Study reveals changes in passenger priorities

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WASHINGTON -- A new survey and study provides some evidence as to what passengers want most from an airport, how their expectations have changed since 9/11 and which airports they believe are the best in meeting their needs.

For example, changes in security procedures since 9/11 have resulted in a "dramatic effect" on passenger priorities and behavior, according to J.D. Power and Associates, which has conducted the Global Airport Satisfaction Study every year since 2000.

The study's authors said the changes mean passengers, especially in North American airports, are more likely to interact with airline and airport security staff as well as with other airport employees.

"This increased exposure to airport personnel has heightened passengers' sensitivity to professionalism and courtesy," J.D. Power said when asked for trends that emerged from the newest study.

Another change: Passengers, worried about the possibility of long security lines, are arriving earlier.

That has increased the importance of the variety, quality and gate-proximity of food and retail concessions as well as of comfort and entertainment options in the gate area.

The most important factors for customer satisfaction, however, are still the most basic.

"Getting to the terminal" topped the rankings. Travelers are concerned about how long it takes to get to the airport and how easy or difficult it is to drop someone off.

"Leaving the airport" ranked second. Travelers don't want to struggle to find the taxi, train, subway, parking lot or exit.

Here are some other factors passengers said were important:

• The check-in process. In a sign of continuing post-9/11 jitters, passengers said the most important element of this process is to make them feel safe. Waiting times and courtesy and professionalism of the staff essentially tied as the second most important element.

• Baggage claim, mainly whether bags arrive and how long it takes to retrieve them.

• Terminal facilities. The biggest factor in this category is the courtesy and helpfulness of airport information staff or anyone with an airport or airline ID badge. The second biggest factor: feeling of personal safety. A close third: the cleanliness of the airport rest rooms.

"The best airport scores are generally the result of an aggressive rest room refurbishment program," J.D. Power said.

• Security check. This category has become twice as important to customers since 2001, and what passengers most want is for the process to make them feel safe.

That's a change from previous years, when passengers felt the security check was a minor nuisance and wanted to get through it as quickly as possible.

The second most important element in this category -- notice a pattern? -- is the courtesy and professionalism of security staff. The time required for the process ranked last, although J.D. Power noted the result may have been affected a bit by the inclusion in the study of some smaller airports, where lines tend to be shorter.

So which airports are doing the best job?

The 12,000 travelers surveyed at about 61 airports ranked Singapore's Changi Airport the best. Frankfurt Airport ranked highest among large airports, defined as those handling more than 30 million passengers a year.

That was a dramatic improvement for Frankfurt, which didn't even crack the top 10 the previous year.

Frankfurt's rating got a big boost from new rail and shuttle services between terminals and to parking lots, said Linda Hirneise, a partner in the J.D. Power and Associates travel practice. Customer approval of the airport's 180 retail, food and beverage establishments also helped, she said.

For a copy of the study, contact Hirneise at (805) 418-8200.

To contact reporter Andrew Compart, send e-mail to [email protected].

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