World’s best airports for customer experience revealed

Airport Service Quality awards based on the views of customers in 2020

Revamped awards recognize how airports have responded to COVID-19 concerns

Montreal, 1 March 2021 – Airports Council International (ACI) World has today revealed this year’s Airport Service Quality awards which highlight the world’s best airports as judged by their customers.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a dramatic impact on global passenger traffic in 2020 as well as changing customer perceptions and expectations of the airport experience. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, airports managed to collect ASQ surveys from their customers throughout the year and 108 awards have been won by 89 individual airports around the world.

Based on new hygiene related questions added to the survey questionnaire, ACI has introduced a new award – ‘Best Hygiene Measures by Region’ – of which there are 33 inaugural winners.

This award provided airports with a reliable method of gauging customer response to new health measures and recognizes airports’ success in responding to the intense focus on hygiene. The new category also complements ACI’s Airport Health Accreditation programme, launched last year, which has resulted in more than 275 airports being accredited already.

“ACI’s Airport Service Quality awards represent the highest possible accolade for airport operators around the world,” ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira said. “This year more than any other, the awards recognize those airports that have listened to their customers and adapted the services and experiences they offer to meet changing needs and expectations under very trying circumstances.

“I am proud of the achievements of all ASQ award winners which shows their focus on delivering excellence in customer experience and setting an example of excellence for their peers. As we come together as an industry to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the focus on customers that the ASQ programme provides will help guide the way.”

This year, ACI World entered into a long-term partnership with global travel technology company Amadeus to deliver the ASQ Awards.

“We at Amadeus congratulate all the ASQ award winners for their ongoing commitment to delivering an exceptional customer experience in the face of adversity caused by COVID-19. Amadeus shares this commitment, which is why we’ve been investing for many years to bring a single, integrated platform for all aspects of passenger services to the industry, incorporating applications, hardware and services.” Amadeus EVP Airport IT Bruno Spada said.

“With a modular cloud platform, airports can better connect to airlines to bring new passenger service innovations like biometrics or contactless to market. They can base operations on a consistent flow of data throughout the entire airport journey, which is the key to delivering a truly smooth experience for passengers. And they can do all this with minimal effort or delay because we’ve taken care of the complexity in the cloud.”

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SITA’s Air Transport IT Insights reveals a sharper focus on safety, automation, and efficiency

The COVID-19 pandemic has refocused IT spending priorities for airlines and airports in 2020 as revenue plunged and the industry faced new health and operational requirements needed to keep flying.

Among the key findings from SITA’s 2020 Air Transport IT Insights, published today, was an accelerated investment in automated passenger processing focusing on touchless and mobile services. There was also a strong focus on virtual and remote IT services that allowed employees to work from home while ramping up communications with passengers. Cybersecurity and cloud services – that helped automate operations and drive new efficiencies – were key.

In 2020, SITA data showed that flight volumes plunged 44% year-on-year due to the pandemic. As a result of this impact on demand, IATA forecast the airline industry’s full-year loss at $118 billion.

David Lavorel, CEO SITA AT AIRPORTS & BORDERS, said: “The severe slowdown in 2020 forced the air transport industry to focus on driving new cost efficiencies. Adding to the pressure, airlines and airports had to rapidly incorporate new health measures such as touchless passenger processing and the handling of new health information and protocols, including PCR testing in many destinations. These efforts have been made in a market that continues to face rapid changes in air travel regulations that make operational planning volatile and last minute. 

“To solve these challenges, the industry has turned to technology and, in many cases, reprioritized where they invested in 2020. The good news is that airlines and airports were able to capitalize on existing trends to automation and have made significant strides in implementing new solutions that will bring new improvements for the passenger now and into the future.”   

Data and automation are key 

Making the check-in process completely touchless is now the main priority for airports and airlines to help protect passengers and staff, improve the passenger experience, and drive efficiency. 

Biometric technology is the focus for airport investment with 64% of airports aiming to roll out self-boarding gates using biometric & ID documentation by 2023, three times as many as in 2020. Airlines have doubled implementations and plan to double investment for self-boarding using biometric & ID documentation by 2023 (82%). 

