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ARN News Flash

BWI and PHL Serve Country, Passengers
Baltimore Washington Thurgood Marshall International (BWI), and Philadelphia International (PHL) had an opportunity to showcase their premises and customer service skills in an unusual way recently. As the two U.S. airports asked to receive federally orchestrated evacuation flights from Lebanon, they functioned as comfort zones and provisional posts as much as landing strips for thousands of Americans returning from Lebanon during Israeli attacks on the country. Officials, including all public affairs personnel worked continuously throughout the period at both airports.

“It’s been a busy week with some crazy hours,” says Jonathan Dean, manager communications, BWI. By the ninth day of evacuations, July 27, the airport had processed 3,771 people who had arrived on 16 flights. “We do expect additional flight to come in,” he said. “The schedule changes hourly but at this point we expect five through Saturday.”

BWI became involved in the program when the federal government asked the state of Maryland for assistance, according to Dean, and the governor responded by saying the state was willing and able to help. “The federal agency with responsibility for repatriation is the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which works in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State (DOS), says Dean, who noted that most of the passengers arriving at BWI were headed to destinations throughout the U.S. “The airport has converted much of our international arrivals hall into a working space where they can receive a variety of services which are being coordinated and provided by the State Department of Human Resources, and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency,” says Dean.

Several commercial airlines flew the trips, he says, including Omni, World, Continental, and Icelandic. Dean said he had not heard any official demographics on the evacuees such as how many had family in Lebanon, or were tourists, or government workers, but that apparently it was an intense experience for some. “Upon arrival many of the passengers are very emotional. Obviously they’re very relieved and excited to be back in the U.S.” There were some meeters and greeters, he added. Participation by PHL began in the office of the managing director of the City of Philadelphia with officials of the DHHS and the DOS, and airport officials. It culminated in the arrival and processing of 4,171 passengers over a period of nine days.

By July 28, 16 evacuation flights had landed at PHL. With each arrival, public affairs personnel escorted deplaning passengers to customs and immigration desks, and upon clearance, Red Cross volunteers escorted them to a reception area in Terminal A’s east baggage claim area. Pesce described a variety of needs met on the site including food and health care. Red Cross volunteers served 5,465 meals and 16,959 snacks, and gave health assessments to146 adults and 92 children who requested them. Ten hospital transports were made to three different hospitals from PHL.

Both airports set up computers, travel services, local and long distance telephone service, food areas, medical areas, and sleeping or rest areas with cots. At both airports children were given toys and activities and adults were given toiletry kits. Some passengers required no additional services and were on their way a couple of hours after arrival, while others waited a little longer either to sleep, or for their transportation, healthcare, or other needs to be fulfilled. Throughout it all BWI and PHL were in the national spotlight. “We had media here for every flight but didn’t want them to interfere with the flow of passenger traffic or barrage people with microphones in their faces,” says Pesce. “The Red Cross reception area didn’t allow media in while passengers were in there but they did do filming in there to show the services being offered.”

Dean and Pesce say there was no special security concern and airport police were stationed at the Red Cross area to watch equipment and make sure evacuee passengers were taken care of. “As of today we are done,” said Pesce on July 28. “There’s talk there may be one more tomorrow morning but no confirmation.”

Concessions have Low Impact on Satisfaction in JD Power Survey
Nearly 10,000 passengers divulged their feelings of satisfaction, or lack thereof, with their airport experience at several North American airports in surveys conducted by JD Power. The results, released last month, are a compilation of responses to eight different aspects of the experience: airport accessibility; baggage claim; check-in/baggage check; terminal facilities; security check; food & beverage; retail services; and immigration/customs control.

Based on regression analysis JD Power ranked the order of measures based on their impact on overall airport satisfaction, according to Jim Gaz, senior director of travel and entertainment and study director for JD Power. Notably, concessions were well down on the list of features which impact a traveler’s overall satisfaction.

“Food and beverage and retail services have a relatively low impact on overall airport satisfaction,” says Gaz. “The ease/efficiency of arriving at the airport and leaving the airport have the most impact on satisfaction. Our interpretation is that getting to the airport is stressful (you can’t be late) and no one wants any hassles with that experience. Similarly, once you arrive at the airport, you want to get your bags and move onto the next segment of your journey.”

