Customer Experience of Airport Passengers in the US – Pre and Post-COVID
Category Analysis – Airport
US airports recorded an all-time high of 1.1 billion domestic and international scheduled service passengers in 2019, 3.9% higher than in 2018 according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Post COVID-19, US airports witnessed 51% lesser passengers in March 2020 compared to March 2019. Air travel experts have projected air travel to resume fully within the next 18 to 24 months
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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 3,376
Apr 2020 Post-COVID 3,932
Customer Experience of Airport Passengers in the USA – Pre and Post-COVID
Executive Summary – Key Takeaways
US Industry Overview
- In 2019, U.S. airlines carried 925.5 million passengers, the highest total based on comparable records since 2003.
- 2019 estimated total passengers are up 4.1% from 2018
Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS)
- Estimated Airport revenues have shown a decline when compared to the forecasted Pre-COVID revenues to the extent of 50%-60%
|Region||Forecasted (Pre-COVID-19)||Estimated under (COVID-19)||% Change|
Customer Experience of Airport Passengers in the USA – Pre and Post-COVID
Gone are the days when airports were merely points of departure and arrival. Today, airports are complex, multi-functional travel centers offering a wide range of services. In this fast-changing landscape, it is important to understand how to increase customer satisfaction and improve business performance.
Clootrack research looked into the passenger conversations of US airports that serve more than 9 billion annual passengers and provided 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 US airports and ranking based on Key drivers
What Are The Key Category Drivers of Customer Experience in the US Airports Pre-COVID?
Passengers traveling through airports are raising their expectations for quality and service.
Rude staff behavior, long queues, dirty washrooms, and inconvenient car parking facilities are no longer considered an acceptable airport experience. To meet the evolving passenger experience, airports need to know customers’ expectations.
In this report, we discuss the customer’s expectations during the pre-COVID period.
Here are the top 6 drivers of airport customer experience during the pre-COVID days:
1. Customer Care Services
Customer care service was the number one driver of customer experience in US airports during the pre-COVID period.
Airport customer care service revolves around providing the needed support to airport customers before they board a flight, during a flight, and after de-boarding a flight.
Assisting customers in flight bookings, issuing boarding passes, helping them with baggage, and smooth check-ins all become part of customer care.
The category drivers derived from customer feedback clearly showed that customers lay high emphasis on excellent customer service and exemplary services. But they are put off when they face bad experiences and bad attitudes from the customer service executives.
For example, see how customers express their satisfaction or dissatisfaction over customer service at airports.
“Very good customer service and very kind, and an airport with very clear indications.”
“Again, we really enjoyed the good food and service in American Airlines.”
“Ohare. Always the best in Chicago.”
“I talked to the customer service who wasn’t helpful and was just showing an attitude and was replying that you can’t get into the flight.”
“The baggage handling at DFW is by far the worst that I have experienced. Very slow and priority bags also processed along with others.”
2. Airport Taxi Service
The airport taxi service has been ranked as the second most important driver of exceptional customer experience.
The customer experience drivers clearly show that customers have given higher priority to good car rental services and rideshares that are reliable and meet customer needs. The easy check-in and easy returns make a customer excited about the car rental services. The way the parking structure is designed also makes an impact as customers prefer to be dropped off closer to the airport terminal. Customers get disappointed when they are not able to be picked up or dropped off by their loved ones due to the car parking structure in an airport.
“When getting off and renting a car you have to walk a long distance to the car rental” says a disgusted customer who had to walk a long distance before renting a car.
Customers prefer to have a shorter waiting time for taxis, safe rides, a fair method of calculating taxi fares, and a shorter walking distance to the taxi centers.
3. Airport Security
“Always get through security fast. Easy to find your plane and returning is a breeze” says a happy customer who has a wonderful experience with airport security. Passengers are delighted when they experience an efficient check-in and a fast security clearance.
The passenger conversations throw light on the importance of security lines in an airport. Customers show a thumbs up for an airport that has adopted modern terminals that offer a quick and smooth experience in getting through the terminals.