Similarly, airlines are prioritizing a completely touchless check-in process, and most want mobile touchless payment options for all services provided. The majority (79%), is focused on enabling self-bag drop for passengers. All essential customer services will become contactless from booking to arrival, including automated lounge access and mobile delayed baggage reporting.  

Airline mobile applications for passenger services is a priority with nearly all (97%) of airlines having major programs and R&D in place by 2023. By 2023 the majority of airlines plan to send passengers real-time notifications on their mobile devices about their bags and plan to provide real-time bag-tracking information for staff.

Virtual IT services 

In response to the pandemic, most airlines and airports are investing more in in-house virtual and remote IT services allowing employees to work in a more agile and effective way while speeding up communications with passengers. Almost three-quarters of airports and airlines will continue to invest in data exchange, cloud services, cybersecurity, and business intelligence to accelerate their digital airport processes. This includes increasing services on passenger mobile apps and ensuring staff services are accessible via mobile or tablets. 

The full report, including methodology and charts, can be found here

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Covid safe air travel must ensure there are no weak links in the travel chain

To plan for, and to experience the safest air travel experience during the coronavirus pandemic, customers require facts about airline and airport COVID-19 safety standards being delivered, not speculative or hypothetical assessments. It can be easy for an airport or airline to say what they plan to achieve in terms of COVID-19 safety, but one can only accurately judge the effectiveness of safety protocols when you have tried, tested and experienced them.

Airlines, airports, and lounge providers across the world have invested time and resources to ensure that the travel experience is safer for customers and staff during the coronavirus pandemic, and since mid-2020 Skytrax audit teams have travelled across the globe to evaluate these new hygiene, cleanliness, and safety protocols. The integrity of the certification process underlines why the programme is regarded as a global benchmark of COVID-19 Safety Rating for the air travel community worldwide.

The COVID-19 safety ratings investigate and evaluate the door-to-door air travel process, and identify any weak links in either the airport or airline health, hygiene and safety procedures.

“we are all only as safe as the weakest link in the chain”

Skytrax COVID-19 Safety Rating is based on professional and scientific investigation of the effectiveness and consistency of actual health and hygiene standards provided by airlines and airports, and the rating is only applied after a broad range of protocols have been observed and assessed for effectiveness and consistency. There are ratings of airport and airline COVID-19 safety standards that lack authority because they do not track real-world standards and simply look at “theoretical” safety protocols. Such checklists do not study the practical and successful implementation of measures and are nearly always self-certified by airlines and airports.

Aside from the simple factors of design, frequency, and placement of safety items such as signage, hand sanitisers and distancing markers, a questionnaire analysis cannot consider passenger behaviour and market demographics, staff behaviour and monitoring, and real aspects of social distancing such as spatial layouts and passenger flows. Across the airline experience, it is the actual application of safety protocols that is relevant, rather than simply considering expected or stated procedures.

A broken safety link: airport processing at Amsterdam Schiphol

Critically, it is the scale and consistency of measures that are so important to ensure that customers are fully conversant with both the local regulations and accepted international norms of COVID-19 safe behaviour. From the start of the COVID-19 research and analysis, Skytrax have observed that passenger attitudes vary greatly depending on the type of lockdown and restrictions in place in their home country. Airline and airports recognised as delivering some of the highest safety protocols have acknowledged such issues by reinforcing measures to manage passengers and apply more stringent controls, and the needs and importance for this vary from region to region.

“Some airports must improve COVID-19 safety standards”

Edward Plaisted of Skytrax said: “When we award a COVID-19 Safety Certification, we place not only our own reputation on the line, but the trust of air travellers around the world, and this is why we provide factual health, hygiene and safety ratings, and do not assume or speculate. As with any rating assessment that we apply, this does not take a one size fits all approach, and it is absolutely crucial to consider factors such as customer behavioural habits, airport terminal size and infrastructure, airline network and markets, local technology and supply chains, and all other relevant issues to ensure we have thoroughly examined standards.”

