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61 Our review of the literature and interviews with representatives of the stakeholder groups have revealed that airports are proactively researching, testing, and developing innovative services and programs to address the challenges begotten by the increasing demand for air travel and the ever-evolving needs of air travelers. This chapter summarizes key strategies suggested by stakeholder representatives for serving customers with accessibility needs, and discusses future directions for airports to consider in providing access and mobility for all passengers. 5.1 Keys to Success This section summarizes the insights derived from the stakeholder interviews regarding current strategies for airports to maximize passengersâ cognitive and sensory abilities during air travel. These strategies emerged from the interviews as keys to the success of their airports. 5.1.1 Include Accessibility in the Customer Service Mission Interviewees suggest that commitment to customer service starts with top management. Airports that excel in providing services for people with disabilities often integrate service accessibility and inclusion with the overall organizationâs customer service commitment and priorities. They are dedicated to improving access and mobility for all passengers and thus focus on the universal benefits of their services. For example, MSP aspires to be the most accessible airport, focusing on equitable services for all. ATL, the busiest airport in the world, strives for maximum efficiency in every aspect of its services. MCOâs four priorities are safety, security, ease, and comfort; thus, practices reflect commitment to creating easy and comfortable travel experiences for all. 5.1.2 Include Accessibility in All Future Planning Having a proactive plan and design for accessibility and inclusion is another key to success. Airports need to incorporate the accessibility plan into all new construction and remodeling projects, because it is much more difficult and may be more costly as an afterthought. 5.1.3 Ensure Buy-In Another key is having an internal champion who will advocate for and coordinate initiatives and services for people with accessibility needs. Responsibility for service delivery in the airport environment is shared among many business partners and stakeholders. To ensure buy-in from all parties, the airport needs to have an internal champion who focuses on relationships, collaboration, and facilitating communication between stakeholders and top management. C H A P T E R 5 Keys to Success and Future Directions
62 Communication Strategies for Airport Passenger Access and Mobility 5.1.4 Listen to Customers Interviewees concurred about the importance of customer voices. Customer feedback, whether in the form of advice or complaints, is one of the most effective tools for airports to identify challenges, direct innovation, and implement new programs. Community organizations that are proactive and strong advocates are also important partners in helping the airport develop its understanding of what its passengers need. Some interviewees emphasized that understanding a customer groupâs needs is just the first step; airports have to work closely with the customer group to determine if the service or program developed to meet a need can truly help. 5.1.5 Be on the Lookout for Innovation As Alexandre de Juniac, Chief Executive Officer and Director General of IATA, has pointed out, the solution to increasing demand for air travel will not always lie in building bigger airports (International Air Transport Association 2017). Proactive airports have been enter- prising in identifying innovative solutions for streamlining travel processes to improve effi- ciency while retaining a commitment to excellent customer service. Many airports interviewed described the programs, services, or amenities they are testing or developing to improve access and mobility for passengers with various needs. Although information about these programs is mostly proprietary, the trends include more use of smart technology, improving indoor navi- gation technologies, and working closely with community groups to design and test assistive devices and programs. 5.1.6 Create a Culture of Empathy Disability awareness and knowledge about available accessibility services is not just a responsibility of frontline employees. Understanding disability and disability needs should be instilled in the culture of a business or organization. An airline or airport can promote empathy toward all traveler groups and create an environment to motivate and recognize employees who continuously provide excellent services to enhance customersâ travel experiences. Airports that are proactive in providing accessible services to customers with different needs have unwavering focus on access for all. 5.2 Future Directions Interviews in the project, along with review of existing literature, have also revealed challenges that airports face in their effort to improve passenger access and mobility in air travel. Airports are cognizant of their limitations and challenges in serving passengers with diverse disability needs. Gaps in current practice point to directions airports may adopt in their continued effort to maximize the cognitive and sensory abilities of passengers with disabilities, aging travelers, and travelers with limited English proficiency. 5.2.1 Evaluation Tools for Success Airports need methods of evaluation to monitor the performance of their accessible services and programs so that modifications can be made to meet the changing needs of different travel markets in a timely manner. Some airport services are underutilized; however, it is not clear why. Some accessibility services and programs are still new and there are not yet much data to demonstrate their effectiveness; thus, gathering and analyzing these data is important. Most airports use customer complaints or anecdotal comments from program participants to gauge the effects of these services and programs, but lack more comprehensive evaluation tools.
Keys to Success and Future Directions 63 Systematic program evaluation can help airports gain insights on how certain services, programs, or amenities may work at different airports. For example, different facilities reported varying levels of success with visual paging. The airports who think that the service is effective usually report having these screens all over the airports so that it is hard for people to miss a message. Others worry that passengers have to be looking in order to catch information on the screens. Another example is the PA system, which can be more or less effective depending on the specifics of the airportâs contracts with airlines. Some airports do not control the PA at airside or gate areas, and it is thus not easy for them to follow through on pages made in the airportâs public areas. Some respondents hoped for better integration of PA messages through- out the airport. They also indicated that PA announcements are a more effective communication tool at smaller airports than at larger airports that have multiple terminals. Hearing loop is still another amenity that respondents suggest can be better implemented in smaller airports. A systematic evaluation program can help airlines and airports obtain insights on how to manage these services, programs, and amenities. 5.2.2 Expanded Accessibility Services in the Air Representatives of passengers with disabilities expressed the need for in-flight announce- ments and entertainment to be accessible for people with vision and hearing disabilities. Airlines are working on better connectivity in the sky and better captioning of entertainment services in flight. Southwest is the only airline in the United States with 100% of its fleet offering Wi-Fi service (Future Travel Experience 2018). Southwest also provides closed captioning for enter- tainment if passengers use the Apple system. 5.2.3 Optimized Information Targeting Although many airports have different services, programs, and amenities in place to help passengers with disabilities, aging travelers, and travelers with limited English proficiency achieve full access and mobility, some respondents found that it can be challenging to inform people of these services. For example, how can passengers who are not technology savvy be informed about resources available for them at the airport? How can airlines and airports promote their existing and new services to customers? Such information can be crucial in order to set travelersâ expectations for air travel and, consequently, to produce a satisfactory experience while traveling. The airport organization may want to establish an internal mechanism for information dissemination to ensure regular and consistent communication with travelers. 5.2.4 Balance Technology and the Human Touch Although automated services are enhancing passenger processing, airlines and airports are cognizant that passengers will still need individualized help at these touch points, especially travelers with disabilities, aging travelers, and travelers with limited English proficiency. Thus, comprehensive accessibility and disability training among staff is needed to better serve customers with accessibility needs. Because airlines and airports have many partners and contractors, they will need to be creative to work with the various unions and business partners to secure the buy-in for such training.