“Efficient check-in and security clearance. Nice clean modern terminal. Such an amazing representative of LAX” – this is how a customer expresses his experience of getting through airport security.
On the contrary, passengers get frustrated while waiting for a long time for the security check-in, and post sarcastically on social media just as one customer did.
“Thanks for doing nothing about the long queues at the security #notfixingtheproblem”
4. Waiting Time
The torture of waiting for a long time comes up as the 4th key driver for airports. As per the market study, the average time spent in the airport starting from arrival to boarding the plane is a whopping 133 minutes.
Passengers are impressed when waiting time is short, see what they have to say “Went through the security pretty quickly on a Monday 5am. Took about 5-10 mins, nothing to complain about here”
A frustrated customer says “Waited in the line for 2 hours just to get through the customs”. The worst thing that a customer can bear is the ridiculous waiting time of more than 30 minutes.
Nobody ever likes to wait for a long time in queues, yet in some places like the airport, it is totally unavoidable. But there should be a way to make those long unending queues move faster. There should be a way to make the waiting experience more pleasant.
The need of the hour is the implementation of automation to reduce long queues, self-check-in options, self-service bag drops, and other measures.
5. Staff Behavior
Airport staff has to don a variety of roles while serving thousands of passengers in a busy airport. Irrespective of whether passengers had a bad day with delay or disruption to their flights, or they had a smooth journey, airport staff plays a significant role while dealing with the passengers. Sometimes the staff goes to an extent of entertaining their passengers.
Here is a hilarious instance of airport staff going way beyond their duties to please their customers. See how one employee at Orlando International Airport caused more laughs upon a plane landing.
“Smiling faces everywhere! There is everything you need. Wonderful restaurants and helpful happy staff. I had a 8 Hour long layover and time just flied”.
See how a customer can be still happy with a long waiting time when they see happy and wonderful staff behavior.
6. Car Parking
Airport car parking is a huge source of aeronautical revenue for many airports. But how much importance do airports give to capacity challenges and ride-sharing apps?
Clean parking, covered parking, safe parking, many alternatives for parking, multiple car entrances, easy in and out, short waiting time, economic parking, easy navigation to the car parking, well lit, and easy payment options are on top of the mind of customers who use airport car parking.
|Long Term Parking||46.77%|
It is important for airports to find more space for car parking in their expansion plans. Car parking space is in fact one of the most important non-aeronautical assets worldwide for airports.
With the help of technology, predictive analysis, ride-sharing apps, and block parking are some of the solutions that airports can look into to ease the car parking congestion.
It’s important to note that during Pre-COVID times, passengers lay high emphasis on great customer service, shorter waiting times, easy car parking, and smooth security checks.
Brand Equity for US Airport Pre-COVID
For a customer to love your product, you must build pleasant experiences around your brand. If they experience positive thoughts, opinions, feelings, and perceptions about your product, then it signals positive brand equity.
Below is the brand equity of 5 different Airports. It shows how customers feel about a particular brand for each of the category drivers.
Some key takeaways from the above brand equity chart:
- Customer service stands out as exceptional in Los Angeles International airport when compared to other airports
- Airport taxi service and waiting time has gained higher satisfaction in the JFK airport
- O Hare airport tops the chart in airport security
- Minneapolis airport has come out as the best in staff behavior and car parking when compared to the rest of the airports.
Top Conversations Taking Place on US Airports Pre-COVID
Customer sentiments can be positive or negative around a particular topic. Airport operators can deep-dive into conversations to capture the positive emotions to further strengthen their offerings. But at the same time, negative sentiments offer numerous opportunities for improvement.
Here are some of the passenger conversations that bring out the delight or frustrations of a passenger.
“Very good service to the customer, very kindly, and an airport with very clear identifications.”
“The passport control process is excellent, but then, after re-checking the luggage, they only have two security scanners, and the lines become anxiety-inducing to many passengers, as it all hits a screeching halt.”
“Absolutely a mess trying to get in and out of this place.. especially with their new Uber and Lyft pick-ups at term 1, and having passengers wait on the outer curb is utter chaos!”