While vaccination programmes gather pace in some regions, the global inconsistency of the rollout means measures undertaken to reduce the spread of coronavirus are likely to remain in place for at least 12-18 months, and in terms of large scale travel recovery we are all only as safe as the weakest link in the chain in respect to COVID-19. It is therefore critical for air travel providers to be delivering robust, consistent, and enforceable measures to ensure the well-being of customers and staff.

COVID-19 safe environment: Hamad International Airport, Doha

Consistency of safe travel protocols across both the airport and onboard experience is more essential than ever, and this is where Skytrax have seen the greatest variances that need to be improved. The safety assurance benefits in having maximum control of both areas is highlighted by the 5-Star COVID-19 Safety Ratings achieved by Qatar Airways and their hub at Hamad International Airport in Doha, both delivering a safe and seamless travel experience.

During the first stages of COVID-19 airport safety analysis, Skytrax have noted that some airport “stated” safety protocols are not being achieved in the “actual” standards provided to customers, and it is this divide that causes concern about airports failing to deliver upon their health and safety assurances. Discipline, control and consistency are key factors if a recovery in air travel is to truly offer travellers a safe and trustworthy environment. Overpromising and under-delivering can destroy the reputation of the industry in its quest to rebuild customer confidence in air travel, and this is why Skytrax state that it is critical for the necessary hands-on assessment to be applied in COVID-19 safety rating.

Another example where COVID-19 safety procedures are being well enforced is Rome Fiumicino Airport, with effective signage, covid guidance and cleanliness standards. In high movement areas, the airport has an in-house Bio-Safety Team of 40 staff that seek to control social distancing and ensure face mask use compliance.

Amongst major airlines, Air France, British Airways, Emirates and Lufthansa are all currently Certified with the 4-Star COVID-19 Safety Rating, and the inclusion of Ryanair in this rating group demonstrates that the higher Covid ratings are not limited to full-service carriers only. The health, hygiene and safety features that Skytrax investigate relate to air travel as a whole and how successful an airline is at delivering Covid safety, whether flying in first-class or with a low-cost airline.

Accepting that many of the safety protocols and procedures introduced during COVID-19 are going to be with us for years rather than months, we are now seeing further improvements to COVID-19 safety measures by some of these airlines and I hope to see one or two of them upgraded to the highest 5-Star COVID-19 Safety Rating in the next few months,” added Edward Plaisted.

The first COVID-19 Safety Ratings for airlines in Asia and North America are expected to be announced by April 2021.

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Airbus and Air France spearhead Paris bid to advance hydrogen-hub airports

By David Kaminski-Morrow11 February 2021

Airbus and Air France-KLM are joining airports operator Groupe ADP and other French entities to explore the use of hydrogen at Parisian airports.

They are seeking projects focused on storage and distribution of gaseous and liquid hydrogen within airports, options for hydrogen recycling, and diverse uses of hydrogen in aeronautics – such as its application to ground operations and infrastructure energy supply.

The aerospace organisations and the French capital, supported by governmental promotional agency Choose Paris Region, state that they intend to build a “unique” airport eco-system centred on hydrogen and establish the city’s airports as “hydrogen hubs”.

These partners are jointly issuing a “worldwide call” for expressions of interest in the exploration of hydrogen and the transformation of airport infrastructure to take into account the emergence of hydrogen as a fuel.

Selected projects, following the closure of a 19 March deadline, will be disclosed at the end of April.

Airbus H2 aircraft-c-Airbus

Source: Airbus

Airbus has previously unveiled conceptual designs of hydrogen-fuelled aircraft

France’s government previously unveiled an aerospace strategy which focused on the development of zero-emission aircraft by 2035, and Airbus has been directing its efforts towards the potential of hydrogen power. Paris Region also adopted a ‘Hydrogen Plan’ in late 2019.

The advent of hydrogen, the partners state, will “revolutionise” the way airports are designed and operated.

Their vision of the future hydrogen-based airport eco-system will also encompass large and small companies, start-up enterprises, laboratories and universities.

