COVID?

Airports are facing a whole unprecedented challenge due to the coronavirus pandemic. For the aviation industry to recover, passengers have to feel safe and confident about health protection.

Passengers will travel again, but it will not be the same. They need the trust that boarding a plane is safe and they can enter the destination country without compromising their health. 

To help travel numbers stabilize and slowly return to pre-pandemic levels, instilling confidence will likely be a matter of competitive advantage. As such, airports are prepping up for sanitizers, sneeze guards, thermal checks, and social distancing. 

When Clootrack analyzed 7,068 online conversations of passengers, it came to light that passengers are particularly focusing on a few factors before they think of starting to travel again. 

Clootrack has listed the top 4 category drivers for Airports post-COVID in Europe.


1. Security Screening

In the typical air passenger journey, security screening is the area that creates bottlenecks, especially in busy airports. Standard security protocol involves close interaction between passengers and security operators and includes numerous surface touches such as trays. 

In a COVID environment, security checks cannot be compromised. This poses a unique challenge of maintaining security while obliging with the new health measures. 

Passengers are looking forward to a seamless journey while not compromising on security. Passengers’ expectations is all about checking travel history, checking temperatures, and social distancing.

Border Force 68.45%
Travel History 51.34%
Inbound Passengers  20.09% 
High Temperature 32.14%

Passengers are shocked when they see no health checks, temperature screenings, travel history screenings happening in the airports with the current situation. 

See how a shocked passenger expresses his feelings, “Why is  the airport not checking the temperature of people traveling through? This is shocking and emblematic of the Netherland’s wait-and-see attitude towards #COVID19. Keep people safe and worry about the economy later (not the other way around).” 

While much remains uncertain, airports should restore passenger confidence by conducting a review of the security screening process and implementing effective safety screening measures. 

2. Health Protection & Hygiene

For air passengers, the entire travel is only as safe as the fragile connection between their origin and destination. A passenger passes through a minimum of two airports during their journey, and their experience in these airports should be safe and healthy.  

Post-COVID, it is clear that new norms are forming in health protection and hygiene. Airports need to go that extra mile in making extensive changes in the way the passengers are managed at an airport.  

As seen in the table below, passengers themselves want airports to promote health protection measures such as wearing masks, social distancing, preventing infected people from flying, and providing sanitizers and soap dispensers. 

Healthy People 97.10%
More Dispensers 94.82%
Sick People 33.35%
Empty Sanitizer 3.40%

Many flights will resume soon… And the priority at this time is to introduce new measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of passengers with enhanced aircraft cleaning and disinfection.

3. Ease of Cancellation and Refund 

With many airlines canceling their schedules during this period, the ease of cancellation & refund process is the third key driver in the post-COVID scenario. Passengers will appreciate if there is an email or any other form of communication about the refund process giving them clarity on the options and the timelines. When a passenger sees quick and prompt action from the airlines, their loyalty is bound to shoot up. 

The conversations show that passengers are talking about cancellations and refunds and are expecting clear and fast communication.

Flight Cancelled 90.70%
Essential Needs 23.99%
Partial Refund 23.99%
Due Flight 5.88%

“We were given confusing directions on Vat Refund in Terminal 2, and when we tried to get a refund at the office near H30, the officer’s impolite attitude and unkind way of speaking made us feel disgusted.” Says a passenger who feels terrible about the entire refund process.

With the sudden COVID pandemic, major airlines have suspended activities, thereby leaving millions of passengers with an option to claim a refund or to reschedule their flights.

While in a pre-COVID situation, refunds and cancellations would take about 15 business days, the post-COVID situation is delaying the refunds due to the sheer volume of refund and rescheduling requests coming from passengers.

4. Social Distancing

Air travel resumption will need social distancing. This is even clearer after we see social distancing emerging as an important driver post-COVID. Resumption of air travel is likely to include a condition to leave the middle seat vacant on flights.

A safe passenger separation system will depend on the passenger density across the airport terminals and taking immediate action to prevent crowding.

As Passengers are hoping to take to the skies again, airports have to earn their confidence by using social distancing as a primary weapon against COVID-19.

As per the conversations, passengers are concerned about social distancing during baggage claims, and also about ignorant passengers who do not maintain enough distance.

Baggage Claim 53.30%
Amazing Distance 23.96%
Ignorant Passengers 14.18%
Tight Queues 14.18%

Success will mainly come down to the ability of an airport to predict passenger movement. Airports need to use knowledge and technology to manage passenger flow and distribution.

The airports should demonstrate that it can support reasonable social distancing, and this will remain a critical factor in reopening airports.

Brand Equity for Europe Airports Post-COVID

Customer perception can be positive when a passenger has a pleasant experience with an airport, while an annoying or displeasing experience can lead to a negative perception. When airports understand the importance of customer perception, it will realize that it is the most important factor for success. 

Below is the brand equity o different airports. It shows how customers feel about a particular brand for each of the category drivers:


  • Heathrow airport leads in social distancing and ease of cancellations

  • Gatwick airport is ranked number In terms of health protection and security screening 

Top Conversations Taking Place on Europe Airports Post-COVID

Customer sentiments can be positive or negative around a particular topic. Airports can deep dive into conversations to capture positive emotions to strengthen their offerings further. But at the same time, negative sentiments offer numerous opportunities for improvement.

“Each time I arrive at these airports, all passengers have a temperature control + contact form to fill out before going through customs.”

“Need to speed up and sort social distancing at security. No distance between passengers. Staff standing around while queues build up. No space between queue lines.”

“I give full marks to:@HeathrowAirport parking -refund in 10 seconds,@BristolAirport parking – refund under a minute,@British_Airways flight – refund in about a minute. Medium marks to:@easyJet – transfer to the new flight.”

“Lovely clean airport, well signposted and very friendly, helpful staff.           “

“A big thank you to the wonderful @gatwick_airport security officers for being so polite, smiley, and offering me their own hand sanitizer so that I don’t have to use mine!”

“We were given confusing directions on Vat Refund in Terminal 2, and when we tried to get a refund at the office near H30, the officer’s impolite attitude and unkind way of speaking made us feel disgusted.”

Europe Airport Industry – Future Trends

  • COVID-19 pandemic is creating demand for facial recognition which will eliminate human interference.

  • Thermal scanners and infrared scanners for passenger screening will become a norm in all airports.

  • Demand for thermal imaging cameras to detect fevers from a long distance will soar up amidst the social distancing and quarantine measures.

  • Opportunities emerge for innovative technology companies to manufacture smart biometric solutions, thermal imaging, and fever detection scanners


Insights from passenger conversations pre and post-COVID clearly show the difference in the way people are thinking about airports. While in pre-COVID emphasis was higher on airport security and screening, aesthetics, airport staff, and car parking, post-COVID it has shifted completely towards health and protection.

Emerging from nationwide lockdowns, airport passengers will be more alert about health protection and therefore increase their demands on social distancing and safety precautions.

Airports will have to gear up to provide the best solutions and services that satisfy rigorous health and safety checks that can rebuild trust for passengers.

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