Travelers evaluated 28 specific questions on a 10 point scale and four of the questions related to retail service: variety, quality, professionalism and cost. Gaz notes that price points were minimally relevant to overall satisfaction. “In general, across all airports, the cost of food and beverages and the cost of retail items were the two lowest rated questions in the entire airport study. It’s akin to attending a sporting event, whereby there is a “captive customer base,” says Gaz. “Consumers have an idea of what food and beverage and retail items should cost. I think some passengers realize the rent these establishments pay in the airport is going to be higher than the local strip mall and may expect to pay slightly higher prices, but anything too high or unreasonable simply upsets passengers.”

A minimum of 100 responses were required in order to officially rank an airport and the responses were spread across the airports ranging from 101 to 926. In general, the higher passenger volume airports received more evaluations.

Hudson Group has Presence in Nearly all J.D. Power Top Large Airports
Of the major U.S. airports receiving the highest customer experience rankings, Hudson Group has significant operations in nine of the top ten large airports listed in a recent J.D. Power and Associates survey.

“We were delighted to see that so many airports where we provide retail services ranked at the very top of the J.D. Power lists,” said Joseph DiDomizio, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Hudson Group.

Hudson’s presence was particularly strong in the large airport category, where the company has extensive newsstand and specialty retail operations – Las Vegas McCarran, JFK, Philadelphia, DFW, Chicago-O’Hare, Houston Bush Intercontinental, Newark, Phoenix and Atlanta. Hudson and its business partners also operate significant retail programs in J.D. Power’s top mid-sized airports: New York LaGuardia, Chicago Midway, Baltimore-Washington, and Pittsburgh, as well as the top three small airports: Houston Hobby, Dallas Love, and John Wayne/Orange County.

“It is very gratifying to know that our operations, which include a host of national and local business partners, contribute in some way to the overall positive experiences of the traveling public in these airports,” added Mr. DiDomizio.

Mineta Rejects Pleas to Suspend PNW
It appears that certain disadvantaged business enterprises (DBE) currently doing business in airports could lose their disadvantaged status due to a new proposed personal net worth (PNW) cap of $750,000 imposed on companies seeking certification.

The news came in a letter from Secretary of Transportation Normal Mineta to William H. Swift, former chairman of Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC). Swift had earlier petitioned the secretary on behalf of the industry to suspend the PNW provision of the Department of Transportation Airport Concessions DBE (ACDBE) rule.

In part, the Mineta letter acknowledges the subjective nature of the cap amount but describes the $750,000 as a reasonable target for declaring a person outside the realm of economically disadvantaged. “Given that only a small number of percentage of individuals in our economy are likely to have a PNW exceeding $750,000 (particularly when we take into account the home, business investment and capital acquisition exclusions in Part 23), it is not unreasonable to say that someone with a PNW over that figure is too wealthy to be considered economically disadvantaged.”

Mineta also acknowledges the loss of certification by some DBEs. “In a program that is intended to serve as an incubator for small or new businesses, I do not see this as an unacceptable outcome for firms and owners who have progressed beyond the initial stages of business implementation and development,” he writes. “Although these individual firms may not be sustained indefinitely under the ACDBE program, they will continue to be free to compete for airport business in the market…”

DFW Gets in Tune with Travelers to Inform
DFW International Airport celebrated the one-year anniversary of International Terminal D by unveiling podcasting to a global audience today. DFW becomes the first Airport in the world to make podcasts available to inform passengers on parking, dining and touring options. DFW’s downloads are available free of charge at the iTunes Music Store and at dfwairport.com.

“DFW believes this is a great way to reach guests and highlight the amenities at DFW that will make their travel experience easier and more enjoyable than ever before,” said Kevin Cox, Chief Operating Officer at DFW who delivered the Airport’s inaugural podcast on iTunes today. “Travelers, visitors and guests will be able to download our podcasts in the comfort of their homes or offices and learn valuable information before they get to the Airport or use the podcasts as they visit DFW and traverse our concourses and ticket halls. It’s quick, flexible and accessible.”