“Airbus is determined to drive a bold vision for the future of sustainable aviation, and to lead the transition to zero-emission commercial flight,” says Airbus executive vice-president of engineering Jean-Brice Dumont.

“Hydrogen is the one of the most promising technologies that will help us meet that objective. But we won’t be able to do it alone.”

The partners’ initiative aims to identify advances in technology and research and test economically-viable solutions to the issues of using hydrogen on a large scale at airports.

“We must prepare today to welcome the hydrogen aircraft in 2035 by transforming our airports into real hydrogen hubs, in which we wish to develop various uses, with our stakeholders, around airside and city-side ground mobility,” says Groupe ADP deputy chief Edward Arkwright.

Air France-KLM executive vice-president, corporate secretary, Anne-Sophie Le Lay says the introduction of new energy sources is “fundamental” to shift towards “more sustainable and responsible” air transport

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ACI commends airports for customer engagement during pandemic


Airports Council International (ACI) World has commended airports that have continued to prioritize listening and engaging with customers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘The Voice of the Customer’ recognition is for airports that have demonstrated significant efforts in gathering passenger feedback through the Airport Service Quality (ASQ) program to help them better understand their customers during the pandemic. To qualify, an airport member must have collected three or more quarters of data. It is separate from the organization’s ASQ awards and in total 140 airports have received recognition.

“The Voice of the Customer celebrates the commitment of airports that continued listening to passengers and adapting processes and procedures to meet changing expectations of customer experience in response to Covid-19,” said ACI world director general Luis Felipe de Oliveira. “As our industry works toward recovery, airports that listen to – and prioritize the needs and expectations of – customers will be better placed to respond. ACI’s ASQ program gives airports the tools, objective measurement and benchmarking for them to gather information on the needs and expectations of customers and help drive their performance in response.”

The awards were sponsored by airport IT technology provider Amadeus. Bruno Spada, the company’s executive vice president of airport IT, commented, “We are proud to support this important recognition of airports that relentlessly sought to gather passenger feedback during the pandemic. During that period, we have worked in partnership with airports to help them rapidly scale passenger handling capacity up or down, to serve passengers in new parts of the airport or off-airport and to make their experience contactless.”

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How digital transformation and AI will lead future development of aviation in post COVID-19 era

By Megha Paul On Feb 9, 2021TD Editor

Dubai Airshow 2021 will serve as a platform to showcase the role of cutting edge technologies in bolstering the recovery of the aviation, aerospace and defence industries following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on those sectors.

The impact of the pandemic has accelerated the use of new technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, cybersecurity, touchless solutions, 5G, robotics, and automation. These solutions serve as a means to drive new opportunities within the industry and enhance safety, operations, productivity and profitability.

A recent report shows that 69% of aerospace and defence executives say they have prioritised anticipating and responding to supply-chain events in order to protect the customer experience. COVID-19 has emphasised the need for more resilient, flexible and adaptable supply chains for the industry. Executives overwhelmingly agree emerging technologies like AI, internet of things, automation and wearables have accelerated the pace of automation over the past three years.

60% of industry executives are also making investments for long-term remote work a priority for the next six months. This indicates the increasing importance of digital transformation within the aerospace, aviation and defence sectors. AI is also being used to deliver personalised travel experiences to passengers in order to generate the maximum customer satisfaction. A new market study predicted a CAGR of 46.4% for AI in the aviation market by 2023.

As part of Dubai Airshow 2021, aerospace companies from across the world will launch and exhibit their latest technologies and innovations to promote the sector’s growth in the region and the world. The event will also include conference programmes dedicated to the topics of AI, 5G, and cybersecurity.

New ideas, innovation and higher customer expectations have created a prime opportunity for start-ups within the aviation, defence and aerospace sectors. Co-located with Dubai Airshow will be a new launch event called VISTA – a start-up hub giving innovators within the aerospace and defence fields a rare chance to access venture capitalists and investors who are increasingly looking for disruptive new entrants that can out-hustle the big players. In a regional first, VISTA will feature a number of sub-events in partnership with Gothams, a leading accelerator that is helping to build the next generation of aerospace and defence start-ups.

