AE&T Editor Sandra Arnoult spoke with JoAnne Paternoster, a former official with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey who was in charge of the Port Authority's Airport Customer Improvement Program. She spearheaded development of branded regional customer service programs and a performance management program to improve perception and image at JFK and LaGuardia airports while increasing net revenues. Paternoster is now an executive consultant for Maritz Research.
Do you think airport officials have focused as much attention on the inside of the terminal as they have on the outside when it comes to handling the A380?
There is still a continued focus on the technical aspectshow do we get it in there? The taxiway, the baggage, the runway and the bridges. The newer airports have a tremendous leg up. They built for larger aircraft even if it wasn't specifically for the A380. The older airports have a challenge. It's like trying to make an old dog do new tricks, and you can't always teach an old dog to do a new trick.
Have airports in general adequately addressed the needs of passengers who will be waiting inside?
I think it is similar to the after-9/11 airport security regulations. There was a hustle to implement them, and after implementation they had to deal with the human issues. Changes were made in terms of being flexible and reasonable after people became upset with the treatment. I think the same thing will happen with the A380. The focus is on "let's be ready when it is ready to arrive." They will have to focus on the human issues when it arrives. But there are constraints in terms of financial and human resources. You can only have so many people at an airport who can be applied to a capital project. The resources are being focused on the outside. As they deal with that, I think the focus will start to shift, before people actually start complaining.
Are there any major changes that airport terminals are making to accommodate a heavy concentration of passengers in a single gate area?
I think by and large they will ultimately be looking at a new facility. The financial impact of closing down a gate to handle the A380 is something they will have to look at. The only option for some is to do thatuse two gates. The impact on human behavior when people become crowded must also be considered.
Is there some "magic formula" to assess the needs of passengers waiting to board in regard to seating space, concessions and toilets?
IATA publishes those kinds of design standards that indicate not only the space per person that should be allocated but the level of service one can expect based upon the amount of space that is allocated. For instance, level A servicethe best levelcalls for a specific square footage of service per person. There are other levelsB, C or D. The other thing is, airports can't always plan for A or they would be building for peak hours of operation. Sometimes airports will look to build toward a B level of service. I don't know if there will need to be a change in IATA standards, but it is out there and it does exist. You are bringing new technology on a terminal that was built at a time that a certain level of service based on the amount of traffic was adequate. People's expectations change faster than technology.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge for airports that have A380 service?
I think the biggest challenge for them might be putting themselves in the customer's shoes and seeing the airport from the customer's perspective. It's not always bricks and mortar, sometimes it's just the niceties: A well-placed kiosk, human intervention until people become accustomed to this new mode of transportation, a welcoming committee. Capital investmentsconcessions, restrooms and terminal spaceare not trivial. But in addition to that there are an awful lot of low-tech investments, more people-oriented things that can be done to smooth the way in the transition from the technical airside to landside issues. People will cut you some slack if they know you care and are working toward it. You want to relieve the stress and make people think it was really nice.