“The baggage handling process at DFW is by far, the worst I’ve experienced, slow, priority bags processed like all others, inaccurate scanning, etc.”
“Efficient check-in and security clearance. Nice clean, modern terminal! Such an amazing representative of LAX!”
What Are The Key Drivers of Customer Experience For US Airports Post-COVID?
The world is moving towards the recovery stage of the Covid-19 pandemic. Airports will have to transform how they operate to remain competitive by listening to the passengers’ needs that have changed completely compared to a pre-COVID situation.
Clootrack, in its latest consumer insights report adapted to the post-COVID-19 context, reveals the mindset of US passengers. They are expecting airports to adapt social distancing and lay greater emphasis on health protection when flights resume.
Through a detailed analysis of 3,932 online passenger conversations, Clootrack has listed the top 3 drivers for US airports post-COVID:
1. Social Distancing
Social distancing is the latest mantra everywhere, and airports are no exception.
The mere thought of an airport brings visuals of the dense population moving around, standing in queues, eating food while waiting for their next flight, security checks, and fast-moving transport systems filled with people.
As the world is considering ending the COVID-19 lockdowns, airports need to understand future health risks and manage the need for social distancing.
Airport passengers expect airport authorities to be vigilant and take up additional efforts to impose social distancing.
“When I left the airport, they were so respectful and had their security policing the distancing.” says a passenger who appreciates the airport’s effort to keep social distancing.
Passengers are also suggesting, “Tell airlines to ask all passengers to stand 6 ft from each other at gates, in line for boarding pass and line for boarding plane.”
This signifies the amount of importance that passengers are laying on social distancing
2. Flight Availability
As many countries have started to ease their Covid-19 lockdowns, people are trying to get back to normal and return to flights that had been grounded for months.
A few airlines have started skeleton fleets, but are they enough, or do they satisfy the flyers’ demands?
One passenger said, “All of my schedules are going down due to the non-availability of flights.”
There is still uncertainty about the availability of flights as there are high chances of cancellations. People are hoping that most of the flights will return to normalcy soon.
3. Health Protection and Hygiene
The world is witnessing perhaps the deadliest crisis of the 21st century. Airports that are known to ferry thousands of passengers daily, unwittingly have become the gateway for this contagion.
Hence, passengers expect airports to play a major role in health protection and hygiene during this current pandemic spread.
The conversations reflect the state of mind of the passengers. They demand more cleanliness, additional security screening, and medical advancements. Passengers want to see flights are disinfected, airports are cleaned more often, and sanitizers are made available.
Passengers demand that “There should be hand sanitizer dispensers & antibacterial wipe dispensers liberally located throughout the airport (like Public has been doing for decades already) – make sure they continuously replenished.”
Their biggest worry is about traveling with sick people or confirmed cases on the flight. Airports have to address this concern as the aviation industry’s future depends heavily on the health and screening of passengers.
Brand Equity for US Airport 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:
- Portland airport leads in health protection, and hygiene followed closely by JFK.
- In terms of the availability of flights, JFK airport is ranked number one leaving behind all other airports.
Top Conversations Taking Place on US 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.
Clootrack conducted data-driven customer analysis to derive consumer insights. Here are some of the conversations that should draw the attention of an airport operator.
“I’m in a whole row and surrounded by other whole empty rows, I think there are 100 open seats, so there’s plenty of social distancing.”
“A family friend of ours paid 20k for a private airplane to take his family on a trip, instead of taking the commercial planes.”
“We had an incredibly wonderful experience yesterday! Thank you to your team. Everyone said, welcome—smiles on faces. We were in and out in 10 minutes. Thanks to your restroom workers. So clean! Soap and towels are readily available. Restaurants were sparkling. Thanks, LAX!!”
“My parents just got off a flight from Korea- they walked off the flight and through customs without any health screenings.”
“When I got to customs at the airport in Atlanta we were ushered into lines that were really just massive crowds of people not more than a foot apart from each other”
US 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 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, the emphasis was higher on customer service and car parking, post-COVID 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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