Commenting on its partnership with VISTA at Dubai Airshow 2021, Elodie Robin-Guillerm from Gothams said: “We believe in the importance of providing the right resources, technology and connections to help empower companies to successfully own their vision and accelerate into the aerospace and defence industries. The start-up ecosystem is thriving not just with ideas, but also with innovative startups and investors looking to help businesses scale up and expand. Dubai Airshow 2021 will be an important, in-person, platform for understanding the role of innovation, cutting-edge solutions and services for the future growth of the aerospace sectors. It will be the only live event of its kind this year and we look forward to collaborating with the wider industry to help showcase the power of technology for its future.”

A recent announcement between Amadeus and Norwegian airport operator Avinor paves the way for a touchless travel journey for passengers. Avinor, which operates 44 airports, is trialling touchless technology that allows passengers to check in, drop bags, proceed through security and board their flight.

The impact of technologies such as cybersecurity, robotics, AI and 5G will be high on the agenda at Dubai Airshow, which is set to take place at Dubai World Central (DWC), Dubai Airshow Site, from 14-18 November 2021.

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British Airways to trial VeriFLY digital health passport

BA will trial the VeriFLY digital health app on all transatlantic routes between London and the US, starting from 4 February

British Airways will become the first airline in the UK to trial the VeriFLY digital health app, allowing customers to verify COVID-19 test certificates before they travel.

The trial will begin from 4 February on BA’s transatlantic routes between London and the US.

Passengers can download the app to their mobile device, and then check that they meet the entry requirements of their destination by providing digital health document verification and confirming eligibility. The software then confirms the test matches the country’s regulations with a ‘Pass’ or ‘Fail’ message.

Sean Doyle, British Airways’ CEO said: “Although flying is currently restricted, it is essential we do as much as we can now to help those who are eligible to fly and prepare to help our customers navigate the complexities around changing global entry requirements when the world re-opens.

“We remain focused and committed to finding user-friendly, evidence-based solutions to make journeys as seamless they can be. Through these trials, we hope to provide travellers and governments on both sides of the Atlantic with the tools and the reassurance they need to make safe travel possible.”

The trial follows the recent announcement that American Airlines, British Airways’ joint business and oneworld partner, now allows all customers to use VeriFLY when they are travelling to the US from all international destinations.

British Airways is also simultaneously conducting a testing trial with American Airlines and oneworld on some routes from the US to the UK. The results of the trial will be shared with Oxford University, the academic partners and with governments on both sides of the Atlantic.

Robert Isom, American Airlines’ President said: “We are pleased to be working hand-in-hand again with our partner, British Airways, to make transatlantic travel as seamless as possible for those who are permitted to fly by utilising the latest in digital technology.”

VeriFLY’s software, which has been developed by private software company Daon, allows people to combine travel verification documents and COVID-19 test results in one place, ensuring travellers are fully compliant with the entry requirements for their destination before leaving home. Certified customers will be fast-tracked through the airport where specially designated desks will be available for check in.

Phase two, which will follow in the near future, will extend to cover customers travelling to the UK from the US across both carriers. This will make British Airways and American Airlines the first transatlantic partners to offer a digital solution for eligible customers flying to the UK.

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United Airlines Has a New Online Feature to Help You Get ‘Travel-Ready’ Amid COVID-19

The feature is accessible on both the United app and website via the “My Trips” section. BY CAILEY RIZZO JANUARY 25, 2021

United Airlines has launched a new digital platform allowing passengers to review all the information they may need for upcoming travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Titled “Travel Ready Center,” — unveiled on Monday — travelers can upload any testing or vaccination records necessary for an upcoming trip and find local testing centers. The feature is accessible on both the United app and website via the “My Trips” section. 

“While pre-travel testing and documentation are key to safely reopening global travel, we know it can be confusing for customers when they’re preparing for a flight,” Linda Jojo, Executive Vice President for Technology and Chief Digital Officer, United said in a press release. “Starting today, our ‘Travel-Ready Center’ gives customers a personalized, step-by-step guide of what is needed for their trip, a simple way to upload required documents and quickly get their boarding pass, fully integrated within our app and website.”

