BusinessDay

Improving air travel experience for quick post-Covid-19 recovery

One sector that has continued to follow all COVID-19 protocols since its outbreak is the air travel sector. Airlines, airport officials and passengers have continued to adhere to principles of safety. The change in the behaviour of passengers following the COVID-19 crisis, travel restrictions and the ensuing economic crisis resulted in a dramatic drop in demand for airline services.

The virus did not just affect the aviation industry economically, it changed the way and process through which services are rendered.

During the lockdown, flights were not allowed in the country except for some essential ones. This affected ground handling revenue because ground handlers depended on airlines.

Nose masks, hand sanitizers, temperature checks and other cautionary measures were now required by regulators. In view of this, training staff was needed so as to adhere to the new way of operations

Speaking at the 2022 Airports Airlines Business Summit and Expo held at NiGAV Center Murtala Muhamed International Airport, (MMIA) Lagos, Musa Nuhu, Director General, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) said the NCAA’s target is to win back public confidence to fly again, adding that while Safety and security is paramount for air travel, the CAA has achieved significant success and remains unrelenting in its efforts to achieve safe skies in Nigeria.

Nuhu who was represented by Mohammed Odunowo, director Aerodromes and Airspace standards, DAAS NCAA mentioned that beyond safety and security, passenger satisfaction is paramount as passenger’s experience will determine if he flies again or the means by which he/she will travel again.

“Improving passenger experience is a holistic approach. The travel experience commences from the time a passenger arrives at the airport to arrival at the final destination.

“With the pandemic, new habits established, passenger awareness has reached a different level. Namely, passengers are more inclined to use online check-in and self-check-in kiosks. Overall, they are more willing to use technology as people refrain from close contact and asking questions which they could figure out themselves,” he said.

The DG stressed that airports must continue to demonstrate that they are ready to keep the pandemic under control, with all necessary standards, recommendations and requirements implemented and applied, ensuring that travellers can have a safe journey, from the airport building entrance to boarding and accommodating their seats in the plane. These actions include:

“Seating areas, restrooms, restaurants and shopping areas must all indicate the level of cleanliness. Hand sanitizers must be available across the airport, especially near and within the areas with frequently touched surfaces. Only passengers should be allowed to enter the terminal building, but not the ‘meeters and greeters’. This way, airports are providing confidence and comfort to both travellers and employees.

“Drop of and Pick up zones must be strategically located and easily accessible. Airlines and airport operators must adopt the use of technology, (smart phones etc. touch point kiosks) for check-in so as to reduce the cluster of persons around the check-in areas and clearly marked bag drop-off zones. Keeping all measures in place is certainly a confidence driver and a guarantee that the airport is a safe place for its customer, the passenger,” he explained.

For airlines, he said they must remain focused on maintaining customer trust and pave way for quick recovery.

He said airlines must not display or advertise wrong flight times and in the event of a flight disruption, the airline must provide timely information to passengers and live up to their obligation to provide care (Refreshment/meal/refund/re-routing on another flight in a timely manner) and in adherence to the Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulations 2015 Part 19.

“Airlines must not display or advertise wrong flight times. Passengers book flights to meet their travel plans. It is frustrating when a person purchases a ticket for a particular time only to be informed that the fight will operate at a later time.

Read also: Consumers groan as airfare surges 70% in eight months

“Many airlines also recognize the role of mobile apps for day-of-travel communications and functions demand online check-in and pre-ordering of products in airports may increase if the technology option is available to let travellers check in, check flight status, determine travel time to the airport, modify their itineraries seamlessly across devices and channels, including via mobile messages,” he said.

During his paper presentation, Rabiu Yadudu, managing director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, (FAAN) said FAAN understands its pivotal role in promoting the economic development of all other sectors and the prosperity of the nation and for this reason, it was one of the organizations that pioneered the launching of the Executive Order 1 for the Ease of Doing Business by Yemi Osinbajo, the Vice President in 2017.

Yadudu said in line with the requirements of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) to move towards an enabling environment that adopts e-systems and streamlines processes to make for a more efficient and professional working environment, FAAN embraced the spirit and the letter of the Executive Order on the Ease of Doing Business.

“FAAN is streamlining information management through the One Stop Shop (OSS), an electronic-based single window portal to facilitate business opportunities and investments with all FAAN’s operations and airports nationwide.

“We are already in the process of fine-tuning a central information management service that will enable all business and general enquiries to be received, channelled to the appropriate departmental office or unit and processed within specified PEBEC timelines,” FAAN MD said.

He said FAAN has also developed strategies and coordinated activities that bring all-inclusive ease of doing business and facilitation for not just FAAN but the aviation stakeholders whose business operations interface directly or indirectly with us.

“Our successes are not only seen in these infrastructural developments, but also in the growth in our airports’ statistics. Our passenger traffic grew from 9,358,166 in 2020 to 15,886,955 in 2021, showing a significant increase of over 69 percent. Aircraft movement also increased by over 46 percent from 2020 to 2021, while total cargo was about 191 Tons in 2020, but increased to about 391 Tons in 2021.

“We are working with the stakeholders in the cargo service chain to bridge the gap in our import-export of cargo items. Recently, we urged the stakeholders to constitute a technical committee to see to the solution of this imbalance,” Yadudu explained.

Indranil Gupta, the group managing director and chief executive officer, Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc, (NAHCO Plc) said NAHCO’s baggage Service records show that from Jan – June 2022, it documented 13832 complaints of missing bags & 271 complaints of damaged bags.

He said when it comes to customer satisfaction in baggage handling, the ground handler is in the public glare, rightly or wrongly. “The airline transports the bags but everything that has to do with acceptance and loading onto the aircraft falls within the purview of the ground handler,” he explained.

Gupta who was represented by Fidelia Obumselu, head, health, safety and quality said because searching for missing bags is also part of the work of the ground handler, naturally, the angst of the passenger is released on the ground handler, who is often more in sight than the airline.

He said the company has had cases where handling agents were physically assaulted at the point of baggage collection, adding that while the passenger is justified to be angry, it should not to the extent of physically assaulting anyone since it is not always certain where in the chain of bag handling the mishandling occurred.

“What drives this? Airport facilities. What degree of human intervention is required? How reliable are the facilities in terms of the possibility of damage to bags or disruption of flow due to system jam? Is the power supply stable to support a fully automated system of bag delivery?

“To achieve this, NAHCO has deployed handling agents who undergo mandatory passenger and baggage handling training in addition to specialized training in customer service skills. This is to ensure the right skill set and temperament for handling upset passengers,” Gupta said.

Basil Agboarumi, managing director/CEO, Skyway Aviation Handling Company PLC (SAHCO), said one of the biggest lessons from Covid is the need to be flexible at all times because there are circumstances that are beyond human control which can change the way things are done.

“Covid-19 changed Ground Handling Operations procedures and requirements. Sanitization and other hygiene protocols are now key in our daily operations. This was not the case prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There should be consistent use of appropriate protective gear (Nose Masks, Hand Sanitizers, amongst others). Disinfection and cleaning of facilities, Equipment was taken to another level and has since been inculcated into Ground Handling Operations.

“There should be health monitoring, screening and testing, temperature testing of workers and clients across facilities and the importance of vaccinations should be communicated to staff and clients,” Agboarumi explained.

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