Once travelers have a trip booked with United, they will be able to access the Travel-Ready Center and verify their travel requirements. Depending on their destination, the feature will display information about documentation or testing requirements necessary to board their flights.

Once travelers — 18 or older — upload their documents, they will be reviewed by a United employee. When the documents are verified, travelers will be cleared for check-in and can receive their boarding pass before heading to the airport. 

United's Travel Ready app


Over the coming weeks and months, the Travel-Ready Center will expand its offerings and introduce new features. Come February, passengers will be able to use the digital center to book a COVID-19 test and will also be able to video chat with a United agent to answer questions about travel restrictions via the airline’s virtual customer service platform. Visa requirements for traveling overseas will also be made available in the Travel-Ready Center over the coming months.

If vaccination records or “vaccine passports” become necessary for travel, that information will be made available in the digital center, as well. 

United has been developing several digital solutions to streamline travel during the pandemic. Last year, United introduced an interactive Destination Travel Guide, allowing passengers to search for and filter destinations around the globe by their COVID-19 restrictions. 

Other airlines are also working on new digital travel solutions. Last week, American Airlines debuted a health passport app. Etihad and Emirates also joined an international health passport app. 

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How Lidar Sensors are Helping Airports to be COVID-Safe

A lidar-based real-time crowd analytics solution has recently helped Orlando International Airport create one of the world’s safest terminals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Using lidar sensors, people moving around a building can be tracked thereby dramatically improving the usability, safety and cleanliness of large spaces. 

Seven Vista lidar sensors at Orlando International Airport are able to pass data between each other, allowing seamless tracking of the same person across large overlapping areas. This covers almost 100 per cent of the terminal area of roughly 50,000 square feet.

Unlike surveillance cameras, lidar sensors do not capture biometric data, making the data anonymised and compliant with privacy laws. They also perform accurately regardless of lighting conditions.

Lidar airport

Picture: The Indoor Lab’s Safe Place™ solution uses the intelligent lidar data from Cepton’s Helius™ Smart Lidar System to deliver ground-breaking visual analytics of the foot traffic at Orlando International Airport. Image credit: The Indoor Lab.

Social Distancing and Floorplans 

Deployed by The Indoor Lab, the leading provider for monitoring real-time foot traffic using lidar sensors, the solution, called Safe Place™, uses Cepton’s award-winning Helius™ Smart Lidar System. 

According to The Indoor Lab, the full solution implemented in Orlando led to a drastic improvement in people’s adherence to social distancing through Thanksgiving and into the busy holiday travel season.

The software can also be used to help optimise layouts in aisles, walkways and retail spaces, as well as addressing safety risks. Data on crowd density, dwell times, motion tracking and speed of individuals can be used to manage queues and reduce crowding.

Crowd Tracking

The project at Orlando International Airport is one of several early projects initiated by The Indoor Lab and Cepton as part of a strategic partnership. The companies hope to collaborate to help enable a more efficient design of public and private commercial spaces, and improve public safety during the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery.

Patrick Blattner, co-founder and Chief Product Officer of The Indoor Lab said: “We have a 15-year history of crowd tracking across retail, events, airports, and stadiums. So, when COVID-19 started spreading exponentially and negatively affected many public and private spaces, we consulted with leaders involved in drafting proposals for the International Franchise Association, including the use of lidar technology to help put the country back on a path towards normalcy. 

“With public concerns focused on cleanliness of public and commercial spaces, we extended our Safe PlaceTM platform beyond occupancy and social distancing, creating the first proprietary real-time sanitization detection solution in the market. A Safe Place™ enabled environment ensures locations have been cleaned, distancing measures are followed, and safer occupancy levels are maintained. Our partnership with Cepton helped us deliver against this promise. Our patent-pending Safe PlaceTM platform with real-time cleaning detection is the first of its kind in the world.” 

Picture: a photograph of an image showing people moving through an airport terminal. Aircraft can be seen from the windows

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 14 January 2021

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